The families came together again on Friday to honor their loved ones at the site where their lives were stolen. The names of the victims resounded across the plaza, and the bells tolled in New York City as they have in years past, sounding a peal of collective mourning for those killed on one of the darkest days in American history.
Yet the somber, solemn rituals held at the Sept. 11 memorial to mark a tragedy that brought New York and the nation to its knees were unmistakably altered at a time of another crisis — one also marked by devastating loss.
Some of America’s most notable politicians were in attendance, including Vice President Mike Pence and Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic candidate for president. All of them wore masks in addition to their customary memorial ribbons and lapel pins. They exchanged elbow bumps, then distanced themselves six feet apart as they stood for the national anthem.
There was no stage in front of them on Friday, and no speeches given to the mourners gathered at the site known as ground zero — two hallmarks of past memorials that were removed in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
It has been 19 years since passenger jets hijacked by terrorists slammed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and crashed into a field in Shanksville, Pa. Nearly 3,000 lives were lost, some 2,700 of them in New York, in the deadliest attack in the country’s history, a blow to America’s psyche.
Now, the United States confronts a far deadlier calamity. During the pandemic, the United States has exceeded the death toll of Sept. 11, 2001, by orders of magnitude. In New York City alone, more than 23,000 people have died of the virus.
“It’s two of the most traumatic things that have ever happened to New York City, and it’s probably changed it forever,” said Diane Massaroli, whose husband, Michael, was killed in the World Trade Center.
“We just have to find a different way to live now,” she said, her hands clutching a bouquet of roses and an old wedding photograph. “Like I had to find a different way to live then.”
Though the city has fought its way back from a spring when it was the epicenter of the pandemic and hundreds were dying daily, the crisis has not ended. The threat of Covid-19 still lurks.
Having transformed so many aspects of daily life, the pandemic thus affected one of the city’s most sacred and solemn moments. The family members gathered at the Sept. 11 memorial’s eight-acre site in Lower Manhattan were asked to stay socially distant, and others were discouraged from gathering near the spot known as ground zero.
There was no platform where readers took turns at a microphone, honoring the victims by reciting their names. The list this year was read and recorded in advance, then broadcast online and at the plaza.
Still, politicians and civic leaders gathered, including some who have publicly sparred over the response to the virus, like Mr. Pence, Mr. Biden and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York. Despite their disagreements, they exchanged genial greetings, exhibiting unity at a time more often marked by bitter partisan division.
Mr. Biden earlier said he would be following tradition and suspending campaigning for the day, including pausing ads in the midst of a bitter contested election.
He will travel later to Shanksville, Pa., where President Trump and his wife, Melania, are also expected to attend a memorial service.
Before the ceremony on Friday morning, the streets around the memorial were filled with Secret Service officers and firefighters and police officers in their dress blues. About half of them wore masks.
Source: New York Times