Reprinted from the Princeton Packet, Friday, September 21, 2001
Try to Remember the Kind of September…A Neighbor’s Tribute, September 21
By David L. Nathan, MD
On Friday evening, my neighborhood in Montgomery Township was one of many that held a candlelight vigil for the victims of last week’s terrorist attacks. Perhaps my narrative of this gathering will sound romantic, like the song from The Fantasticks that is quoted in the title above. Indeed, I hope that Friday night is all that we will eventually remember about last week.
On that night, we lit candles to fight the darkness that tried to destroy us. We dared to dream a little in the midst of our nightmare. In a country of so many different religions and beliefs, we would find a common language of expression. This was a night of distinctly American fellowship and prayer.
The obvious choice of location was a cul-de-sac, partly to keep our children safe from cars, but more important because of proximity to the home of Steve Goldstein, a 35-year-old father missing at the World Trade Center. He left behind his wife, Jill, and two children. Hanna is three-and-a-half and lost her best friend in lower Manhattan last week; Harris is nearly one and too young to understand. In a happier September, my wife and I brought our son, Eli, home shortly before Jill and Steve welcomed Harris. Now we watch Harris and Eli play happily together, unaware of the hole in our hearts.
We were concerned that Jill would find the number of people to be overwhelming, and I was impressed that afternoon when she bravely announced that this gathering would be good for Hanna and Harris. She liked the idea of taking photographs for them to see when they’re —or the terrible events of September 2001.
The neighborhood children went from door to door, gathering candles and telling everyone to come at 7 p.m. This was the time announced in the media and via e-mail, the climax to a day of prayer and mourning. Scores of unlit candles were scattered all around the street, from small votive lights to massive decorative tapers, suggesting that every candle in every house had found its way to our impromptu gathering.
About 20 neighbors were present to start the evening, as adults helped children—theirs and others’—to kindle the lights resting on the asphalt. Soon the cul-de-sac glowed brightly against the black street surrounding us, looking as though the stars above had crashed to our feet. Over the next hour, a steady stream of people gathered among the field of candles. Steve’s wife and two small children quietly joined in among family and friends, and we stood mostly in silence. Dozens of people eventually gathered in a kind of ring, and a look around reminded me of the ethnic diversity of our community. There were Christians, Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists; blacks, whites, and Asians; immigrants from Russia, India, China, and elsewhere. The candles also bespoke a patchwork of cultures. There was a grouping of three thin candles placed as a traditional symbol of Asian mourning. There were also candles used for the Jewish
The silence was punctuated when someone was moved to speak. There were words about Steve, the week’s events and prayers of different faiths. Many joined in for the one concluding hymn that most people knew: “America, the Beautiful.” Then, the candles were gathered into a cluster as everyone stood in the chill September night to feel the warmth and light. Several people suddenly realized that during the confusion of moving the candles, the grouping had formed the outline of a heart that could be seen from the Goldsteins’
Many lingered in this American cul-de-sac last Friday night, lost in thought, desperately needing sleep, perhaps already dreaming about better times. Perhaps some recalled the drowsy lyrics of that nostalgic song about Septembers:
“Try to remember the kind of September
when life was slow and oh, so mellow…
Try to remember when life was so tender
that no one wept except the willow…
Try to remember and if you remember then follow….”