The blue Vineyard sky on Sept. 11, 2001 was cloudless and bright. And everyone still remembers that searing blue sky.
“The streets of Edgartown early Tuesday morning are nearly empty. The day breaks sunny, a lovely September morning,” wrote one Gazette reporter who walked out of the newspaper offices minutes after the second plane hit the World Trade Center in Manhattan. “A young woman crouches on the top step of the Black Dog Store on South Summer street, listening to the radio blaring from inside. She holds a cigarette in one hand and her cell phone in the other. Her shaky finger presses send, then end, over and over. All she needs is word that her brother in New York city’s financial district is safe. Her mobile phone gives no such news.”
It was a day when Islanders, seven miles from the mainland, felt increasingly cut off from the rest of the world. And so they came together where they could: in schools, at graveyards, in front of store windows. They raised flags and went out and bought them — the Edgartown A& P sold out, as did Trader Fred’s and Phillip’s Hardware in Oak Bluffs.
And on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2001, a group gathered at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Martha’s Vineyard in Vineyard Haven. Rev. Judith Campbell arranged the church seats in circles and placed candles out for visitors to light. She lit the first and said, “I light this first candle for all the broken hearts that are out there today. And in here. Now is the time for sharing, and silence, and then we will begin again.”
Yesterday morning, the society once again opened its doors for prayer, words of hope and to remember the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001. “It’s something we all share in many, many ways,” Rev. Polly Leland-Mayer told the dozen or so people gathered.
The day was cool and autumn-like, the skies mostly cloudy. Outside the church a lawn mower blared, reminding those inside that life marches forward in spite of adversity. Reverend Leland-Mayer invited anyone with memories to come forward, to grieve and to share. Terry Hall, a visitor to the Vineyard from New Jersey, remembered that morning seven years earlier.
“It was a collision of all kinds of feelings. Of sadness, of helplessness, of baking cupcakes for my friend’s son’s fifth birthday,” she said, her voice shaky. Not knowing what else to do and fearing for her sister who worked in the financial district, Mrs. Hall baked because a five-year-old still needs a birthday celebration, she said. She urged those in the church yesterday to pause and reflect, to keep the memory alive. “Why can’t we just stop for a minute,” she asked. “It seems so easy, in theory. Just stop and be nice. Or just stop and be.”
Her husband Jeff spoke about watching the events unfold from his hotel room television in Glasgow, Scotland, where he was attending a conference. “At first I thought it was out of Orson Welles, it was something fictional,” he said. The phone lines were down and he could not reach his wife and family in the United States. “I was so far removed.”
Mimi Davisson of Oak Bluffs also spoke. “I did not know anyone who died that day, but I felt the sorrow and grief we all felt as Americans and human beings,” she said. It is a sorrow and grief she still feels as the war in Iraq has no end and social services for children and the elderly are cut.
With the memories shared, Rev. Leland-Mayer invited all to take a moment of silence and then she played a piece of opera music to fill the void.
“This world in all its beauty and pain is ours,” she said once the music had ended. And she urged: “Peace, peace, peace.”