LOWER MAKEFIELD >> In the quiet embrace of the Garden of Reflection, hundreds gathered on Wednesday to remember and reflect on the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
During morning and evening ceremonies, family members joined friends and members of the clergy as they shared poetry and offered thoughts and words as they remembered the 2,977 lives taken 18 years ago in an act of terrorism that shook the nation.
The toll of a fire bell, rung by Yardley-Makefield Fire Police Officer Larry Schwalm, split the morning air marking the tragic, unspeakable events that unfolded that day - the planes crashing into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., the collapse of the World Trade Center and the crash of Flight 93 in a field in Western Pennsylvania.
The bell tolled again - one toll each for the 18 from Bucks County killed that day, their names read aloud by State Senator Steve Santarsiero.
And it tolled again for the 2,977 lives taken that day and whose names are now remembered on the etched glass panels embracing the twin fountains of the Garden.
“These moments and these memorials enable us to see and feel and touch them again,” said the Rev. Douglas Hoglund, Pastor of the Woodside Presbyterian Church, as he spoke about the thousands of names appearing on the garden's glass panels. “Yet if this is all we have it is not enough. For memories fade and stories cease. And names can be scoured away from stone by time.
“We must do more,” he said. “We must carry forward their lives, the lessons we learned from them, the priorities they impressed upon us. This is the reason these families planted this garden so the influence of their loved ones may continue to resonate and reverberate into the future."
One of the names etched in glass belongs to Michael Bane of Lower Makefield who was working on the 100th floor of the World Trade Center when tragedy struck.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Tara Bane said her husband left for work like he did every morning, only never to return. “It has been 18 years of life without him and each year we gather at the Garden of Reflection to remember all who perished that day.
“Living in the present moment is always my goal. They say the best revenge is happiness so I try to fill my life with what makes me happy,” she said. “Living our life shouldn’t be riddled with what might happen, rather an appreciation for what we have and be in the present moment.
"Look around," she said. "You are surrounded by this beautiful garden. Live in the moment. That’s my motto.
“But on this day I struggle with that as I am always brought back to the day Michael was taken and the horrible memories of the attacks. This day is not a reminder of who Michael was to me, but rather how he was taken. It’s also a reminder to recognize the fragility of life and not to take for granted what we have.
“May this day remind us of how people’s lack of tolerance and acceptance can spiral into hate and violence,” she continued. “Many of us saw the other side of that after the attacks. We saw the love and compassion. People came together to help each other and support each other, to together, to stand united. I hope we can always come together with love and compassion and raise each other up instead of the alternative.”
This year the anniversary was harder than usual with the absence of Grace Godshalk whose son, Bill, was killed at the World Trade Center. Grace passed away in December 2018.
“Grace was dedicated to this garden and dedicated to helping others remember and honor our loved ones,” said Bane. “I’m sad to be here without her, but I know she’s been reunited with her son Bill and I can see the smile on her face to be with him again. In fact many of us can’t wait for that day when we are united with our loved ones who were taken from us suddenly on 9/11.”
Godshalk was also remembered during the ceremony by Santarsiero for her efforts to build the Garden of Reflection and for helping to organize the Sept. 11th ceremony every year.
In the months following 9/11, Godshalk and other 9/11 family members, including Ellen Saracini, the Kelly family, Tara Bane, Clara Chirchirillo and others, came together to create the Garden of Reflection in memory of those who died that day.
“This memorial was built by those who were left standing empty and eternally wounded,” said Lower Makefield Supervisor Kristin Tyler at ceremony. “They are our friends, our neighbors and our fellow citizens. They took their grief and they made this beautiful tribute to the many, many lives lost. They created this sanctuary as a place to connect, remember and respect those lost on this date 18 years ago. On behalf of Lower Makefield, we thank you for filling the very heart of this community.”
Godshalk was also remembered by Judi Reiss who also lost a son, Joshua, in the attack. The two formed a close bond in the months and years that followed September 11th.
“Over time I’ve realized what a wonderful, wonderful community that I live in,” said Reiss. “The nine of us bonded,” she said of the local wives and mothers who lost children and spouses as they shared their grief and worked on the garden memorial. “All of us went to meetings together, through grief counseling together and we learned what community truly means.
“It’s hard for me to imagine it’s been so long. We’ve lost some of us. We have still stayed together. We have become part of each other’s families ... We are a community that reaches out to our neighbors. We are a community that is welcoming. We are a community filled with love.”
