September 12, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 365
Tomb Or Garden Of Vigilance?

Cliff McKenzie
   Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

       GROUND ZERO, New York City, September 12-- Last night I put my hands over the Eternal Flame of Vigilance and let the heat of its passion for peace warm my belief in the Sentinels of Vigilance.

      Just minutes before, ninety members of the United Nations stood on the platform in Battery Park as Mayor Bloomberg lit the flame, an eternal memory to those who died in the September 11 Terrorist attack.
      While thousands stood across the street, craning to see what was happening, my wife I were privileged to be with the families, in a private yet unqualified signal of global unification against Terrorism.

       The Eternal Flame was lit next to the wounded sphere that survived the World Trade Center attack.

 The 'Sphere',  weighing 45,000 pounds of steel and bronze, 25 feet high, was sculpted by Franz Koenig as a symbol of peace in 1971.  It  stood in the WTC Plaza for 30 years. 

          Even the Terrorist attack couldn't destroy it.   Scarred, wounded, it survived.  Koenig's sphere was put in Battery Park after September 11--the first monument to the enduring nature of Peace over War, of Vigilance over Terrorism.
           The sphere was a fitting backdrop to the 90 members of the United Nations who participated.   Standing before us was the most powerful body of world government, assembled to pay tribute to America's loss, and by default, to issue a message to Terrorists around the world that unity would defeat them.

       The procession was led by Secretary of State Colin Powell; it was book ended with the Secretary General of the United Nations.   The U.N. members stood like a choir, on tiers in front of the Eternal Flame while "God Bless America" was sung.  
      It was a beautiful end to a long day that started at 3:45 a.m. when the alarm rang, reminding me a year before I had been at the epicenter of a new wave of history.
      In the dim light of the morning, we caught the "N" subway to Lower Manhattan.   New York City never sleeps, so we weren't alone.    We got off at City Hall and walked past the tributes that drape the front of Trinity Church.  Trinity is the headquarters of memorabilia sent from around the world, messages of condolences and support to the loss of so many that day.

       In the pre-dawn I felt one with the messages written by children, the flags, the shirts, the poems, the heartfelt passions of the soul that people of all ages, from all lands. Thousands of cranes, symbolizing peace, hung on the wall, and pre-dawn volunteers were busy arranging new tributes and gifts next to old ones, weathered and worn over the past year.    

      We made our way to Robert Wagner Park, overlooking the bay where the Hudson and East Rivers meet. The sunrise services faced the Statue of Liberty; its dim sallow flame could be seen in the distance.  The  service was ecumenical, with a host of religions represented--a Buddhist monk,  a Greek Orthodox priest, a Jewish rabbi, a Roman Catholic priest, an Islamic chaplain from the FDNY, a Baptist minister, and the head of the Trinity Church delivered messages.  Local politicians were there, of course, to remind everyone that Church and State stood side by side, but they didn't overshadow the spirituality of the event.

        We all held candles in the dim light, and listened as each speaker recited a poem or a piece of scripture as  ferry boats gunned their engines, shuttling workers from New Jersey to Lower Manhattan. The glow of the Statue of Liberty's torch grew fainter on the horizon as the sun slowly rose to create the Dawn of Vigilance.
        Then it was off to Ground Zero for the tribute to those who had perished, and to those who had toiled to search for the lost and rebuild the blood-soaked soil.   
        We elected not to join the family group at first, and instead entered a private section reserved for the construction workers--the men and women who dug through the rubble--the grave diggers--the grunts of Nine Eleven.   They were the tough, the Marines of Vigilance, who scooped the debris into tens of thousands of trucks after each shovelful was searched for bodies, or fragments that might identify the loss of a loved ones. 

       Many were steel and iron workers, others, electricians or engineers.  They carried their union banners, American Flags.  Most wore hard harts with stickers plastered on them to let the world know they had spent the past year sifting through the rubble of one of America's worst disasters.  They were the garbage men of Terror, cleaning up the site so upon its floor another monument could be built.

      In front of us was an iron cross the workers had fashioned into a cross.  It was made out of twisted steel girders, crude in its design, yet as beautiful as anything da Vinci might have molded.  It symbolized the strength and belief of those who survive the aftermath of horror, and while Christian in nature, was ecumenical in effect.  
      The construction workers had found many bodies, and placed wreathes on the fence in remembrance. 

      One man climbed up amidst a swirl of flags to tie them on the galvanized links of the fence to the cheers of the workers pressed together like sardines in a can.   
      As the ceremonies began, we decided to join the families, and made our way down the street to the family section.   We had come to pay tribute to my friend, Emily's brother, photographer William Biggart, the only correspondent to die in the holocaust.   We also came to share our own private feelings with the Spirits of Vigilance to whom we had paid tribute each day for the past year on this website.  In our minds, we had earned the right to be "family."
      We were given Hawaiian leis as we entered; a red ribbon was pinned over our hearts, symbolizing us as members of the survivors.
      Ground Zero is a giant hole.  A gargantuan grave site.  It is sixteen acres in size, and more than 60 feet deep.  It took 108,000 truckloads to move the debris from the site, a total of 1.8 million tons of earth (equaling 3.6 billion pounds).  In modern terms, it ranks as one of the largest graves in history, and once one enters it, the walls of the "grave" close in, reminding you that it is not a mere "hole" in the ground, but rather a tomb, a crypt, a depository of death.    

