A number of opinions have been expressed over what should or shouldn’t be said at the 9/11 anniversary ceremony this Sunday. Some people want religious prayers. Some people want political speeches. This is to be expected. We all have strong feelings about the Sept. 11 attacks and how the anniversary should be commemorated.
We have the freedom to do as we wish on that terrible and important day; some people will mark the day by going to church, doing an act of service or holding their loved ones a little closer.
But this year, like nearly every year since that terrible morning, I will proudly attend the commemoration at the World Trade Center to hear the reading of the name of my brother, John A. Katsimatides. I will stand amidst a sea of people who, like me, had their heart broken 10 years ago.
This remembrance is powerful and important for me, and I strongly disagree with critics who say it is flawed.
These past 10 years, while there has been no memorial yet to visit on the anniversaries, I have found great comfort through the simple, reverent reading of the names on the site of the attacks. I am surrounded by people who are connected to these names, and, like me, they know that each name represents a life of someone who was loved and who was loved by us as family members. I am also reassured to know that my brother and the nearly 3,000 others are being remembered as people – not as numbers, facts or statistics.
I don’t need political speeches; this day is not about a politician delivering sweeping rhetoric. I don’t need to be led in prayer by a spiritual figure, because I will pray on my own in that moment. I need and want a respectful, reverent remembrance of the human beings we lost.
And that is what is so special about the way New York City has organized the commemoration ceremonies every year.
It takes more than three hours to read the name of every victim because there are so many. This year, the names of those killed at the Pentagon, on Flight 93 and during the 1993 World Trade Center bombing will also be read – because they are honored on the memorial, which will be dedicated on Sunday.
I also appreciate who has read the names and will be reading them again this year: those who care deeply about paying tribute to the victims – whether they be family members, first responders or those working to build the memorial. Elected officials participate in the ceremony not as politicians – but as respectful participants. They read poems, excerpts of speeches and other readings that serve to complement the names readings rather than overshadow them.
I am thankful that the ceremony has never been a platform for grandstanding. And while religion does not play a role in the event, that does not mean that the ceremony is devoid of spirituality. In fact, there is a tremendous sanctity in the solemn rhythm of the names’ readings. Each name is weighted with emotion, dignity and spirituality. Throughout the hours-long ceremony, all those present are welcome to pray in their own way.
A ceremony can never be everything to everyone – but this anniversary ceremony is everything it needs to be for me.
And this year it will have an additional resonance. With the opening of the memorial, my brother’s name will have a permanent home. This Sunday, when I listen for John A. Katsimatides, I will look forward to tracing the letters of his name etched in bronze with my fingers. I will know that from now on his memory is forever preserved.