Two, acre-wide fountains with 30-foot waterfalls flooding into them stand in New York City marking forever where the nearly 3,000 people died 10 years ago in the terrorist attack that rocked the nation and the world. Memorial services were held at the site of the twin towers, in Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon.Ten years later, girls and boys have grown, people have moved on – but all remember.
Coming to terms with Sept. 11 is something that many have had to do. That process is also something that Danielle Beverly, award-winning documentary filmmaker and professional in residence in digital media at Marquette University, documented during the nine years she spent working as a field producer on “Rebirth,” a documentary tracking the healing of five people affected by 9/11. The goal was to see what happened to people in the days and years after 9/11 while also capturing the progress of the buildings being erected.
“We really wanted to track grieving to hope, and that’s, in fact, exactly what happened,” said Beverly, who taught at Notre Dame last year as a visiting professor in filmmaking. The subjects in the film didn’t know one another, but their stories came to a full circle at about the same time, Beverly said. “We call that the human time lapse that we covered, that we followed.”
While the ages of the people involved in the documentary range from child to adult, Beverly said the way people dealt with loss was pretty much the same, and in some ways “reflects a common human condition.” But the feelings that a young man had after losing his mother to the attack when he was just 16 years old were different compared to those of an adult.
“His (the young man’s) journey is pretty interesting I would say…because he starts out as, you know, he’s not yet an adult, but he becomes one through the film. He graduates from Yale, he goes to work in his mom’s footsteps on Wall Street, and eventually he comes to peace with what has happened,” said Beverly, who has been a producer for PBS and chooses to work only on social issues documentaries that have “something meaningful to say about the world.”
“Rebirth” is for everyone, but the documentary can speak to young adults who are searching for the meaning behind Sept. 11. The documentary shows “that we all heal,” Beverly said. “It is part of human nature. It is in our DNA and that there is hope always, and the film exemplifies that through every single one of the stories.”
Not all have lost loved ones to Sept. 11, as did those portrayed in “Rebirth,” but it’s still a day that carries memory and emotion for many young adults.
Third grade math class – that’s what Steve Berg, 18, thinks of when he remembers Sept. 11, 2001.
“We were just doing math and then they rolled in a TV and we started watching the news about it,” he told MyFaith in a phone interview. “I didn’t really understand what was going on, but as the day progressed a ton of students were being asked to leave class because their parents wanted to take them home for the day because they were scared that there was more attacks and things going on.”
Berg said his parents were in shock when he went home that night.
“As the years go on, I understand how big of a deal it actually was,” said Berg.
Ten years later, the image of the second plane hitting the towers and the smoke billowing out of the buildings is embedded into the Wauwatosa native’s mind. Berg, who graduated from St. Jude the Apostle Parish Grade School, Wauwatosa, Marquette University High School, Milwaukee, and is attending UW-Madison for mechanical engineering, said the date has become more meaningful as he’s matured.
“It’s meant more strict airline customs. It’s meant that America, that people are out there and (they) dislike freedom and dislike America,” he said. “It brings up questions of why did they do it, what are their motivations, how could they feel that it was the right thing to do?”
While Berg’s not questioning the faith that has been an integral part of his life, he said the tragedy does raise questions.
“It just makes you question why there’s people out there that have such a different belief in what God is and things like that,” Berg said. “We hope that our faith is the correct faith and that’s what we believe, but those people are just as strong about their faith, maybe even stronger, because they killed themselves to profess it.”
Overall, Berg said he feels safe because of the safety precautions put in place since Sept. 11, and he hopes it never happens again. News of Osama bin Laden’s death May 1 made Berg feel even better.
“I was happy that we finally found him,” he said, explaining that many of his peers also felt relieved that bin Laden was no longer a threat. “I wish that we would have been able to take him alive so then we could have questioned him, but I was happy that we found him and that we (could) put this behind us.”
On Sept. 11, Berg planned to remember where he was as well as all of the people who were affected by the crashes 10 years ago. He hopes that everyone is doing “better” and that those who have died are “being remembered properly.”
“(Sept. 11) means a new beginning,” Berg said. “A new start for all those people that have been grieving for 10 years about what happened on the day and, hopefully, since the 10 years of time that have passed, people have begun or started to move on in their lives even though it’s extremely difficult to do that – hopefully, they’re starting to.”
Eric Mueller, 24, who attends Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Milwaukee, said he remembers hearing the news during math – the first class of the day – while he was a freshman at Milwaukee Hamilton High School.
“A kid was running around and he was yelling, ‘We’re under attack,’ and then none of us really believed it and then the teacher put on one of the cable news networks…” Mueller said. “We watched and then we all kind of thought, ‘No, it had to be an accident.’”
To learn more about “Rebirth,” a documentary tracking the healing of five people affected by 9/11 for nine years after, visit projectrebirth.org.
He and his peers even entertained the idea of a drunken pilot.
