Following last week's terrorist crashes in Washington, D.C., New York City, and Pennsylvania, nearly 50,000 Buffalo residents gathered last Sunday in front of City Hall on a platform of unified patriotism.
For many, the sojourn began at the South Campus train station, where long lines of people waited to purchase tickets. The platforms themselves were just as crowded, with people standing around in groups, candles clutched in their hands.
Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, the company that runs the Metro system, announced a prolonged schedule to accommodate those who would be making the trek to Niagara Square.
Men, women and children stood patiently in somber silence as the train began its trip to downtown Buffalo. The cars were filled with the colors of independence; almost everyone was garbed in red, white and blue. Some donned the American flag as hair scarves; some wore red, white and blue hair ribbons, jeans, t-shirts, sweaters, jackets, turbans, saris, bows; and some wore little flags in their hair. Many military personnel came dressed in full regalia, carrying large flags with gold emblazoned eagles at attention on top.
All the passengers exited the train at Lafayette Square and walked down Court Street to congregate at the base of City Hall. Walking down Court Street, a man who was preparing to attend the vigil was bowed deep in prayer, at the base of an American flag flying at half-mast - facing Mecca. The meaning was clear to anyone in attendance - there is no racial distinction concerning the definition of an American.
"It was touching to see Western New York band together and forget about all differences. Be it religious, racial, gender or social classes. The essence of this country was represented at the vigil, which was the ability of all different people coming together," said Fechner A. Stecker, a UB alumnus who works in the mayor's Office of Strategic Planning.
The sounds of the National Anthem interrupted the somber silence saturating the evening. Above a temporary stage flew a large American flag.
Mayor Anthony Masiello, his wife Kathleen Masiello, and County Executive Joel Giambra gave speeches, commenting on their pride in the men from Buffalo who forged teams and made the trip to New York City to help with the recovery effort. The end of their speeches was met with the chanting of "U.S.A" and waving of the American flag.
" I was very proud to be a Buffalonian and a New Yorker, and I was very happy to be there to support in such a time of distress and tragedy," said Joyce Figueroa, a UB graduate student in the School of Urban Planning. "We need to stop the violence and we need to all love each other and work in unity."
In addition to the government officials who took the stage, Reverend Ann Salmon from the St. John's Lutheran Church in West Seneca spoke soberingly of a confrontation she had with a child at her church. She asked the child to hit her, which he did timidly, with a shy smile on his face. Then she hit him back - harder than he had hit her. His smile disappeared. And when she asked him to hit her again, he did - this time harder than the first and sans the smile. Her message simply but powerfully reinforced the idea that violence begets violence.
Bishop Henry J. Mensell quoted Ephesians 6:12 from the bible, saying that in this impending war "... We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."
Other religious speakers were Rabbi Mordecai Friefertig, president of the Buffalo Board of Rabbis, and Imam Fagri Ausari, the Northeast Representative of the Muslim-American Society.
Colonel Wade Harris from the 914 Air Lift Wing of the Air Reserve rallied for the support of Western New Yorkers. Students from the Buffalo Academy of the Visual Performing Arts School sang. In the distance, the liberty bells tolled and the massed pipe bands of Western New York played "Amazing Grace."
Sandy White, a neighborhood specialist at the Good Neighbors Planning Alliance and a UB student of the School of Urban Planning, said simply, "It was a very moving gathering that was necessary in the healing process."
With flags flying and candles lit, the mass of attendees shared a moment of silence for all the victims, their families, and for the entire country that still mourns.