Sunday, September 11, 2011

Everyday Remembrances

Editor's Note: A little less than ten years ago, in the immediate aftermath of September 11th, John Updike wrote "Suddenly summoned to witness something great and horrendous, we keep fighting not to reduce it to our own smallness." Today, ceremonies around New York City will mark the passing of a decade since the destruction of the World Trade Center, seeking as well to avoid reduction, to keep such a violent rending of the city's physical and social fabric from fading beyond memory into history. There will be no smallness in today's events. 

And yet, we know that our own smallness will prevail, that the neurons firing to remember the horrors of ten years ago today will fire for far more mundane acts of recall tomorrow. It is for this reason that small memorials, everyday remembrances, have as much power to influence our processing of such cataclysmic events as yearly or decennial ceremonies. The article that follows, a guest piece from  journalist Andie Park, captures such a project as it lives on Franklin Avenue, unknown (until I read it) to yours truly, and perhaps to many readers.

The wooden planter boxes -- about two feet wide, two feet high, one foot deep -- number 40 this year. Soon, daffodil bulbs will occupy the soil, so that come spring, the flowers can line Franklin Avenue in gold from Atlantic Avenue to Eastern Parkway.

The daffodils bloom each year, linking loss to rebirth. Those on Franklin Avenue are part of a commercial revitalization project by the Crow Hill Community Association of Crown Heights, and a citywide effort called the Daffodil Project, a living memorial to 9/11.

“They start to all pop up almost as if the green lights are turning,” said Stacey Sheffey, who oversees plantings as chair of the Go Green Committee of CHCA, describing the daffodils in bloom.

Sheffey knows the daffodils are a memorial, but many in the neighborhood do not, even as they delight in the flowers on Franklin Avenue.

“I don’t think most people know that it’s tied to a 9/11 memorial,” said Michael Kunitzky, 35 and founder of LaunchPad, a neighborhood creative space on Franklin Avenue, after learning of the Daffodil Project. “Now when I see the daffodils, it’ll be a reminder of the good balancing out a tragic event.”

Kunitzky had thought the daffodils had more to do with the Crow Hill revitalization, with “bringing flowers into historically blighted neighborhoods.” But now, he saw them as “a great concept” and “a beautiful way” to memorialize 9/11.

“It is really a good merging spot for two efforts that do kind of coincide,” Kunitzky said.

Eldwyn Brown, 53, owns A Slice of Brooklyn, a pizza parlor located on Franklin Avenue a few blocks down from LaunchPad. A planter box sits in front of his store. Brown and his wife used to fill the box with various plants. Even though people threw cigarette butts and other trash into the box, Brown thought it made a difference. Now, the box is home to daffodils.

“It represented something more than we thought,” said Brown, sitting next to his 11-year-old son Ansil.

“Now that I see what it was for,” Ansil said, “that it was there to remind you about 9/11, how many that’s been lost, and what’s happened, well, I’m going to feel sad for all the people that lost their lives, and all the people that lost family members.”

Though borne of tragedy, the daffodils have brought color and change to the neighborhood, father and son agree, allowing them, as Ansil put it, to see more than just the barren sidewalk. And, also allowing Ansil kinder memories.

He recalls seeing reruns of news footage from 9/11.

“I used to run to my Mom to have her watch it with me,” he said, with nose running, “because I got scared. I’m not sure if I knew what it was, but what I did know is that it scared me. I saw the plane going into the building, and then after that, when my Mom would come watch it with me, then we would see the building going down.”

Brown could have been in one of the buildings that morning. He used to work for IBM in technical support. A friend from the office called Brown at about eight o’clock, to ask if he wanted to work at the Twin Towers that day. Waiting for a confirmation call, Brown got up from his bed to check on Ansil, then just a baby, and turned on the television in the living room.

Daffodils have bloomed on Franklin Avenue for three years now, rendering commercial revitalization in color and quietly commemorating 9/11. Volunteers construct the planter boxes, then plant daffodil bulbs in them, in tree pits, and in community gardens. Sheffey and other volunteers will plant 550 bulbs this year.

The bulbs are free to anyone who plants them in a public space. New Yorkers for Parks, in partnership with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, distributes the bulbs each fall in all five boroughs. Meredith Ledlie, 30, the coordinator for the Daffodil Project, estimates that about 2000 locations throughout New York City have daffodils, from four million bulbs planted.

The project began in November 2001 as an annual volunteer project, when a Dutch bulb supplier donated 500,000 bulbs in support of New York City in the aftermath of 9/11. The daffodils are a symbol of remembrance and rebirth to engage New Yorkers in revitalizing their communities. Among many reasons for daffodils as a living memorial, Ledlie points out their “distinct personality.”

“If you’ve ever looked at a daffodil, they kind of hang their heads a little bit,” Ledlie said. “In a contemplative way, like they’re thinking about something.”

In the famous poem “Daffodils” by William Wordsworth, the narrator describes daffodils “tossing their heads in sprightly dance” and finds peace in their beauty. Ledlie has seen that beauty on Franklin Avenue.

“I’ve walked past. I’ve seen the planters with my own two eyes,” she said. “They’re really great, and it’s a great way to reclaim that street.”

According to Nina Meledandri, 53, project manager for CHCA, flowers are essential to the revitalization and greening of Franklin Avenue.

“I think that really raises people’s spirits on a day-to-day level,” she said. “It touches people.”

In the coming weeks, Sheffey will pick up the daffodil bulbs slated for Franklin Avenue, at the Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn. This past April, CHCA received the Daffodil Project Award for Brooklyn; New Yorkers for Parks honors one recipient per borough each year. As a grassroots organization, CHCA can use all the help it can get and will be looking for volunteers to help plant the daffodil bulbs.

“With planting starts everything,” Sheffey said. “Just as the daffodils plant the seed of making this a memorial for 9/11, the Daffodil Project has planted the seed in different communities to make their space a green space and also beautiful, as well as honoring those who have fallen on 9/11.” - Andie Park


  1. It's heartwarming to think that New Yorkers have come together to create beauty in our communities after such a great loss.

  2. Is it true that the Crow Hill Community Association was kicked out of their normal meeting venue by the owner? We missed the last meeting and heard it was at a new location. The above place was their normal meeting location right? Terrible to hear that.