9/11 families: 20 year milestone ‘just another year’ without their loved ones

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LOWER MANHATTAN — Families of people whose lives were lost on Sept. 11, 2001 said they felt a variety of emotions 20 years after the terror attacks. However, they said, the two decade mark was of little consequence. Instead, according to them, it’s the day itself and the remembrances of their loved ones that matter, no matter how many years pass.

Marie Cirmia lost her sister Debra Di Martino in the World Trade Center attack. Cirmia comes to the memorial ceremony every year, and has even been one of the name readers in past ceremonies.

As for the 20 year milestone, she said that in many ways, the length of time doesn’t matter.

“To me, it could be one year, two years, three years, or twenty years,” she said about missing her sister, who she said was her best friend.  “For us, it doesn’t make it a milestone, it’s just another year that she’s not with us.”

“I don’t look at it as this big [hoopla],” Cirmia continued.  “It’s what we experience every year.”

Maritza Carpio also attends the World Trade Center ceremony every year with her best friend, who’s the widow of Manuel Damota. He perished on 9/11, a few months after becoming the godfather of Carpio’s then-newborn child.

“A very kind, sweet man,” Carpio said about the friend she lost that day. She said that while each year is different, there are still basic, important, permanent things for her and the Damota Family.

“Yes, time has passed,” Carpio said.  “It doesn’t feel like yesterday.  It’s surreal. You can’t believe it, you know?”

Another person at the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan on Saturday was Jimmy Costalas. He’d also been there in 2001, when he was working at the café he owns with his daughter, Vivia Amalfitano, that’s across the street from what became ground zero.

“All of a sudden, the buildings were going down.  I got blown out,” he said, recalling the day of the attacks.

His restaurant, Essex World Cafe, was used as a first responders’ medical center for months after the attacks, and Costalas was originally classified as a missing person in the wake of the buildings’ collapse. 

He said that the 20 years’ perspective has given him some important lessons.

“I will never be afraid,” he said.  “It’s [safer] now. This is my life. This is my home down here now.”

During the ceremony itself, a variety of the name readers called for the country to reunite, as it had done immediately after the attacks.

One of the bold faced names calling for the country to come together was Sen. Charles Schumer, who did an interview with PIX11 News shortly before the ceremony.

“We should be united,” he said, adding that 9/11 is a time to gather, Democrats and Republicans, to remember this day with  “solemnity…to remember this day as a day of unity.”

John Feal was also a distinguished guest at the ceremony. The founder of the Feal Good Foundation had been directly affected by the attacks. He set up the foundation, which has raised millions in support of 9/11 families, and has successfully lobbied for more than a dozen pieces of legislation to protect the health and well-being of the families.

He said that the way the country was on Sept. 12, 2001 is how we need to see the country now.  

“I’m going to remember the outpouring of humanity and empathy,” Feal said, “and I just pray today that for a brief moment in history, before we go back to going to social media tomorrow and attacking each other, that today just give of yourself, and love.”

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