The weather looked dreadful in the hours leading up to the Brooklyn / Bedford Park 9/11 Memorial yesterday evening, honoring the fallen friends and families of those who passed 10 years ago. But minutes before it kicked off, the gray skies parted, and sunlight lanced the cloud cover, bathing in dusk’s glow the 350 or so that gathered at Bill Brown Park.
That gave an extra jolt of confidence to the previously fretful organizers, who had scuddled about for four hours before the event’s start, hanging flags, setting candles and preparing equipment. And as the splash of sunlight heralded the event, organizers played their call-to-arms – Neil Diamond’s “Coming to America” interlaced with soundbytes of George W. Bush’s post-9/11 rhetoric.
The emotional cabaret began.
I’ve written in previous coverage of the event about how this unstructured event exceeds in authenticity if not pomp and circumstance. Last year I wrote, “Bedford Park’s September 11th Memorial is every bit as colorful and heartfelt as [Rockin’ Ray] Fiore’s painting. And like his painting, it’s rough around the edges and lacks the polish of those well-funded tributes put on by more established organizations. But it surpasses all in heart and sincerity.”
Watching again this year, I found myself momentarily pondering if perhaps the gushing tributes to servicemen, the vendetta-laden readings of texts like “An Open Letter to a Terrorist,” the musical interludes – including off-key and relentlessly-spirited karaoke ditties by Fiore – were a bit much. It was as if Saturday Night Live‘s Will Ferrell and Cheri Oteri were tasked with devising a hokey parody of September 11 remembrance organized by the East Side Spartans cheer squad.
But that thought lasted just a moment, and its superficiality barely scratches the surface of this event. It’s not about you or me and our expectations of decorum and solemnity. If you want that, there are numerous professionally- and politically-organized memorials across the city, laden with choreographed bagpipe performances and well-timed speeches. This is the People’s Memorial, and it’s a salve to the invisible wounds of those who partake in it.
Partake being the operative word. Here, you don’t stand and watch, bow your head when told and put hand on heart when told. Here, if you allow yourself the relief, if you free yourself from cynicism and pretense, you give yourself over to become an actor in the emotional cabaret.
It’s a lusty performance, full of singing, dancing, laughing and crying. You smirk at Fiore’s one permitted curse from the podium per annum. Your heart twangs as Mary Dwyer speaks of her fallen sister. Your chest swells at the modesty of the servicemen who present themselves, thanking you for thanking them.
Despite whatever cheesiness a cynic may see in the Brooklyn / Bedford Park Memorial, and the vaudeville-esque facade of its structure, the sincerity of the people behind it is there for those who give themselves over to it. Witnessing the effects it has upon them, the event’s importance is undeniable. The people know each other, and it’s an exhibition of familiarity, not sterile remembrance. These are people – neighbors – who know each other and come together by their own compulsion in the boots-on-the-ground local level. Some might call this grassroots, but that suffers the tinge of advocacy. That, this is not. This is a memorial stripped of ostentation and formality and controversy and spectacle. This is pure.
And for that above all else, the Brooklyn / Bedford Park Memorial is the most important September 11 memorial in this city.
A photo gallery of the event is below. Erica Sherman shot the majority of the photos. The bad ones are all by Ned Berke.