Boro’s wounds slow to heal one year after 9/11 attacks

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The physical scars of Sept. 11, 2001 created a war zone in Lower Manhattan, but the emotional scars stretched further and pierced deeper.

In Queens the scars were not drawn in the ground but across people’s faces. They were etched in the firehouses from which dozens of rescuers rushed before dying heroes, and in the hearts of families enduring the absence of loved ones.

They are the scars of emptiness, the scars of loss.

Although such wounds are the kind that never heal, they have also inspired an uninhibited flow of selflessness and sacrifice from all corners of the borough. On Sept. 11, Queens extended its hand across the East River, sending cabs to shuttle rescuers and medics to bandage wounds.

The effort extended well beyond the first days and weeks after the attack. Children drew pictures that exposed the raw effort of struggling to comprehend the incomprehensible, while volunteers of all ages donated sweat, blood, dollars and time.

Twelve months later, the year that has been defined by the numbers 9-1-1 will draw to an end when the calendar revisits them Wednesday.

On Sept. 11, 2002 the borough will pause alongside the city and the world to reflect back on the attack that destroyed twin icons of prosperity and freedom, along with four airliners and a wing of the five-sided seat of American defense. More than 3,000 are believed to have died that day.

Queens has changed in a year. People have grieved, but they have also grown. What they see now through their drying tears depends on whom you ask.

“It’s kind of a pall on the county because we lost a lot of people,” said Claire Shulman, the borough president at the time of the attacks. “That takes some getting used to.”

It has been a year in which people drew on reserves of strength they never knew they had, while bracing themselves against an uncertain future marred by vague terror threats and a war with no foreseeable conclusion.

They have attended countless memorials for rescuers as well as people who were earning a living as bankers and waiters, receptionists and custodians.

The airports, reeling from the use of planes as missiles, face mounting layoffs and a continually revised system of security.

Immigrants, the lifeblood of the county known as the country’s most diverse, have faced xenophobia and misdirected prejudice.

Yet the planes keep flying, and the immigrants stay loyal to their adopted homeland. Sons enlist as firefighters when their hero fathers retire.

While wounds may never heal, the spirit endures unconquered.

Posted 7:20 pm, October 10, 2011
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