Ten years ago, after a day and night of assisting rescue efforts at Ground Zero, West Orange Fire Chief Peter Smeraldo saw a shining light amidst the darkness left in the wake of the terrorist attacks. In a time of incomparable loss and despair, he saw it as a beacon of hope.
“I believe it was God's intervention that everybody is going to be alright,” Smeraldo said.
Ten years later, Smeraldo stood inches from a piece of steel that was part of the Twin Towers as dusk settled over the Oskar Schindler Performing Arts Center amphitheater during Sunday night's 9/11 Memorial Observance in West Orange.
Nearly 200 lit candles disseminated by Eagle Scout troops ascended skyward as the township's non-denominational choir belted out the aptly titled “Go Light Your World,” illuminating the night for everyone who wanted to commemorate lives lost while also healing their own hurt.
“The nature of our humanity tells us that from sorrow comes strength,” Mayor Robert Parisi told the crowd. “And from strength comes hope.”
As with several other children, friends, parents and siblings, hope could have been just a four-letter word to Sheldon Rosenberg after his son Mark, a software developer for Marsh & McLennan, perished in the North Tower. However, Sheldon advised a respectfully silent audience about “the great traditions” of this country show “truly understanding the meaning of courage and heroism” helped them forged ahead and find some closure in the ensuing 10 years.
“We go through good times and what seem to be bad times,” Rosenberg said, “so strive to be happy.”
After hearing Rosenberg speak, Mathi Fuchs considered herself even more fortunate. The West Orange resident settled at her desk on the 36th floor of Tower Two, where she worked for international insurance brokers Frenkel & Co., Inc., when the first plane hit Tower One – which she said “sounded like a bomb.”
Right around when the second plane struck the tower in which she worked, she ran several blocks to her sister's office at Credit Suisse on Madison Ave., where she was finally able to call her family and assure them of her safety.
“I'm here today,” Fuchs said assuredly.
Her friend, Matt Carmel of Maplewood, was serving jury duty in Newark when the terrorist attacks commenced. Upon stepping outside, “I remember shrugging my shoulders and lurching down wondering, 'Is there going to be an attack here?' It was a weird kind of feeling.”
Although Carmel admitted he still vacillates between “anger” and feeling “sad” over the events of 9/11, nearly everyone else used the evening as an opportunity to express how that day 10 years ago changed their perspectives for the better.
Port Authority police officer Quentin DeMarco, a former cop in town, recalled everything about the morning he was dispatched to the Twin Towers, arriving just as the second plane crashed into Tower Two. All told, 75 of his co-workers perished, which altered how he and his family approach one another.
“We are much more demonstrative in our feelings,” DeMarco said. “We never depart without a kiss, a hug or an 'I love you.'”
As a procession of political and religious leaders continued to speak, joined at the microphone by members of West Orange's police and fire and emergency medical service departments as well as flight attendant and 45-year town resident Deborah Calimano, several members of the crowd huddled close together as they hoisted their lit candles toward the heavens.
Of the speakers, Fuchs marveled most at Rosenberg's optimism. From an unspeakable tragedy, he and his family found a way to forge ahead, just as everyone else at the OSPAC amphitheater Sunday night has in some form or fashion.
“They really enjoy their family and life and are not all bitter,” Fuchs said. “That really sets the model for how I feel people should think.”