      Before entering the site we watched bagpipers marching in a circle representing the closure of the events of a year before.  They had marched all night from New York's boroughs, starting at 2 a.m. in the morning from Queens, Staten Island, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan, playing their soulful notes to let the world that slept know the Vigilant never sleep.  The pipers converged on Ground Zero at 7:30 a.m. and made their way down a long gangway into the pit below.
       It was windy.  Gusts whirled the dust awakened by the piper's feet, throwing it up into the air to be whipped into a whirlwind that cast a pall over the pit, as though those resting below were disturbed by the presence of others, agitated by commotion and media trying to memorialize the immemorial.

     New York Governor Pataki read the Gettysburg Address, and former Mayor Giuliani began reciting over 2800 names of those whose identities had been confirmed as dead.  President Bush spoke from the White House as the church bells tolled.  Then we were allowed down the long ramp to pay our respects.
      I come from a long line of grave diggers.   My father and his father were morticians, and ran the Anderson Funeral Home in Hood River, Oregon.   My real name is Anderson, I was adopted by my step-father, and never met my real father until I was 21, but I always knew who he was, and what he and his family did for a living.  Oddly, I felt at home in the pit.

        But no matter how many graves one has seen, Ground Zero was intimidating.   As we reached the bottom of the ramp and made our way around the vast cavern in the ground, the wind whipped wildly, slinging particles of dirt into our pores, stinging our eyes, covering us with an earthy ash not unlike the ash that had blanketed me on September 11, 2001.  My eyes stung and what might have appeared as tears was my body's attempt to wash the dust free.  I thought back to a year ago when I was just a few blocks from the collapsing buildings, and their pulverized debris drenched me with the ash of death.
 We made our way to the "memorial ring" and placed a rose for William Biggart, Emily's brother, and a man who had become my quasi-brother over the past year. 

     He and I had rushed to Ground Zero a year ago, I to write, he to take pictures.   I survived, he didn't.   I had never met Bill Biggart, but I knew him through Emily.  I knew how close she was to her brother, how proud she was of him and also how frustrated she was that he had put himself at risk and paid the final price.
       I was acting as her proxy, paying tribute to Bill for her, an agreement we had made earlier in the week as she preferred not to revisit the pain and suffering of her loss.
      My wife and I walked reverently around the gaping hole.  Priests, ministers, rabbis and Red Cross Workers were stationed to support those who needed comfort.
      I felt I was in the soul of a giant whose insides were empty, stripped of its humanness, barren of its life force.   The pit felt like an empty womb without a uterus, scooped clean, waiting to be filled with life but angry at the presence of life trampling upon its barren sanctuary.   

       The smell of grease smacked my nostrils.   A giant crane lay at rest, and machinery used to carve the earth bare of any scars of the past seemed to wait for us to leave so they could finish what they had started and move on to the next job.
      Sections of the ground were wet from seeping water.  Mud  sucked at your shoes when you tried to step over them and missed dry land.  Chunks of concrete stood in southeast section of the pit, scarred reminders of the fortress that once had been supported two 110-story buildings that rose nearly a quarter of a mile high and housed 10 million square feet of the world's financial center.

        But the sides of the pit told the real story.   Rusted steel veins extruded from the stained concrete. They were metal arteries that had once helped hold the building up.  The protrusions angled upward at 45 degrees like mouths of old canons aimed at the sky. 

      I shot pictures of it, awed by the bloodlike stains scarring the walls. In one area a geyser of water showered down from a giant culvert many feet above my head, baptizing the parched earth below.
     I stood below it and thought about the foundation of a man's or woman's soul.   I thought about the mission of the Spirits of Vigilance, and how they were the engineers of a child's infra-structure, coaches and mentors to help a child dig deep into the roots of wisdom so when he or she grew, he or she could withstand the sheer and stress of human emotions, human tragedies, and most of all, human Terrorism.
       I thought about how a child who is neglected or abused, or grows up not feeling loved by his or her parents, has shallow foundations.   I thought about children who had no one helping them dig their foundations for life, no one worrying about the Fear, Intimidation or Complacency that rattle through a child's mind as it seeks to find its way through the dark into the light.   I thought of a child who went to bed at night wishing his or her parents would sit with them and "just talk," of someone who wants to know about their "fears of the bogeymen" who hid in the closet or slipped into their thoughts and told them they weren't worthy enough, smart enough, good looking enough, popular enough, rich enough.

