A 9/11 Memorial Vigil was scheduled to be held in the ETSU amphitheater Wednesday, but the rain caused the event to take place on the patio next to the Cave at the D. P. Culp Center. (Lee Talbert/Johnson City Press)
A mixed crowd attended the 9/11 Memorial Vigil held near East Tennessee State University’s amphitheater area Wednesday night — those who recounted footage they watched on national news channels and stories from friends who were in New York at the time, and those who were too young to even remember the tragedy at all.
A Johnson City resident in location, but New Yorker in heart, Brooklyn native Helene Cridge said the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, especially in her beloved city, still affects her 12 years later.
“It’s (like) somebody came into your house and tried to destroy it,” Cridge said. “Yes, they did it to America, but when you live there it’s like ‘You came and did this to me.’ You just feel awful and you can never get over it. It’s just too special ... and I think everybody in New York feels the same way.”
Wearing a 9/11 T-shirt with buttons reading “Never Forget 9-11” and “Proud 2 B A New Yorker,” Cridge, with her friend beside her, spoke about the little success stories of friends of a friend who worked in and near the Twin Towers.
Cridge said a couple of people she heard about decided to simply not go into work that day for numerous reasons and also told about another person who was running late to work. Cridge said each person, all of whom would have normally been working in the offices inside the towers, survived.
“If she went to work, she would have died,” Cridge said. “If she was on time, she would have died.”
ETSU alumna Shae Keane, organizer of the memorial and vigil, said while the event, which was attended by about 10 people, wasn’t heavily publicized, she said she felt it was important to create a space for dialogue.
“This was meant to be more of an open sharing, because from what I’ve learned in my studies here at ETSU and the travels that have been supported through ETSU to go abroad ... is that there’s a lot of power behind sharing stories, sharing personal experiences and there’s also a big barrier, a wall, of misunderstanding when there’s not that space for people to connect with one another,” Keane said.
“I feel really strongly that it’s in that connection that change happens, that people begin to treat one another differently, that we begin to think about conflict or suffering in our world differently, and begin to see our individual role in change, not only in a broader context, but in our everyday exchanges,” she said.
While only a small group of people gathered for the 7:15 p.m. vigil, Keane said she doesn’t feel like that’s enough to say that people are forgetting the attacks and suffering of 9/11.
“I don’t think it’s that people don’t care, as much as it’s a question of how does one honor such a huge atrocity,” she said. “I actually don’t feel that people are forgetting, as much as it is a very uncomfortable place to lean into. It’s very uncomfortable to sit in the suffering that 9/11 represents. It’s very uncomfortable to hear the stories that people hold, that we don’t necessarily ... hold.”
Underneath an overhang on the patio area of the D.P. Culp University Center, the group exchanged names, connections to the tragedy, and other feelings on world events, such as Syria, during the vigil.
Caitlin Duke was only in the beginning of her first-grade year when the 9/11 tragedies unfolded, but said she could remember her elementary school’s teachers “not really telling us what was going on. I remember them being scared, which was weird because they didn’t really tell us anything, but you could tell at the same time that something was very, very wrong. My parents were glued to the TV, which usually doesn’t happen unless saying something major is on the news. I look back now and I realize a lot of what happened and a lot of the details and I think it would have scared me as a first-grader.”
After receiving word of the memorial, Duke said she decided to gather up some of her friends to attend.
“It is still a very important thing, so I wanted all of us to ... come together and spend some time together while we remembered this,” she said.