The Readings We Choose To Commemorate 9/11 Each Year

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 11:   At the memorial pool, Vasantha Velamuri mourns at the sight of her husband's name, Sankara Sas
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 11: At the memorial pool, Vasantha Velamuri mourns at the sight of her husband's name, Sankara Sastry Velamuri, who died in the World Trade Center, during ceremonies at the World Trade Center site September 11, 2011 in New York City. The nation is commemorating the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks which resulted in the deaths of nearly 3,000 people after two hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia and one crash landed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Carolyn Cole-Pool/Getty Images)

One year after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, our city faced a daunting challenge: hosting commemoration that was worthy of the memories of those who perished and that offered consolation to family members still mourning the loss of their loved ones. The world would be watching, as so many looked to New York City to remember and reflect on a day that brought unspeakable sadness but also unsurpassed heroics.

September Morning: Ten Years of Poems and Readings from the 9/11 Ceremonies New York City (powerHouse Books, $24.95) represents the efforts to create a program that paid tribute to both the national tragedy and great personal grief. The passages are some of the most moving poems, letters, song lyrics, and excerpts from literary and historical works ever gathered. Their words reflect sorrow, but also our resolve to go on, together.

When we began planning our commemoration, we knew that we needed to return to the site of the attacks. Months of recovery and cleanup efforts had cleared the World Trade Center site of rubble, leaving behind only bedrock -- the hallowed ground on which we would remember and rebuild.

The plan was to stand together as one and to honor each and every person we lost. In recognition of each individual life and the loved ones left behind, every victim's name was to be read aloud. There was a simple dignity to this approach, and it proved both poignant and inspiring.

Over the past ten years, thousands have come to the ceremonies to read the names. And in listening to those names, we have heard an unspoken story about the World Trade Center: how it brought people together from every race and religion, every culture and country. Family members were joined in the reading of the names by others -- including first responders, volunteers, and construction workers -- who shared in the loss and recovery efforts.

At every commemoration, family members were asked to speak about their loved ones. With each short speech, a portrait of the men and women who worked and died at the World Trade Center began to emerge. We heard about engineers, pastry chefs, police officers, traders, flight attendants, firefighters -- and people in many other professions. Family members told stories about loving fathers, daughters, wives, brothers, and sisters. These personally written pieces helped bring to life the names being read.

To keep the focus on the victims and their families, it was important to us to keep contemporary political rhetoric out of the commemoration. Instead, the program invoked some of the great words from literature and our nation's history. In that first year we quoted Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, reminding listeners that our nation had withstood heartbreak before, and that once again we would "highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." The American spirit of freedom would always be the foundation of this site.

In each succeeding year, readings were chosen to represent different family members' points of view and their personal perspectives of the tragedy. These subjects became the guide in choosing the readings from a wide range of sources and styles, periods and places. They speak of love and loss, remembrance and celebration, courage, compassion, the gentle encouragement to go on, and the rebuilding itself.

There are, of course, elements of the ceremony that cannot be captured in a book, including the music. The mournful sounds of the bagpipes, traditionally played at funerals for firefighters and police officers, would each year signal the beginning of the ceremony. And throughout the entire reading of the names, classical music was performed by small ensembles and chamber groups from all over the city. One by one, each group quietly took their turn on the stage, rotating throughout the ceremonies and accompanying the readers as they recited at the podium.

Children's choirs opened and closed the ceremonies, and as the years went on, noted soloists were asked to sing midway through the tributes. The choice of songs was made as carefully as the choice of readings. The day ended with trumpets playing "Taps."

One more element was added to the ceremony that you cannot hear in this book: the moments of silence. It is a time-honored tradition, in all ceremonies marking a moment of national import, to observe a moment of silence. At the ceremonies, we would stop to mark moments of impact and collapse as we turned our hearts and minds to those terrifying and tragic minutes in our nation's history.

In 2011, on the tenth anniversary of the attacks, the National September 11 Memorial was unveiled. On this meaningful day, we drew upon passages read in previous years to provide a sense of reflection on the past decade as we revealed the Memorial and turned with hope toward the future. At last, the gaping hole where the ceremonies had begun was now rebuilt into an everlasting tribute to all those who perished. The 9/11 Memorial, which includes two beautiful waterfalls in the footprints of each tower, now forever proclaims the names that were read aloud each year, engraved in bronze along the edges of each pool.

While we worked toward creating a lasting memorial that would honor the victims of September 11, our hope was to create a ceremony that was strong and simple and spoke across time, cultures, religions, and backgrounds. The answer to the violence of the attacks would be the humanity of our voices and the kindness we showed to one another. This book is a testament to those ceremonies and the efforts over the past ten years to remember and reflect upon that September morning that changed us forever.

Taken from the foreword by Michael R. Bloomberg from September Morning: Ten Years of Poems and Readings from the 9/11 Ceremonies New York City, edited by Sarah Lukinson, published by powerHouse Books