What does it mean to heal? Is time, itself, enough? Can we remember, and still move on?

The permanent memorial to the victims of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, has thrown up confronting questions during its prolonged construction, and no simple answers were given at its Presidential dedication yesterday in New York City.

President Barack Obama and former president George W. Bush did not give speeches, but read a psalm and a letter from another wartime president, Abraham Lincoln, in front of thousands of relatives holding photos, posters and flowers.

Recent threats meant a massive police presence “froze” lower Manhattan — although the media cramped together on a riser did giggle when the presidents and their wives shuffled out and only the Obamas fitted behind the blast-proof glass panel erected as a security measure.

Mary Beth Dougherty, 49, was there to remember her brother, Kevin James Murray, the man she jokingly calls her “Irish twin”, because they were born less than a year apart.

“For me it’s not 10 years,” she said. “It’s how the kids have gotten older.” Murray’s children, aged 14 and 17, joined 25 members of his family from across America to view the memorial. It opened to relatives today, and to the public tomorrow.

“It’s not hard coming here,” she said, “It’s hard leaving. You feel like you’re leaving him.”

After a citywide moment of silence, the ceremony paused six times — twice to mark the times that each plane hit the towers, twice to mark the time when each tower fell and again to mark the moments of the attacks on the Pentagon and on Flight 93.

Almost 3000 people died in terrorist attacks centred here in 2001 and yesterday’s ceremony was as emotional as it was simple.

Pairs of readers read a short list of names, before adding a personal tribute to their lost soul. Previously unacquainted, the readers were often grouped — parents missing children, children missing parents, siblings missing siblings — and their trembling voices and simple statements of love washed over the crowd.

Holding the last known photo of her brother, firefighter Gary Box, Christina Box said the day didn’t feel 10 years away in her memory.

Box left behind two children after he was snapped running through Battery Tunnel towards the towers.

“Now we’ve got somewhere to go,” she said. “It felt like we didn’t have anywhere before. This is the place we need to be.”

Hopefully this tenth anniversary will cap a dismal decade in the home of the brave.

The country that built the Empire State Building in one year and 45 days couldn’t build their September 11 memorial in less than a decade. (The museum won’t be finished until next year).

The country that put the first man on the moon has astronauts that now have to hitch a Russian ride to the international space station.

The country that has provided the greatest medical advances has TV advertisements shilling special “extra strong” pain medication for workers … that already take regular pain medication every single day.

It gets worse: the new Superman is a Brit.

Each name read out yesterday could have lived another 10 fruitful years with their families, when they could make their own choices, mistakes and successes. They were taken — and much of America’s path in the past decade was set by the response to their deaths.

President Obama talks often about the promise of America, and after the 10 years they’ve had you can’t help but to wish them the best of luck.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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