My Turn: A comforting and inspiring transformation

Posted: Sunday, September 16, 2001

I attended the Centennial Hall remembrance ceremony on Friday and wrote down my thoughts afterward:

I witnessed a most emotional event at lunch today. I saw thousands of individuals enter a building one by one, but as we left the building, we left as one. One community coming together for one thing. It's almost like a transformation took place. I not only saw it happen, but I also was a part of it. It was an incredible hour. I have gathered my thoughts and wanted to write down some of my memories of the event and the feelings it provoked in me.

The entire room was lined with chairs, when those were filled, people started standing around the perimeter of the room, eventually running out of room and spilling out into the lobby where a hundred more people stood. Thousands of people, so many people wearing red, white and blue. Clothing, coordinated together in the three colors men and women blue pants, red shirts, white vests, hair ribbons, even shoes! Lots of shirts with the American flag on them. Even the children I saw wore ribbons or stickers with flags on them. People holding flags.

I saw people of all different walks of life come together as one to mourn the loss of so many lives and to gain the strength we will need to face the tough days ahead.

Three people shared in lighting one big unity candle they represented the police, fire department and the military, obviously a tribute to those who lost their lives in the line of duty. During all of the speaking, there were no egos to feed. There were no introductions to the speakers at all. Everyone was there for one reason. There was a representation of different religions and each offered a prayer of healing. There was a Native minister who spoke first, someone from the Bahai and Jewish faiths, the lieutenant governor, a Coast Guard chaplain.

We sang "God Bless America" with a true conviction. A couple more people offered prayers. One of those people suggested that what we could do right then to help was to take a collection that would be sent to the United Way. It was an amazing response, 10 baskets filled with money and checks. Total strangers putting extra money in the basket for the person standing next to them who didn't have any money with them. A man standing next to me wrote a check for $100.

At the end, the last religious person to speak said something that really gripped me. She said that we should not pray for tolerance, but for acceptance of people who may be different than ourselves. I really liked what that says once you know of someone's differences, whatever they are, accept that person as they are, instead of just acknowledging that they are different but continuing to judge them because they are different.

A lone bagpiper then stood before the crowd and began to play "Amazing Grace." We all stood and listened and before long, a single hum began in the crowd. It soon grew to where many were humming along. It then grew into words, as more and more people began singing, until the end of the song, when most of the room was singing along. The sound of the first couple of people humming that swelled in the entire room singing is something that will stay with me for a long, long time. It really represented the way everyone came into the building, one by one, but, again, leaving as one.

*****

Staci Augustus of Juneau is a contracting officer for the state of Alaska.



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