The New York Times, September 14, 2001, Grief Is Lessened by Sharing and Solace From Strangers
Lorna Dolci took herself from North Plainfield, N.J., to Union Square in Manhattan yesterday for no other reason than to mourn. She wanted something to make what had happened feel real; the smoke still choking the air did that. But even more, she wanted companions in her grief. At Union Square, she found hundreds.
Television is supposed to have created a global village, but person after person said yesterday that staying home and watching images of destruction on television only made them feel alone. And so, as if desperate to escape the keening within, people took themselves to public places and community institutions, from parks to churches. Many people also went to the firehouses devastated by loss, bearing flowers, food and simply good wishes.
Most of those who took refuge in company were not seeking conversation. One man, Bob Tyler, said he was grateful for the silence, only occasionally punctuated by sirens and heated debates, that prevailed at Union Square.
"Today I wanted to get out of the house and find a quiet place," said Mr. Tyler.
The square became a site of convergence almost by accident. On Tuesday afternoon, Jordan Schuster, a 19-year-old student desperate to do something, had taped down a piece of butcher paper to give people an outlet. By yesterday, well over 100 sheets of paper had been filled with tributes, prayers, opinions, and counteropinions.
"This is a forum for feeling, to try to deal with grief and its aftermath," said Gregory Moss, a writer who was helping to organize the makeshift memorial.
Around noon on Wednesday, two Armenian immigrants arrived at Union Square lugging a concrete-covered column about eight feet high, and attached what looked like a wire-mesh Christmas tree on top. It was a tribute to the victims of the attacks; the two had stayed up all night making it.
The column, dominated as it was by the statue of George Washington looming over it, at first seemed faintly absurd. But yesterday, it seemed utterly necessary. The area around its base was covered with flowers, candles, and photos of the missing, and people gathered around it as if it were a campfire. They stared. They read. They knelt. They wept. They looked as if they would have clutched onto the column if they could have.
Ms. Dolci, an orchestra manager in Manhattan, had brought postcards of the World Trade Center and taped them on the ground with the words, "We Will Always Remember You."
She was, she said, mourning the buildings as well as the victims.
"It's the loss of so many people, and the loss of something that's been considered such a sign of stability."
On the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, people stared at the spot where the two towers had been. In some cases, they stared where they thought the towers had been. They had never bothered, never needed, to note their actual location, and now they could not remember.
People attached bouquets to the railings, and notes thick with pain. One note read: ''You are missed and loved and will never be forgotten. Our hearts are shattered. God be with you.'' It was signed Jack, Charlotte, Mom and Dad, and Willie.
Joe Vanzego, 28, leaned against a railing on the promenade and watched yet another dark plume of smoke rise above where the towers had been. A Wall Street broker, he had been at work when the planes hit. He had two friends missing from two companies, Eurobrokers and Cantor Fitzgerald L.P., that appeared to have sustained heavy losses.
Yet still he found himself struggling to believe that the disaster had really happened. ''I can see the two twin towers are gone. That's the only thing that's real,'' he said.
He was praying, he said, but also struggling with his faith. "It makes you almost angry at God," he said. "How could you let this happen -- if there really is a God."
At a lookout point at the South Mountain Reservation in Essex County, N.J., where once the towers had been visible, people have left dozens of messages along a stone wall. Many of the notes are in Spanish, like one that read, "I cry and cry and cry for the city of New York."
The need for places to gather and to grieve seems more acutely felt with each day. Candlelight vigils were held at the Promenade and elsewhere in the city last night.
And Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, said that Cardinal Edward M. Egan would preside at two memorial Masses, on Sunday and Monday. The Sunday service will remember the dead and injured, those who tried to rescue them, and those who are mourning loved ones or simply the loss of life. The Monday service will be dedicated to uniformed personnel who died, Mr. Zwilling said.
For the Fire Department, figuring out how to mourn what may be more than 300 dead is a wrenching logistical task. Fallen firefighters usually receive large ceremonial funerals, but most of the department's men are helping with the rescue operation. Still, an official with the city's Uniformed Fire Officers Association said several firefighters and officers had told him they planned to briefly abandon the digging to mourn their comrades.
Back at Union Square, the venting through writing, the seeking of solace with strangers, continued. A woman wearing angel wings hugged a weeping Michael Berresse. He had never met her; he welcomed the hug nonetheless.
An actor, Mr. Berresse had starred in the Broadway revival of ''Kiss Me Kate,'' and was set to leave for London on Saturday to open a revival there. He was postponing his departure, he said, although two missing friends had finally been accounted for, because he wanted to be among the grieving here. "I felt it was too critical to stay and feel a part of my community," he said.
His eyes swept over the ever-thickening throngs, and the profusion of sentiment scribbled onto butcher paper. People paid tribute to the dead and encouraged the loved ones of the missing not to give up hope.
One man, Mr. Berresse noted, wrote that for the first time in his life, he was praying for people he did not know.
"I am just struck with this city's desire to congregate, to heal," Mr. Berresse said. "I've never been so proud to be a part of this culture."
Photos: Passers-by at Washington Square Park turned a fence into a floral tribute to the victims of the attacks. Below, a wall outside Bellevue Hospital Center with photographs of some of the many people still missing. (Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times); (Krista Niles/The New York Times)