The following piece I wrote was published today as a Letter to the Editor in the Princeton Packet....
This past Saturday I, like thousands of others, enjoyed the annual Communiversity. But this year, unlike those of the past, something caught my eye. As I walked down Nassau Street I took in the good music, many friends, hot food, cold beer and painted faces. At the end of the long block I smiled at the kids having their pictures taken on the fire trucks, as they grinned from ear to ear.
And as I turned, there it was. The piece of steel. The beam from the Trade Center. A piece of 9/11. With kids screaming for joy in the background, I stood silently remembering that day. Remembering the seven residents and 13 alumni who lost their lives. Remembering the neighbors and friends who I buried. Lost in my own silence I was interrupted by one of the firemen who asked me if I would help him. As I turned towards his voice I saw the donation bucket. But he never asked me for money.
Instead he told me the story of how the town obtained the piece of steel and its journey to Princeton. But then he went on to explain a growing controversy surrounding the mark left by the welder who worked at ground zero and cleared this piece of steel. This welder, using his cutting torch, excised a Greek cross in the center of this beam. He left an equal sided seven inch cross in the nine foot beam.
The fireman spoke about a growing opposition to display that portion of the beam because of the cross. I thought he was kidding – but his face said otherwise. We quickly exchanged our faith beliefs – his Jewish, mine Catholic and just as quickly acknowledged to each other that it made no difference to us, nor to those who died on 9/11. We all lost a part of ourselves that day.
But again, I thought he had to be fabricating the story he was telling me. I mean, how could anyone take exception to a piece of steel from 9/11, because it bears a small cross formed by a welder some 11 years ago. But he showed me the petition and asked me to sign it. The petition simply states that I saw the steel, saw the cross and that I had no problem with its display. And so I signed it – with a renewed sense of loss for that day and for this day.
Of the years I have lived in this community I have witnessed debates over the location of the library and the Dinky and of speed bumps and of course, the consolidation. We, who live in Princeton, seem to be very good at debates. But are we really going to now have a dispute over a cross cut into a steel beam from 9/11? Is this the type of community that we just celebrated at Communiversity? Perhaps it is time to remember that day that changed our families, our town, our lives and our nation. Perhaps it is time to act as a community focused on unity. Perhaps it is time to allow the steel – to be.