Ten years out, Charlestonians still grapple with 9/11 

How We Remember

Tim Callanan still stutters and trails off when he tries to list the names of friends and former co-workers who died on Sept. 11, 2001, when the World Trade Center North Tower fell. Some of the spellings are fading in his memory, but the ache of sudden loss still throbs.

"Todd Isaac, he was one of my best friends. Timmy O'Brien, he was my boss. Walter Travers, he was my neighbor. This is the tough name, this one: His name was John Sbarbaro, S-B-A-R-B-A-R-O, but everybody called him Coach," Callanan says. "When you sit one foot away from someone for that period of time, it's difficult for that person not to influence you."

Callanan worked for seven years on the 105th floor of the tower, trading bonds and mortgage-backed securities for financial services company Cantor Fitzgerald. The fast-moving work environment wore him down, though, and he left the company in September 2000. He was living in Charleston when hijackers crashed American Airlines Flight 11 into the North Tower, trapping his former co-workers in the floors above it when it cut off all the stairwell exits.

A few days after the attack, he drove to New York for five days of funerals. When he had lived in the city, Cantor Fitzgerald had been the nexus of both his professional and social life, and in a single day, more than 30 of his closest friends had died.

"I was so burned out that I just got back in my car and drove home" after 10 funerals, he remembers. "I missed my best friend's funeral because I just couldn't take it emotionally."

It was the children of his co-workers that got to him. Before, he had gone to see their soccer games on weekends and worked with the loving parents who coached them. And now those parents were gone. "I looked at them over and over again, and it was kind of just a ..." he trails off. "I actually think it made it worse, going up there, because now I have those images in my head."

On Sunday morning, the 10th anniversary of when terrorists flew passenger jets into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and a field near Shanksville, Pa., Callanan will rise to a microphone inside the U.S.S. Yorktown at Patriots Point. He will compose himself, face a crowd of spectators, and read through a list of fallen friends. Included on the list is Dennis McHugh, Callanan's fraternity brother from Iona College who died responding to the World Trade Center attack.

After a color guard presentation and an opening prayer at 8:46 a.m., the time of the first impact on the North Tower, Callanan will be the first of more than 200 readers to recite a list of 9,173 people who have died since that time 10 years prior, whether in the terrorist attacks or in the subsequent War on Terror in Afghanistan and Iraq. Other readers will include Boy Scouts, ROTC cadets, firefighters, and military members from Joint Base Charleston. Butch Hills, communications manager at Patriots Point, says the idea was to have a wide variety of people represented in the ceremony.

"It's men and women, boys and girls — when things happen in our country, people try to do something about it," Hills says. "The first things they do may not be the right things to do, but eventually we get things right."

Callanan says that if his fallen co-workers were still alive today, he would still say they were the finest group of people he has ever worked for. After years of counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder that robbed him of sleep, Callanan looks forward to the chance to pay respect.

"On my last day, the entire office gave me a standing ovation, so that's my last memory of them as a group. Honoring their names is a pleasure for me."

At 3 p.m. on Sunday, people from over 15 different religious traditions will meet in the Sottile Theatre for the second annual Interfaith Gathering for Peace. There will be no sermons and no prayers, only readings from different scriptures about peace. Ishaq Zahid, a member and ex-president of the Central Mosque of Charleston, had his passages from the Quran picked out weeks in advance, including this one from the fifth chapter:

"... if any one slew a person — unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land — it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people."

Cookie Washington, who organized the event as co-chair of the Coastal Interfaith Community, says she planned the first Interfaith Gathering last year after Gainesville, Fla., preacher Terry Jones announced his plans to burn 200 copies of the Quran on the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

"I lost my mind when I read that," says Washington. Her first instinct was to buy a bunch of Qurans and donate them to the local mosque, but she found out they already had plenty of copies. Then she turned her attention to an upcoming church picnic with Unity Church of Charleston, which she describes as an independent metaphysical Christian church. As a member, she knew they had already reserved a space on Sept. 11 at James Island County Park for the occasion.

"So I said, 'This is what we're gonna do: We're going to have our church picnic, but we're going to invite the Muslims, and we're going to invite people who believe that burning anybody's holy text is wrong,'" Washington says.

This year's event is a bit more elaborate, and a broader range of religious traditions will be represented. A secular humanist will read a passage by astrophysicist Carl Sagan. A pagan will recite the poem "The New Colossus," as seen at the foot of the Statue of Liberty. There will also be readings from Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Yoruba, Baha'i, Native American, and Sikh texts, each read by a believer of the respective faith.

"This year, with it being the 10-year anniversary, we just want to be gentle and have people be gentle with each other," Washington says.

Zahid, who retired from a career as a professor of math and computer science at the Citadel last year, says he thinks it is important for Muslims to participate in post-9/11 memorial gatherings.

"We need to give out a message to combat prejudices," Zahid says. Christians and Jews, especially, are afforded a special place of respect in the writings of the Prophet Muhammad as "people of the book."

"In a pluralistic society, it is important to accept diversity in religious beliefs," he says. "No faith community should be isolated."

Rounding out a day of solemn remembrance in Charleston, Liberty Tap Room & Grill in Mt. Pleasant will host a tasting reception Sunday evening to raise money for the Charleston Fire Department. Emmy Scott, director of marketing for the TBonz Restaurant Group, says proceeds from ticket sales will help fund a project at the fire department, though the nature of that project has not been determined. In Myrtle Beach, a similar event will raise money for a fire safety education building. Scott has been careful not to set a celebratory tone.

"That was a big concern of ours, that we didn't want this to be any type of celebration or have a party tone," she says. Picture a subdued reception with heavy hors d'ouevres from restaurants like Pearlz Oyster Bar and Kaminsky's Baking Co.: not quite funereal, but not a shindig either.

Local acoustic rock band the Bushels will provide background music. Mandolin player Mal Jones says they won't be playing anything out of the ordinary for the 9/11 event, just their usual twang-and-harmonica-accented take on the American Songbook.

When asked whether organizers had told them to tone things down for the 9/11 event, he says Sunday evening will be business as usual: the same old songs, the same old blues and ballads that could not have sprung up anywhere else but in the U.S.A.

"Nope, we're just doing our thing," he says.


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