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Ten Years Later

The following remarks were given by President Wood at the 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony held at Rockland Community College on
September 9, 2011.

September 11th will forever be etched in the consciousness of all Americans, of caring people everywhere, and of all who work or reside in Rockland County. It is a day when we remember the victims of the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attack on America that occurred 10 years ago. It is a day when we remember our vulnerability, when we reflect on all the privileges and all the opportunities given to us as citizens of this great land, a day when we are reminded that our way of life, our values are viewed negatively by some, and it is a day when we come together, despite any cultural or political differences we may have, to honor the memories and spirits of those who lost their lives that fateful morning in 2001. Workers, students, passers-by, heroes and victims—all innocent and valuable individuals. We mourn their loss and we mourn our loss of them.

They came from different backgrounds, ethnicities, and lifestyles. They were old and young and in-between. They came from Rockland County and from around the world. They represented achievement and potential, beauty and hope. They symbolized us, all of us, in their last moments. They gave us strength, unparalleled unity, fierce determination, and unfathomable courage. They will forever be a part of who we are and what we do. Today we honor their memories and reach out to their families whose void cannot be filled but whose courage and strength to carry on is a heroic example to us all.

I have asked Rabbi Dov Oliver to begin our commemoration today with the sounding of the Shofar, the ram’s horn that is traditionally sounded in the week leading up to the Jewish New Year. The stirring sound of the Shofar inspires reflection and soul-searching.  It is a personal and communal wake-up call, reminding each of us of our responsibility to create a brighter future for our world.

Today as we read the names, now sacred in our hearts, we read them not only to remember these victims, these loved ones, but also to remind us all of the work we must individually and collectively do to bring peace and understanding to our world, so that we are truly safe. While we must work to be prepared, the bigger vision is to create a lasting peace as we learn to live together in this world that grows ever smaller.

Now, as we read the names, we will stop periodically and mark the occasion with the sound of a gong. The one we are using was inspired by persons seeking peace and understanding in the world. For, this gong belonged to the parents of Bob Kowles, our Theater Manager at RCC. His dear parents were missionaries in the Far East during the forties and fifties. Hear what Bob says about them and their gong:

“My family was relocated from China to the Philippines in 1949, fleeing the communist takeover of China. My parents were assigned to work within a Muslim tribal group (the Yakan) on the island of Basilan in the southern Philippines. Basilan has been the location (since 9/11) where US military personnel have assisted the Philippine military fighting Al Qaeda linked terrorists. These days it is unsafe for outsiders to visit the island, and several missionaries were kidnapped and held hostage there a couple of years ago.”

“Back in the days following World War II,” Bob says, “a forward-looking Muslim chieftain (Datu Unding Cuevas), realizing his people were at a severe disadvantage without an education in the modern world, donated property to the mission board for the purpose of building a school to educate the Yakan children.” The gong we are using today was originally a gift from the chief to Bob’s parents to use as an alarm to summon assistance from their Muslim neighbors should there be an emergency or if they should be in any danger. Bob adds that his parents’ relations as Protestant missionaries from the US with their Muslim neighbors could not have been better and they lived for many years in complete safety amongst them.

So, the gong represents our call to one another and to our neighbors; it is a call to our friends and to all who will hear its sound. It is a call to join as one in the striving for peace; it is a summons for unity of purpose, and a cry for acceptance and understanding of all who may be different. In its ringing we remember that every individual is sacred, and special, and that the individuals whose names we read today are a part of us.

Then, when we end our ceremony today, we will hear Taps. Taps is a bugle call created in 1862 as an adaptation of the military bugle call to “Extinguish Lights” or as a signal to end the day. It was adapted by General Adams Butterfield of New York State and his brigade’s bugler, Oliver Wilcox Norton. Today the haunting melody is used widely in every branch of service as a symbol of remembrance and honor.

Please leave here today with the names of those who were lost on 9/11 etched in our collective hearts, our collective conscience, and may we all commit ourselves to the peace and understanding that will end terrorism and guarantee our children a future that is bright with promise. May the sounds of the Shofar, the Gong, and Taps linger in our hearts as we remember who and what we honor today.

I am pleased to share with you poems of 9/11 by three distinguished Professors of English at Rockland Community College. The poems below were written by Dan Masterson; Poet Laureate of Rockland County, Suzanne Cleary and Reamy Jansen:

Twin spotlights blast the night
Sky high from the bullet-proof
Windows, flicking shards of light
Into their stainless steel fa├žade
That shimmers like giant tuning forks
Stuck in the veined sidewalk here on
Vesey Street. The dark will be held
At bay until the tapestry gets hung,
Its bloody bull’s-eye strung high &
Taut against the 95th-floor extrusions,
Giving their corporate suites the dust
& acrid odor of scorch-blackened tombs.

