In 1999 a group of neighbors in north Berkeley held a block meeting and decided to create a traffic island at the intersection of several busy streets -- Sonoma, Hopkins and Josephine, just behind the North Berkeley branch library -- to create a safe passage for pedestrians and a well-marked route for cars.
But two years later, on Sept. 11, 2001, the traffic island, which was still under construction, took on new meaning after the terrorist attacks. That day, somebody posted a sign in the triangular space: "MEET HERE AT 8:00 TONIGHT." And they did. Few words were spoken; few were necessary. And they kept gathering there evening after evening.
Then somebody planted three saplings -- one at each corner of the triangle -- connected them with clotheslines, and set out blank squares of paper to be used for notes and clothespins to attach them to the lines.
And so the writing began. Young people and old, families, kids on their way home from school, and even whole classrooms read the messages and wrote their own. Eventually, the triangle took on an almost festive appearance, with the colored squares fluttering on the clotheslines. But the atmosphere was always somber and reflective.
As autumn turned to winter, the neighbors took down the notes, now numbering more than 1,200. One neighbor, former City Councilmember Mim Hawley, volunteered to store them in her closet.
Ten years later she pulled them out and read them, and she was bowled over, by the emotions they expressed and the emotions they evoked in her. So she compiled a representative sample -- about 280 -- into an album. Some express a hope for peace:
"Please ... help me understand and learn to forgive." "Pray for an outcome worthy of all the lives that were lost." "Someday, when they tell the stories of how the world came to live in harmony on this beautiful earth, may they count 9/11/2001 as the beginning. May it be so." Others are angry:
"Bomb the hell out of the bastards who did this." "Let's not let our spirit of love and tolerance interfere with our basic need to eliminate our enemies." "Remember the people whose last choice in life was to die by fire or jump 90 stories. UNITE to destroy their murderers." But the most heartbreaking messages, as you might expect, came from children:
"I hope the people that died in the airplane crashes will come back to life. I wish a fairy will come and do her magic." "I hope this never happened and never again will. By Emma age 9." "In our hearts we know right from wrong, but sometimes our mind doesn't listen. Molly Rose, age 9." "Dear people who died, I miss you." And one person left this heartfelt message: "I have never believed in you, God, but now we need you. Please come." The album will be unveiled at a neighborhood meeting at the North Berkeley branch library at 10 a.m. Sept. 13, and it will stay there, next to the checkout desk, for a month.
Then it will move to the main library downtown and be placed in its permanent home in the library's History Room.
And someday, some Ph.D. student at Cal who is writing a dissertation about grass roots reactions to 9/11 will be very, very grateful.
Reach Martin Snapp at firstname.lastname@example.org.