If you were fortunate enough to read “This is Where You Belong” last year, when it was adopted as a celebration of community, then you are familiar with the analysis of what makes a great town. Author Melody Warnick writes extensively about buying local, meeting your neighbors, and becoming involved in politics. Most importantly, though, she reminds readers that if you love the place where you live, “you should do what’s good for it.”
That “doing of good” is visible on a daily basis in our community, but most meaningfully on the anniversary of Sept.11, when we live among those who are driven by the motivation to bring neighbors together, when the pull of television coverage would otherwise keep them apart.
An interesting phenomenon happens when you talk to these fine individuals. Interviews take on a life of their own, extending outward like one of those expandable sphere toys that you played with at the store checkout. You start with one idea, and one list of questions, and within seconds, that list has branched out in all directions, transformed in completely non-linear fashion.
This first happened when I interviewed Karen Kean, library assistant at Strong School and one of the greatest assets the town of Durham has ever had. The rapidity through which new questions popped into my head was most likely due to the fact that Karen has touched the lives of so many in our community. You have seen her at the Durham Fair, at sporting events, and at nearly every band and chorus concert that has filled the auditorium of Coginchaug Regional High School. Yet, there is so much more.
Kean’s reach goes far, particularly in her insistence that the events of 9/11 never be forgotten. If you attended last Friday’s ceremony on the Durham town green, you heard her express it far more eloquently than I can. “I’m glad you're here, because I don't think we should ever forget.”
When asked earlier in the week about the ceremony, Karen made it sound so simple, although, of course, it’s anything but. “It’s too important to not do it,” she said. That way of thinking had Karen leading this ceremony one year after that dark day in 2001 and she hasn’t stopped. While the rest of us sometimes struggle with how we can adequately show reverence, Karen’s wisdom both lessens our grief and calms our struggles. “It’s important to just show up.”
This mindset is why Karen is able to attract such talented people to her gathering each year. Take Mark Zito and Lou Rascati, otherwise known as the Kings of Karma, who are there to support Kean and commemorate the “meaning of the day.” Most likely, you have experienced a Kings of Karma concert, but until you have heard John Legend’s “All of Me” transformed into a tune that bathes you in hymn-like comfort, you don’t really understand how much music can heal. It is, in their words, a song about “loving someone completely.”
Dan Maramount, president of the Durham Fair, certainly echoed the thoughts of those in attendance in expressing that it was “an honor to be a part of this sense of unity” that has, thanks to Kean, taken place for the last 19 years.
The favorite part of the ceremony for Bill Currlin? That which allows us to “embrace our country and the people who died.” Ask what it is about Karen Kean that brings people together so completely, and he will respond with what we all know to be true: “There is a piece of her everywhere.”
Often, Karen will read a poem written by Town Clerk Kim Garvis. This epic reflection on Sept. 11, 2001 so effectively captures our collective shock and grief, that whether reading it or listening to it, you cannot help but become imbued with the pathos that inspired its creation. It’s an exquisite poem made up of 16 stanzas, and the line that captures our commitment to standing together resonates most strongly. “For our people unite without question, especially in times of great need.”
When this poem was written, none of us could anticipate what the future would hold, but Karen made a commitment to recognizing the power of connections among people. Nineteen years later, we still need her, and each other.
The Town of Middlefield also took on the challenge of honoring the day, despite the complexities created by the pandemic. To make sure no one was excluded, the town live streamed the ceremony on Facebook.
While attendees could not gather inside the firehouse last week, fire Marshal Peter Tyc was insistent that the ceremony go on, just as it has for the past decade. When so many are overwhelmed by the challenges of social distancing, Tyc remained firm in the commitment that we “don't want people to forget.”
Thanks to the steadfast care of those at the firehouse, there is no way anyone could forget. Tyc showed me the memorial that is in place steps from the firehouse door: a stone marker adorned with flowers, all arranged within a concentric array of a thoughtfully-designed tribute to those who were lost. There is more, too; a cherished remnant, a portion of a steel beam from the North Tower, so poignant in its representation of the strength that has been forged from the pain of that day.
Tyc shared details of the elaborate application and approval process to receive that steel, complete with the promise that it would be maintained and cared for. It’s more than apparent that this is a promise that has been met.
For those who can bring people together in remembrance of one of the bleakest days in our nation’s history, we are grateful. You are the very people Melody Warnick was talking about.