New York: After the roar, after the first ground-trembling collapse sent clouds of pulverized matter billowing through Lower Manhattan, a man paused from his hurried retreat to take in a world now coated with the dust of uncertain gray. For reasons he still cannot explain, he bent down, scooped some of this grayness into an envelope - and kept on moving.
Meanwhile, to the south, a businessman was shredding his T-shirt and distributing strips of cloth as protection against the dust-clotted air; a bank executive accepted the stranger's gift and pressed it to her mouth. And to the north, a rattled television producer made it to the Hudson River, where someone handed her a small red ticket granting her space on a ferry bound for New Jersey, where she lived.
"Admit One," the ticket said.
In the aftermath of September 11, people everywhere did what people do in disaster's fresh wake: We wept, prayed, raged, cowered, gathered, hid, drank, questioned, comforted and sought comfort. We also saved things, often little things, and often for reasons just beyond the full grasp of articulation. Now, a decade later, many of us still keep these mundane items, which timing and circumstance have forged into artifacts approaching the sacred. They return us instantly to a moment we have no desire to revisit, but are determined not to forget. They are our September 11 relics.
The footlong shred of a T-shirt that Susan Horn keeps in her bedroom drawer in Scarsdale, New York, as a reminder of a stranger's selflessness. The jar of multicoloured wax bits, remnants of the McLaughlin family's front-porch candlelight vigil in Brewster, New York The silver-framed calendar of the Rev. Paul Fromberg, an Episcopal priest in San Francisco, its page fixed on September 2001. The photo identification card kept in the wallet of Stacy Scherf Dieterlen, a temporary worker who fled the south tower's 101st floor while some of her colleagues hesitated, and died.
Living now in Kentucky, Ms. Dieterlen carries the card with her as a reminder of her good fortune, and as proof to others that she was there. That morning she was wearing a pink button-up shirt, a black skirt and comfortable loafers, and she had just bought some blueberries to eat at her desk, when ...
The parking garage tickets never validated, the Yankees tickets never used, the airplane tickets for flights never taken. The shoes worn in panicked retreat and now tucked deep in closets, never to be worn again, never to be thrown away. The face masks and Mass cards, the children's drawings and trade center trinkets. The worthless, precious bits of paper that burst out of the twin towers, fluttered across the East River, and floated down upon the streets of Brooklyn like sorrowful confetti.
Nick Arauz, for example, who had just hurried across the Manhattan Bridge with thousands of others, found a single page, a charred piece of a Peace Corps application, on the hood of his car in Carroll Gardens. Kept in the Army chest he uses as a nightstand, this bit of paper evokes so much - from the weapon of a jetliner flying directly over him to the innocence of his infant twins - yet he rarely looks at it.
"It was just something I couldn't throw away once I picked it up," he said.
The paper saved by Amy Shigo is even smaller. It is a red ticket, the kind used at carnivals and raffles, and yet so dear now that it is kept in a jewelry box. "Admit One," the ticket says, inviting the existential question of admission to what? The refuge of New Jersey? The continuation of life?
It is Ms. Shigo's ticket to then. To having recently completed her first Ironman competition. To seeing something hit the north tower from the window of her Hoboken-bound train. To being enveloped in the gauze of denial before heeding advice to leave her Chelsea office and get on a Jersey-bound ferry. To reaching the pier, where an orderly line had formed, and where a man was dispensing tickets. To making it home some seven hours later, where poor solace was found in a container of chocolate-chocolate-chip ice cream.
"It got me home; of course I would save it," Ms. Shigo said of her ticket. "This was my Willie Wonka-esque moment. All right. I made it. Admit one."
Even the very dust.
Jean-Marie Haessle, a French-born artist with mortality on his mind - he had just discussed his will with a lawyer in Lower Manhattan - began hustling back uptown after the collapse of the first tower. But, in an action he can describe only as reflexive, he stopped long enough to scoop up dust with an envelope on Wall Street.
"I don't know why, I don't know why," Mr. Haessle, now 71, said. "As an artist, I feel this gigantic, beautiful structure, reduced to this amazingly thin powder. To me, even today, it's just. ..."
The dust reminds him of his eventual death; of the certainty of change - "of a lot of things, not all for the best." He keeps it on his desk, encased not in a vessel of gold or silver, but in the same paper envelope he used to capture it.
"The humblest kind of thing," he said.
Mateo Taussig-Rubbo, an associate professor at the University at Buffalo Law School, State University of New York, has studied the "sacralization" of the saved objects of September 11 - from the American flag raised, Iwo Jima-like, at ground zero and now missing, to the chunks of trade-center granite, marble and steel that ironworkers and law-enforcement officials handed out as solemn mementos.
These objects, particularly those directly related to the catastrophe, "are no longer what they appear to be," Mr. Taussig-Rubbo said. "They are something else." The items become a condensation of many concepts: the loss of a loved one; the value of human life; the sovereignty of the United States; the exact moment of the world's alteration.
This need to possess something tangible from September 11 extends beyond the individual to the communal. After the calamity, for example, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey filled the 80,000 square feet of Hangar 17 at Kennedy International Airport with girders, vehicles and other remnants. Then, a couple of years ago, it began to grant the requests of communities around the country, and the world, for a piece of history to display in a memorial garden, or town hall, or local museum.
The Port Authority so far has granted more than 1,200 requests. There is no cost beyond transportation, and little bureaucratic hassle beyond a letter of request, an explanation of use - and the approval of a federal judge, since the steel is technically part of a crime scene.
Communities in every state have received a remnant: the fire department in Guymon, Okla., and the school district in Massapequa, New York; the board of commissioners in Martin County, Fla., and the rescue squad in Crivitz, Wis.; a museum in Tunica, Miss., and the Police Department in Cambridge, Mass. Coon Rapids, Minn.; LaGrange, Ga.; on and on.
"Inevitably a handwritten note of thanks comes back from the town or fire company, or police department," Christopher O. Ward, the port authority's executive director, said. "In some ways it will allow communities and towns to touch a piece of that day. And that's important."
Not long ago, Gig Harbour Fire and Medic One, outside Seattle, learned that it had been granted a piece of girder. So, in late May, four Gig Harbour firefighters hitched an empty trailer to a fire chief's official vehicle and drove the 2,800 miles east to Hangar 17.
Dressed in formal uniforms normally reserved for funerals and ceremonial events, the four men braced themselves as they walked into the hangar early one morning. The most stoic of the four wept.
They watched a forklift lay the piece down on their trailer "like you'd lay a child on a bed," recalled Rob McCoy, a Gig Harbour paramedic. Then, just outside the hangar, they covered their 986-pound girder with an American flag, and saluted.
On the days-long ride back, the firefighters occasionally pulled over for small flag-changing ceremonies: in Shanksville, Pa., to honour the victims of Flight 93; beside a picturesque farmhouse in Iowa; in a misty shroud near Mount Rushmore. And when they returned to Gig Harbour on Memorial Day, a long motorcade provided escort, while hundreds lined the streets, waving flags and crisply saluting.
The plan in Gig Harbor is to create a memorial garden one day, but for now there is this enduring image, seen there and around the country: People lining up, as if at a church service, to place their hands upon a relic.