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Create Something Respectful, Embracing, Reverent And Life-Affirming


Nikki Stern, member of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation Families Advisory Committee

My husband died on September 11 in the North Tower. I do not know and will never know the specific circumstances of his death. I did not talk with him before he died. I do not know what he did or did not do, only what he would have done. In the days and weeks that followed the attack I came back to work on Lafayette Street and found myself visiting the nearby engine company for solace. I looked for the uniformed personnel to appear, which, in the absence of any family to go home to, I made my second home. I look for them still - for strength, for security, for solidarity.

As a member of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation Families Advisory Committee, as the author of several iterations of the mission statement [click to see the memorial guidelines], and as a member most recently of the joint statement drafting committee, I struggled with others to find the words that would provide an artist with direction, but not inhibit that artist. We did not fail to exclude, but to include. Include people like the son of my friend Cathy, who went back into the building to help after coming out, and didn't come out a second time. As a professional musician before I became a PR writer, I understand the power of words, and the possibility of expression without words, something that can express loss and grief as well as hope and inspiration. How that is done will be up to the designer, but I hope he, she or they can create something that is respectful, embracing, reverent and life-affirming.

Death makes us all equal. It makes survivors, and perhaps different kinds of heroes of those of us that survive. But it is not at all to diminish the enormous courage of our uniformed personnel and countless volunteers who that day and in the months that followed risked life and limb, mental and physical health to aid in the rescue and recovery effort. I depended and continue to depend on them, as does everyone in this room.

The memorial itself will be for all those who died, as well as all those who came to help and all those who are still with us and fought for us. We can do that without identifying and risking excluding any particular group. We can honor and remember and give our artists freedom to create something evocative, transcendental and eternal. That, I know, as surely as I know how much my husband loved life and loved me, would be as fitting a legacy as I can think of.

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