“A little while later, the other plane went in and that’s when it sunk in that we were under attack,” Mueller said, explaining that “there wasn’t much school going on for that week after.”
Initially, Mueller felt safe, despite the attacks, because he and his friends didn’t feel that Milwaukee would be targeted. Then, he felt empathy for the people in New York and for all who were affected in other places in the country. Those feelings didn’t prevent him from being shocked by images of the two towers collapsing, and the second plane hit the building. Mueller finished his school day, but cross country practice was cancelled that night.
Most memorable for Mueller were images of people walking around covered in soot.
“It seemed almost unreal and it’s one of those things that you don’t even think about when you think of somebody flying into a tower – that there’s going to be tons of people covered in soot and dirt,” he said, noting that an older cousin of his was working in an art gallery in Manhattan, within a mile or two of the towers, at the time of the attack. While none of his friends or family friends were directly affected by the attack, beyond getting covered in soot, Mueller said he still honors Sept. 11 with a few of his friends.
“Me and a couple of my buddies, but one friend in particular, we always make sure to get together on Sept. 11 and have a little moment of silence kind of thing for ourselves and just remember what happened and that there’s a lot of people who were hurt who weren’t going to come back, and that we had to do our best to keep doing what we do for them,” he said.
As Mueller grew, Sept. 11 became more important in his life.
“I’ve become more involved in like what’s going on and current events and stuff, so it’s become pretty important to me….” Mueller said, explaining that he’s even felt a little “disappointed” because a few years after the events of Sept. 11, people “stopped making a big deal about it.”
“It always seemed a little off to me, but I suppose that’s what happens as the time goes by, you get a little distanced from the action, but yeah it’s always been pretty important to me to hold it as a kind of sovereign day,” he added.
Osama bin Laden’s death was something that Mueller and his peers collectively celebrated.
“This probably isn’t a very good Catholic moment for me, but in a way it brought a lot of closure to me,” he said. “It’s sad to say, but it felt good that after so long finally a certain kind of justice has been fulfilled, at least for me – I know that’s not how I’m supposed to feel.”
While some people lose faith after tragedies like Sept. 11, Mueller said his faith is strong and unchanged.
“It was God calling…it was God bringing them (those who died) back home and moving them onto a better place, and sometimes you’ve got to break a few eggs to make a cake….” Mueller said, describing how he makes sense of the events. “Even though this is a sad, sad thing, but there’s other effects that are positive like the way women are treated in the Middle East nowadays as a result of the wars that happened as a result of the attack on Sept. 11, things like that….I think, the world is a better place now than it was 10 years ago.”
Daniel Krebs, 18, was a third grade student at St. Bernard Parish School, Wauwatosa, when people started running in and out of his classroom to talk to the teacher. He and his peers were “naïve” and “jealous” that the older kids upstairs got to stop class to watch TV, he said.
“The school decided not to explain to the younger kids what was happening, just to tell them to go right home,” Krebs explained of that day. “My father picked me up from school. This never happens – that’s when I realized something was really wrong.”
“Then, he started crying, and babbling about how lots of people died today. I was more scared for my father than anything else,” he said, noting that the true effects didn’t hit him until years later.
Today, Sept. 11 means collision to Krebs, who attended St. Bernard and Christ King Schools, graduated from Marquette University High School and is currently a freshman at Boston College in the Carroll School of Management.
“Two worlds, two religions, two sets of morals, two tragedies, two towers, two planes all colliding in a horrible disaster,” he wrote in an email interview with MyFaith.
The day has evolved from his naïve third-grade view to what Krebs described as “the day when two worlds decided they couldn’t coexist anymore.”
“The hatred for America, our great country of opportunity, and the subsequent hatred for the Middle Eastern nations were both understandable but saddening,” he said. “Now, when I think of Sept. 11th, I remember Thomas Friedman attempting to explain the balance of worlds, between ancient religions of the Middle East and the lightning quick lifestyle of NYC.”
He was confused and didn’t understand at the time of the attacks, but Krebs said he continues to make sense of the attacks as he matures.
When Osama bin Laden was killed, Krebs said he didn’t celebrate like his peers.
“I was happy for the success of the U.S. troops,” said Krebs, who planned to run in a local 5K race commemorating a Boston College graduate who died saving people in the towers. “We have the best armed forces in the world and I am happy to live under their protection.”
While his faith wasn’t affected initially, Krebs said the memories of Sept. 11 remind him to pray more often and realize the need for God in life.
“I know a lot of people lost faith after the tragedies, but we should be drawn together as a faith community after those events,” he said. “God brings us together and helps us through the trying times.”
He also said that the tragedy brought about good in the world.
“9/11 sparked people to learn more about their foreign neighbors and eventually, certainly not immediately, become more tolerant and accepting of others,” he said. “The tragedies caused people to stop, to slow down, and to reflect on all the good things in their lives and the lives of loved ones – 9/11 must remain in everyone’s mind so that it does not happen again.”