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City copes with tragedy

By Hank SimsDaily Planet staff
Saturday September 15, 2001

With attacks in mind, city searches for normalcy 

 

On the streets, in the schools and in its civic buildings, Berkeley marked the end of an extraordinary week and tried to find a way back into daily routines Friday. 

A small fire broke out in a dumpster at John Muir Elementary School on Claremont Avenue, but teachers and principal Nancy D. Waters were able to bring it under control before the fire department arrived. 

Children spent the day writing their hopes on strips of white cloth, then hanging them on the school’s fence.  

“I wish the world were peaceful again,” wrote fourth-grader Maya Franklin. “I wish that the crash would never happen again.” “I wish people would stop fighting with other people,” said others. 

“We wanted to get them thinking about a calm, safe world,” said teacher Sally Lappen, who thought of the idea after she remembered a similar Japanese ceremony she had seen on television.  

The son of Carol Hathaway, a John Muir art teacher, is a student at Hunter College in Manhattan; several people laboring at the site of the World Trade Center are sleeping in empty rooms at his dormitory. Hathaway and her students spent the day painting thank-you cards to send to the rescue workers. 

“I think we all kind of feel like we wish we could help, but we can’t,” Hathaway told her class. “So what we can do is thank the people who are helping.” 

Children sketched the vases of flowers that had been placed on their tables. They folded their drawings over to make cards and wrote messages inside: “Thank you.” “We love you.” 

Principal Waters spent a lot of time in classrooms, checking in on teachers and students. 

“We haven’t talked about how tragic it was,” she said. “We’ve just tried to rekindle a sense of pride in America and put the children’s thoughts in a direction of hope.” 

At the end of the day, Waters sent a note home with John Muir students, telling them about the fire and assuring them that it was handled without incident.  

Meanwhile, across town in north west Berkeley, neighbors of the city’s Fire Station 6, decorated the bell outside the station with candles, flowers and messages of gratitude. 

“We, your community, suffer with you the loss of your fellow firefighters in New York, Washington and around the country,” said one. “We grieve with you and honor you daily. We walk in respect for your fallen comrades. God Bless America, and you.” 

And around noon, the city’s civil servants gathered to share a moment of silence at the Peace Wall in Martin Luther King Civic Center Park. For 15 minutes or so, they wandered about, looking at the thousands of tiles on the wall, painted by people around the world, each offering a vision of peace. 

Workers from the city attorney’s office wore red, white and blue ribbons. Others wore the American flag on their lapels, or on their shirts and sweaters. 

City Manager Weldon Rucker, one of the organizers of the ceremony, said that he was gladdened to see so many city staff members come out of their offices.  

“I thought it was important,” he said. “It’s nothing spectacular, but it’s something.” 

Councilmember Linda Maio, a native New Yorker, praised the people around her. 

“The city has been terrific,” she said. “We are a wonderful city. Everyone has been very kind to one another.” 

“We need to make sure that we continue to hold life sacred, even if others don’t.” 

At 12:15 p.m., Rucker, Maio, Mayor Shirley Dean and Councilmember Kriss Worthington stood together in front of city staff. Rucker addressed the crowd. 

“I think that we, as an organization, have really suffered this week,” he said. “Yet we have continued to run the city.” 

“Let us have a moment of solidarity, and unity.” 

Around 200 city employees joined hands and bowed their heads.  

After a few minutes, Rucker looked up and waited for others to finish their thoughts. 

“Thank you all for coming,” he said.