Musings on the Coast

Tribute to a Tragedy

The dedication site was swarmed by people on Sunday.

This last Sunday in Heisler Park, precisely at 11 a.m. on Sept. 11, the 10-year dedication began with bagpipes playing and the assembled crowd silent. The ceremony was to commemorate the official unveiling of artist Jorg Dubin’s 9/11 sculpture. It features two steel beams donated by the New York Port Authority from the remains of the Twin Towers.


I bet you remember that awful morning 10 years ago, too.   My wife Teddie, who had been up preparing the kids for school, woke me. Come now, she said. The first tower was smoking and no one knew anything. Then the second plane struck and everyone knew everything. We watched TV in silence. My family was composed of the five of us, the kids ranging in age from 6 to 12, but also living at our house were four members of the Aguilar family. Their daughter Margarita, then in high school, had a test that day and did not want to miss it. She bridled when Teddie told her she was staying home. No one was going anywhere, but she too  lapsed quickly into silence as she stared in horror at the images.


Artist Jorg Dubin, right, with Arts Commissioners Mary Ferguson and Basil Stripling, thanked many who assisted him in completing the project.

Our impulse was to spring into action. Do something, anything. Teddie remembered from disaster training that water might become scarce, so she filled the bathtub.   When the grocery store opened, she went shopping for necessities; the store was crowded but calm. There was no panic. When the bank opened, I withdrew $5,000 in cash. There were big lines; people were stocking up on cash too. Then I went to our lockbox and got some gold bars I had inherited. I thought maybe cash would become worthless and only gold or precious stones would suffice.


At Sunday’s sculpture dedication, Laguna Mayor Toni Iseman, a dear and long-time friend, followed the bagpipes with a short opening speech, after which a succession of other dignitaries also commented. An official from the NY Fire Department was there too; he told us more firefighters and police officers were killed in the attack than in any one incident in the nation’s history.


Laguna Fire Chief Kris Head salutes as a flag flown over Ground Zero was raised to half-staff over Heisler Park’s Monument Point.

The podium for the event was set in front of 85 folding chairs. That was the expected crowd. Instead, several hundred people overwhelmed the immediate area and spilled out. But no one jostled. It was like the immediate days following the attack. Car drivers were extremely courteous.  People were unnaturally solicitous everywhere you went.  It was an unconscious statement: we are not beasts.


I had many friends in NYC and called them. They were afraid more attacks were coming, but they too said there was a strange quiet and dignified selflessness in the city. If someone anyone looked like they needed help, you gave it.


Each of the Sept. 11 attacks is symbolically memorialized in “Semper Memento:” World Trade Center I-beams rest on a pentagonal base holding dirt from the Pennsylvania crash site where passengers thwarted hijackers.

After the ceremony, I drifted around the sculpture and spoke quietly to friends. It was all I could do. It did not seem sufficient. I was alive and surfers were out in Heisler’s Rockpile line-up. It was beautiful, sunny, and magnificent as only Laguna can be, and it was not enough.


I kept thinking how strong and sturdy are those girders in Jorg’s sculpture. But oh Lord, why did those things have to end up in a public park in Laguna Beach?


Michael Ray grew up in Corona del Mar and now lives in Laguna Beach.  He makes a living as a real estate entrepreneur and is involved in many non-profits.


Photos by Mitch Ridder




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