Photographs by Mirana Comstock

As a born-and-bred downtown New Yorker now living in the Boston area,
I rushed to my native city on the first bus out on 9/12 to grieve with and be
with family and friends. I literally needed a passport to get to my mother’s
Greenwich Village studio, in a direct line with the World Trade Center.
Everyone there was safe. But my husband’s 25-year-old first cousin, in her
first job at Cantor Fitzgerald, had perished along with most of her fellow
workers in the attack.

My own brother’s bolt-from-the blue death had occurred only weeks before
and the downtown memorial exhibit of his artwork had just closed. Now all
of New York had become a memorial exhibit. A gallery of the missing stared
out at me from walls, bus shelters, parked cars, every available inch of space
where you could post a flyer. The mainly candid snaps were all the more
poignant because they had been taken at such happy occasions as holidays,
office and family gatherings.

With no patients to visit, no bodies to bury, the friends and relatives of
the missing would soon turn that word back on itself. It is they who would
be missing their loved ones for the rest of their lives. But they continued
to post flyers on the Walls of Faith and Murals de la Esperanza in what
became more shared grief ritual than search for survivors. And the sites
of these postings became at first impromptu, then increasingly more
organized shrines.

Faced with an unspeakable horror, people looked for other ways to give
voice to their feelings and give thanks to uniformed and volunteer workers
still digging at Ground Zero. Or Ground Hero, as many of us now called it.
They gathered to donate as well as grieve, offering blood, food, dogfood,
whatever the relief effort needed. I packed up my brother’s wardrobe and
brought it in, tucking photos of his paintings in the pockets. Maybe his
vibrant artist’s spirit would keep a worker warm. Maybe someone would
save someone wearing his clothes.

But the common elements that characterized most of the tributes were as
ephemeral as the lives they represented. All the more reason to capture them
on film. Flowers would fade and die. Paper signs blow away, their words
dissolving in the rain. Candles would burn down. Faced with Ground Zero’s
terrorist-sculpted, gas-fueled wreckage, they seemed all the more
appropriate. Fight fire with fire. Fight darkness with light. And I hope, in
some small way, sharing my images of these tragic events will also help
serve as a memorial to those who died, while shedding light on a city whose
heart and spirit refused to.