9/11/01 Ashes Launched to Space (my closure)


On September 11, 2001 ashes fell down like snow on my neighborhood in Park Slope Brooklyn, a mile and a half directly downwind of ground zero. Everything was dusted in a creepy shade of grey. I scooped a few grams of ashes off of my car windshield wiper in hopes of getting it tested to see what we were breathing. I stuck the ashes in a drawer where they sat waiting in a sealed container.

Like many New Yorkers, I never did feel closure after that dark day. Many of us weren't at Ground Zero but still close enough that we breathed the harsh sting of the air and had to cover our faces to go outside. We were close enough that we were being "snowed" on. We had paper from the buildings on our rooftops. People in suits poured out of the subways, mouths covered, viewable from our bedroom windows. According to the media, we weren't there. Yet we were.

Most of us couldn't mourn at a funeral because we didn't know anyone who had died. We tried lighting candles in Union Square, but the little birthday candles were way too wimpy to accommodate our anger and gloom and confusion. We did help. We brought supplies into the city to donate. We got in the way, blocking traffic trying to help, just like everyone else. Nothing helped us though, and if we ever voiced it we just sounded pathetic. It was a very surreal and dark time and there never was a proper outlet for most of us.

Besides, it wasn't a day; it was a period of time which for many of us the sun has still not set. It affected my friends and me deeply. The media - still to this day - has never once given a shout out to those of us who were in Brooklyn or New Jersey, just a mile or two away. Nor have they ever once shown a photo from our rooftops. This event changed our lives forever, and we often feel guilty when we feel sympathy for ourselves since we didn't have any tangible loss, where others did. So we tend to stifle it and change the subject. But at some point we have to deal with it personally.

Finally, years later, I thought of something I could do with those ashes for a personal mourning ceremony of my own. I thought of how I could light a GIANT candle.

In April of 2007 the ashes that sat in my drawer all those years were launched into space.

I finally got to light a properly sized candle, and from Spaceport America, just outside of Las Cruces, NM, no less! It was a candle that symbolized hope for humanity. It was historic for many reasons, which one could guess by the amount of media attention it drew. It was the first launch from the space port that actually made it into space! The sounding rocket went nearly 80 miles up and came back down to return the payloads to the customers. The Las Cruces Sun News wrote about it here, and Space.com published an article I wrote.

It took a while to retrieve the capsules from the desert, but I have just received a plaque with the ashes that have been to space and back inside of the small beaten up capsule that had a hard-landing in the desert near my hometown spaceport. Below are the pictures. I still don't feel closure, but I feel a little better.