Two young guns, whose buildings have
All been mountains, are nearly ready
To hang the target, a thing limp as
A shroud, before rappelling back down,
Snapping the hem-grommets to the pitons
They intend to install on the way up,
As they slide handheld willigs along
The window-washer tracks that ascend
To the pinnacle, trusting they’ll hold
The canvas slings they’ll ride in.

They’re giving 10-to-1 odds they’ll be
Down, coiling their mile of rope around
Their stanchions, before the morning
Bells toll in Saint Joseph’s belfry at
The end of the block. But now it’s time
For them to lace on their spirit-gum
Shoes & begin to walk the sunny side
Up, 13 hours before all bells on Earth
Will toll, when the target is hit & torn
Asunder, turning the tower to rubble.

-Dan Masterso
Hotel Amerika

Target with Four Faces
(an oblique rendering of a Jasper Johns canvas encaustic with plaster casts: “Target with Four Faces”)
“Permit 66Q6391-1845 hereby issued to Nabilat Productions for filming to be completed no later than 9/12/01.  Access limited to grid defined by Vesey, Church, Liberty, and West Streets, for affixation of a 70’ by 70’ cloth bearing the replication of Jasper Johns’ ‘ Target with Four Faces.’”
-NYC Office of Film, Television, and Broadcasting, August 03, 2001.

for Jim Terry

The game old-fashioned even in my grandparents' time--
Thomas with his suspenders, Anna with her seamed stockings--
still, we stand in your back yard

this first year of a new century, tapping wooden balls
toward wickets invisible, nearly, in the dusk.
It is two weeks before the World

Trade Towers each will flare, collapse
as time collapses, into itself.
But my poem is getting ahead of itself

as we, the four of us, kept getting ahead of ourselves,
taking our turns out of order, confused by the game of croquet,
which makes time move so slowly we kept rushing ahead.

I want my poem to stay in your yard,
to linger beside the flagstone walk, beautiful, impractical,
the assortment of green and yellow birdfeeders

in the red maple outside your kitchen window.
I want to pause, study the pale three-quarters moon
dangling like a holy medal from Orion's neck

that clear evening the terrorists ate dinner together,
as we did. Maybe they watched a movie
or took a walk, enjoying the first shock

of autumn chill. It is possible
to imagine their doing so many things,
the blessed, vanished ordinary, before

they did what I cannot, even now,
imagine: the unimaginable.
That cool August night I had wanted to ask

what made you think of croquet, wheel the game
from its dark spot far back in the garage.
It was dusty and we stared at it, admiring
how the pieces fit so neatly together
on the scarred cart: the balls slid and clacked
into a channel at the center, the mallets and stakes balanced

to either side and, finally, the metal wickets fit,
tight, into their slot at the top.
Thirty years of dust coated the pastel stripes.

I saw a lake cottage I can barely remember,
my entire family in sweaters and cloth hats, standing in a circle
on a wide lawn, waiting for someone to take a turn.

In your back yard we chose colors.
We stepped onto the cool grass.
We said we would play until dark,

whoever was ahead when it got too dark to see,
that person would win.

-Suzanne Cleary
Trick Pear, Carnegie Mellon UP 2007

I’d forgotten him completely
Although I’d given Gabe his book
Gabe, my second, my daredevil boy
My partner in risking everything together
Climbing cliffs where the rock flakes off
In the hand, like a theme tablet,
Like this one here, the one
I’m writing on now and tomorrow is

Nine eleven, nine one one
And I’d forgotten about Philippe Petit
And my students didn’t know his name at all
Philippe Petit and so I told them
Of a small young man who fooled officials
So he, his team and his cable, one inch
Around, made it to the top of Tower One
And how they used a bow
To shoot a line so heavy in mid air so Philippe
Petit could follow such a course, so thin, one
Quarter of a mile from the ground
Where the crowd could just about spy a small being
On a grey thread, and the policeman
Who was his audience and was there waiting
To arrest him saw Philippe cross the open space
The shortest distance between two points
Which is what the imagination does sometimes
Even when it takes a while and Philippe
Made a circuit back and forth, seven, eight times
Making the line a loop and smiling,
That’s what the young cop said as he watched him dance
Upon the cable and then he lay down, he said
And he thought he was smiling then, too.

And now Philippe Petit is 64 and is
Still petit and then his rope was a filament
At the top of the world and tomorrow is
Nine eleven and then the cop, Officer Gonzalez,
He said he’d never seen anything like it,
Not ever again.

-Reamy Jansen
(Philippe Petit traversed the towers in August 1974. His book is To Reach the Clouds.)


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