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'Portraits of Grief'

09/11/02 12:00AM By Bill Seamans
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(Host) Commentator Bill Seamans reflects on one of the most compelling - and enduring - of the September 11 memorials.

(Seamans) On this day, one year later, much is being said and written about memorials for the 3,000 victims of the September 11 terrorism horror. Opinions about the best way to remember the fallen vary and are highly subjective, depending on how close one is to the tragedy.

The debate centers on what s to become of Ground Zero - that focal point of painful memories. Should new buildings go up there to show the resolve to carry on? But is the argument for new office space based more on corporate greed than on gratitude? Or should the area be turned into a beautiful park where mourners could sit and contemplate both the evil and the good in the human soul? And will the distribution of survivor's benefits be fair?

Beyond this heartbreaking dialogue there is a memorial perhaps more powerful and sensitive than any that could be built with stone or with coin of the realm. Soon after 9/11, the New York Times decided to print the obituary of every known victim of the disaster no matter how long it took and the Times is still printing them. The project was called "Portraits of Grief" and rather than the familiar cold, factual recalling of the milestones in a person's life, these were something different.

The photos provided by relatives have been the faces of smiling, happy people - the text a word picture of the personality and how he or she is remembered by the family. Last Sunday, a Times reader could meet Kathleen Moran, insurance underwriter and the beloved maiden aunt who took nieces and nephews on vacations and bought gifts for every birthday and communion. David Grimmer, a company vice president was always good for a laugh. He was saving for new golf clubs but instead gave his wife a diamond bracelet when she got her Master's degree in education. Busboy David Rodriguez-Vargas dreamed of visiting his mother in the Dominican Republic. And there were eleven others on the page. They all were the faces of America - all colors, creeds and social status. But they had one thing in common: they all died together.

The Times won the Pulitzer Prize for this unique editorial venture. And the reporters who wrote "Portraits of Grief" say they were more deeply affected by this assignment than any other they could recall. From this observer's perspective, it is regrettable that so many people across the country have not been able to see this truly human memorial. However, for those who don't get the Times, "Portraits of Grief" is available on its own web site.

The Times said, "Family members say they want their loved ones, above all, to be remembered not as props or pawns, but as flesh-and-blood human beings who dreamed and laughed and cried." This the "Portraits of Grief" has done.

This is Bill Seamans

Award-winning journalist Bill Seamans is a former correspondent and bureau chief for ABC News in the Middle East.

Visit the New York Times' Portraits of Grief web site.
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