I'm not sure what I expected to feel once the lights came on; it made me remember many years ago, on World AIDS Day, the first time the Manhattan skyline went dark to commemorate those who had died. It was the same night as the TV special for the first Red Hot and Blue album/video. Me and my then-boyfriend Phil were with another couple, having gone out for dinner, on our way home to watch the TV show. Walking up 2nd ave, hurrying so we could see the skyline from Phil's roof, suddenly the Empire State Building went dark. We paused, all quiet despite the continuation of city/traffic noises, each lost in our own thoughts, our own losses. Soon one of us urged the group to move on for those few more blocks, knowing we could get to the roof in time to see the whole skyline. It was amazing. A simple gesture, a sort of recognition from "them" that this was important, that our continued losses mattered, had to be acknowledged, which wasn't the case so often. Once the skyline slowly re-lit, we all hugged on that December night, and went back inside.
This was different, of course. There may not have been this need for some sort of national recognition, but still it seemed like a good idea to me. While it was planned to be a temporary rememberance, the lights were a way of saying, "Never Forget". It seemed like some vague haze was coming from downtown, but nothing like a tower of light, and I was getting much too cold, and impatient. I knew it would be visable for a month, and from most parts of the city, so there was no real need to stay. I began to move from the end of the pier back towards the island, but saw that more people had gathered, and were continuing to come. I decided to stay a little longer, to see what it would look like from this perspective, the first moments. I found a spot to set up my camera, knowing it couldn't be a good picture, that there would be plenty of better ones on news websites, etc, within moments, but I still wanted to make the effort.
I had turned around for a moment, and heard "there it is" and saw the lights. Oddly disappointing at first, I robotically snapped two pictures, put the camera away, but leaned back, and began to absorb the view. It took a few minutes to get the idea of "it doesnt look like the World Trade Center to me" out of my head, to seeing it more like a simple gesture, "art" even. From this perspective, perhaps too close to the source, you could see it's odd angle ending way up in the sky, almost like one of those tacky movie premier lights. Too cold to stay put, I slowly moved up, heading north, in the opposite direction from the lights. But seeing more and more people coming, looking into the air, often solitary figures, lost in their own thoughts, just following the beams, I started to get overwhelmed. Odd how this shared horrific experience, 6 months later, was taking this form. This need to see something big and dramatic, yet simple and reassuring, each person with their own individual memory of that day, and the months since, walking towards the lights. I stopped frequently, turned around, or just watched the folks walking down the pathway. Riding back onto the street, and taking a slightly detoured ride home, I still stopped frequently. As I got more into traffic, and the density of the city, still able to see the beams of light above, and seeing other folks stopping while walking down 8th Ave, 7th Ave, etc, it was good to have this rememberance. All those "missing posters" of the fall, the impromptu candle memorials leaning against walls that were all over town months ago and now gone, it was reassuring to see this beam from whereever you were in the city.
When I neared home, turning onto my block, I paused at the spot at the laundrymat's wall. This was where there had been several cardboard boxes with hand-scrawled notes and prayers, and a dozen or two candles that somehow stayed lit most of those first few weeks. Now there was only the vaguest outline of spilled candle wax staining the sidewalk, outlining where the boxes had been, that would go unnoticed if you hadn't seen what had made it 6 months ago. I looked up, saw the beautiful bright beam in the sky, mumbled a few words into my scarf, and walked the rest of the way down the street to my home.