Joshua was a 23-year-old bond trader working at Cantor Fitzgerald on the 101st floor when he lost his life at the trade center.
Rob Segal had been friends with Joshua since nursery school and was best friends with him up until exchanging pleasantries minutes before the events of Sept. 11th. On Wednesday, he shared cherished moments spent together as Joshua’s mom smiled and occasionally shook her head in acknowledgment.
“Josh was driven to succeed in whatever he did. He didn’t accept not winning. He had this unique ability of sizing up the game whether it was in school, business or relationships. He knew the line of fair and ethical play. He would approach it. He would touch it. But he wouldn’t cross it. So when I think about my three sons and the values we instill in them, this will be the one I will instill in my boys - that Joshua Reiss drive.”
State Senator Steve Santarsiero spoke about the younger generation who will only know September 11th as a day inscribed in the history books with no personal memory of the events that shook the nation to its core.
“It is our responsibility to make sure that as they grow up and they make decisions in our country and in our world that those decisions are informed by the lessons of this day,” he said.
“While we pause to reflect on the tragedy of Sept. 11th, on every other day of the year let us turn the lessons of that tragedy into building a stronger and better world so that the darkness that happened that day does not prevail, but that the light that exists within us and I believe is part of the long march of history toward freedom and democracy throughout the world is the legacy we pass on to the next generation.
“Let us resolve that is what we will impart to the next generation,” he said. “That’s why we come to this memorial. That’s why we mark this day as a solemn day. Yes, to remember the victims and their families and to grieve with them, but also to work toward a better world for our children and grandchildren. Let that be our mission.”
State Rep. Perry Warren spoke about the community’s resilience in the aftermath of the attack.
“In these 18 years we’ve shown resilience as a community, as a nation and as a society. That resilience began the day of the attack - rescue workers heroically helping victims and sacrificing themselves to save lives, relatives helping relatives, neighbors helping neighbors and strangers helping strangers.
“While no words, or deeds or speeches can heal those who loved the people who died that day, we continue to come together as a community just as we did 18 years ago and we continue to be the relatives helping relatives, the neighbors helping neighbors and the strangers helping strangers.”
Rabbi Anna Boswell-Levy from Congregation Kol Emet talked about the number 18, which not only is the number of years that have passed since the attack, but also the number of people killed that day from Bucks County.
In the Jewish tradition, Levy said 18 symbolizes life. “18 means that life matters. 18 means choose life. 18 means "Remember us, God, for life."
“There’s no peace here. There’s no justice,” she said. “This will always be a raw, horrible loss for the families of the victims and for the nation. But hopefully having been through this we understand more deeply the need to support one another in all the little, critical ways that we can. And this is why today we come together.
“Remembering,” she said, “reminds us of who we are and who we want to be in the short, finite lifespan we should all be so blessed to have. Hopefully, through remembering, we are more compassionate as individuals and as a society. And hopefully we never stop being seekers of justice and peace however elusive it may feel at times.”
Mahan Rishi of the Khalsa Healing Arts and Yoga Center spoke about the fire bell and the symbolism it represents.
“When we hear that bell, I love and appreciate the bell. I also detest the bell,” said Rishi. “The bell is so penetrating. You can feel it in your veins. I’m wondering how healthy it is for us to keep reactivating trauma. And so if we can also remember the bell as a vehicle of awakening, as a vehicle for us to not only remember the loss, but also remember the ascension of these beings ... Each of us has the opportunity now as we hear the bell to remember these beings rising and merging in oneness. As we hear the bell today, may we hear the voice of our loved ones and these beings continue to vibrate from the flowers, the trees, the sky and most importantly from our hearts.”
The Rev. Donald Schuler, Pastor of Genesis Community Church, sang two stanzas of the moving hymn, “It is well with my soul.”
The hymn, he said, was written by Horatio Spafford after his four daughters drown in 1873 when their ship sank in the Atlantic Ocean.
Schuler was on the tarmac at Newark Airport when the first plane hit the World Trade Center on Sept. 11th. “When the second plane hit I said, ‘We’re at war.’ And it was not well with my soul.
“As you think of the memory of each individual who passed on that day, celebrate them. Life is precious and has great purpose,” he said.
The Garden of Reflection is open from dusk to dawn at Memorial Park on Woodside Road in Lower Makefield (Yardley) 19067. For information, visit 9-11MemorialGarden.org