      Critics of the World Trade Center often forget the structures stood long enough for 24,000 people to escape.   They forget the foundations of the building saved thousands, and that the memorial being held for just under 3,000 lost souls could have been five times that amount.    
     I knew also that a parent who was too busy to spend time with his or her child to get to know the child's foundations would one day regret the fact when their child matured and the division between them had grown too wide.   I thought of a Parent of Vigilance as an Architect of Vigilance, duty-bound to engineer in a child the power to fight Fear's worst winds, to withstand Intimidation's angry dark clouds and lightening, and to stand tall against Complacencies hurricanes.

      I watched the children planting flower in the mud.   Little girls and boys shoved the stems of roses in the soft earth, trying to make them stand erect.   Their parents knelt with them, packing the ground, being part of the children's building of their sense of respect for human life.   I knew  I witnessed a precious moment in the architecture of the children's humanness.
        Families formed prayer circles and bowed their heads solemnly.   Makeshift crosses were fashioned and messages such as "We Love You" were fashioned out of some old rusty nails remaining on the pit's floor.

     On the only standing remnants of a shattered concrete wall people were writing messages to loved ones.   My wife wrote a message for Bill Biggart from Emily.  
      Red Cross volunteers moved about the crowd with packages of Kleenex for those who needed to wipe tears from their eyes.   Pictures of loved ones were placed by flowers.  Flags were placed by flowers and photos.

        The brother of one policeman, NYPD officer, Glen Pettit, had a tattoo on his right leg, a Celtic Cross in honor of his brother and Nine Eleven.   I asked his permission to take a picture of it.   Tears rimmed the family's eyes as they held up a picture of their son, husband, brother who had given his life that day to help others.
       As we explored the Tomb of Vigilance, the sounds of names of the departed could be heard being read over a loudspeaker, embellished by a cello playing a requiem.   It resounded in the pit, casting a pall over the hole that sliced through the soul of all those there. 

 A portion of the recent additions to the Police Memorial in Battery Park (note Glen K. Pettit as mentioned above)

        I remembered my father's funeral.   I had gone after the services and stood over his grave.  He had abandoned me when I was nine-months old and only when I decided to contact him at age 21 did we meet.  I thought about his lack of presence in my life.  I thought about the Terror I experienced as a child wondering why he didn't love me enough to send me a card, or pick up a phone, or want to ever see me.  I knew about the Terror of a child who wasn't loved.
      To me, my father's grave was merely a hole in the ground.  It had no feeling.  It had no emotion.  It was wet the day we buried him in Oregon, and the bottom of the grave was saturated in a foot of water.  I stood looking at it, wondering how any mother or father could live life without loving their child.  I was glad the children here this day were full of love for those they had lost.   I saw it in the way they planted the flowers, in the eagerness they expressed to make the crosses stand straight, or the flower stand erect. 

     Then it dawned on me.   For so many, this wasn't a grave.  This wasn't a hole in the ground.   It was a planter's box.
     I realized the children were planting the " Seeds of Vigilance"   Children's fertile imaginations are limited by the reality of adults.  
     When a friend of mine died last year, a man named Guy, I had gone to his funeral and taken home a handful of dirt from his grave.  I stopped by my daughter's apartment and told her I had some dirt from Guy's grave I was going to keep in fond memory of him.   My grandchildren, Sarah, then 3, and Matt then 5, had an "idea."  They took me into the garden behind their apartment and told me to give them some of the dirt.  Kneeling, they took the dirt and dug a hole, then put the graveside dirt in it and covered it with fresh dirt.  Then they ran in the house and got some water and sprinkled it on top of Guy's grave soil.
      "What are you doing?" I finally asked, fascinated by the ritual they had just performed.
      "We're going to grow Guy back for you, G-Pa.  He was your friend, right?  You would like him to come back, wouldn't you?"

      I wanted to cry.   It was so innocent, so beautiful.   The children saw something I didn't.  They saw the birth of life from death, not its abortion.
      So I realized the children who were planting the flowers were planting "Stalks of Vigilance," seeding the soil so rich verdant crop of Sentinels of Vigilance could grow out of the soil of destruction.

      A few days earlier I had read about the battle of Brandywine, between British and American forces.   It was fought on September 11, 1777, and was one of the bloodiest in the Revolutionary War.   So many had died there that their bodies, scattered over a 10 square mile area, enriched the soil.  Over the ensuing years the area produced the richest crops.   The dead had fertilized life. 

     I thought of the blood of the dead from Nine Eleven as the fuel for life.  If a child could believe it, I could.
      I chose to think of the Tomb of Vigilance no longer as a gravesite, but as a Garden of Vigilance.   It was no longer just a hole in the ground..  It was a seedling box.  A big one.
      From its depth would grow the Stalks of Vigilance.   I saw them sprouting rich greenery, lush beliefs, and eternal security for those who chose to see Vigilance as crops of Terrorism.

      Whether it was a Tomb of Vigilance or a Garden of Vigilance was up to those who viewed it. 
      As we left Ground Zero yesterday, I chose to see it as the Garden of Vigilance.
      I knew the children did.
      I hoped the parents and loved ones would too.



Go To September 11 - "The Dawn of Vigilance"

©2001 - 2004,, All rights reserved -  a ((HYYPE)) design