September 24, 2001 12:00 PM

It was not only the New York City skyline that was forever altered on Sept. 11. Across the nation, Americans banded together in prayer and action as they struggled to fathom a future suddenly tainted by fear. Says Maj. Gary Miller, a Salvation Army community relations director: “I don’t think we’ll ever be the same.”

From coast to coast, thousands attended prayer services and vigils, some held in places, like Chicago’s central city, where houses of worship were among the few buildings remaining open. In Albuquerque, more than 400 endured waits of up to five hours to donate blood to be flown to New York City and D.C. on military transport, and another 400 put their names on a call list. Pleasures were postponed: Disneyland, Universal Studios, Knott’s Berry Farm and the San Diego Zoo were shut until further notice; along with the Emmys, the Latin Grammys were put off. Artists, including Madonna, canceled scheduled performances; sporting events were abandoned.

As night set in, workers across the country who had fled home over bridges and highways whose tollbooths had been shut to keep traffic flowing called 800 numbers and logged on to company Web sites to learn when they could return to the scores of office buildings that were evacuated from Seattle to Atlanta to Charlotte.

How soon air travel would resume was still undetermined. Transportation secretary Norman Mineta announced tighter security measures would be in place at all airports, train stations and other key sites—including an end to curbside check-ins. But some wonder if even that is enough. “I don’t know,” ponders California teacher Davina Norried, 33, one of the thousands who experienced a canceled flight. “Will we ever feel safe again?”

Speaking at a requiem mass held at noon in San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral, the Reverend Alan Jones urged churchgoers to at least hope so. “When I first heard about it, a line from Samuel Beckett flashed through my mind,” he said. ” ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’ ”

Temple Sha’arei Am, Santa Monica

In the Jewish tradition it is called Onanut, the period when death has come but the dead have not been buried. “For the next few weeks, we are all in a state of Onanut, all here to hold each other’s hands,” Rabbi Jeffrey Marx told an interfaith service of 200 Jews, Muslims and Christians gathered at Temple Sha’arei Am in Santa Monica. When she received the news by phone that morning, Nasreen Haroon, a board member of the Islamic Center of Southern California, told the group, “I located my relatives in New York just like the rest of you, the rest of us. We are all in the same boat.” At the end of the service the people of three faiths joined in one prayer: “I believe in the sun, when it is not shining. I believe in love, when not feeling it. I believe in God when God is silent.”

Grace Cathedral, San Francisco

Mourners including city leaders, shopkeepers and fourth graders whose schools had sent them home streamed into the neo-Gothic cathedral at noon on Tuesday to attend a hastily organized Episcopalian requiem mass for those who had lost their lives a continent away. “This is a day when we are seeking a way to respond to the terrible thing that has happened,” the Reverend Alan Jones told the crowd of 200, many wiping away tears. “If we’re feeling like that here in San Francisco, we can imagine right now what is going on in lower Manhattan and Washington, D.C.” He urged worshipers to focus not on finding someone to blame but on honoring those who had died through kindness to each other and by working to build a world community at peace. “As they said in seminary,” he told them, ” ‘Don’t let the demons set the agenda.’ ”

Sherri Nusz, 40, flight attendant in Portland, Ore., who spent the day volunteering at her local Red Cross

“If you work for American Airlines, this isn’t supposed to happen. I couldn’t believe it. I felt helpless. And that’s why going to the Red Cross was so important. It helped me feel less helpless. It gave me a purpose. When you have no control over what’s going on, you need to find something in which you have a little control.”

Father Brian Kiely, saying a memorial mass for American Airlines pilot John Ogonowski at St. Francis Catholic Church in Dracut, Mass.

“Our initial response would be to strike back, seek vengeance, look for ways to retaliate. But in our heart of hearts, we know that’s only going to lead to more bloodshed, more violence. We’ve seen what war and hatred can do. My generation has been rather fortunate. We’ve never seen war on our soil, but today our country lost its innocence.”

Bill Moriarity, 61, parish priest at Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral and chaplain at Northwestern Memorial Hospital

“It’s at times like this when we get down on our knees and ask God to help us through. People just want to know the church is open—they are very angry and very alone. We usually have about 150 people here for mass. [There were as many as 750 that day, according to reports.] It’s hard for people to talk right now, but they need to be comforted by their faith, and we’re here. Sometimes all I’ve done today is hug people. I hugged at least 100 people walking through the hospital. I’m having a hard time talking about it because it’s mind-boggling. You think you’d see this in a Tom Clancy book.”

Jeff Hinderer, 37, project manager for a medical machine manufacturer, one of a record number of blood donors at Houston’s Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center

“It’s such a terrible feeling, a sense of helplessness, and giving blood is a patriotic act. It’s something I can do as a citizen. You want to find out who’s responsible. If I could leap up and punch someone in the face I would, but this is a more constructive way of dealing with it.”

Melissa Beck, 33, homemaker, blood donor at Houston’s Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center

“I was in shock, disbelief, and it’s better than pacing the floor. This blood is my only resource, and obviously they’re going to need a lot of it. I kept thinking it could very easily happen here in Houston.”

Linda Hallick, 53, Dearborn, Mich., elementary school teacher and board member of the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services, which organized a blood drive in the area

“If people begin to say Arabs are responsible, you begin to take that very personally. There’s great sorrow in our community and hoping that people understand that just because people are Arabs doesn’t mean they condone these acts. What all of us want is to find out who did it, and make sure they’re taken care of. It is a horrific day in America, it really is.”

Claudia Brown, 46, spokeswoman, Portland Red Cross

“I was stunned. Within two hours we had a line of donors that stretched out the front door, and cars were circling the block looking for a place to park. People are heartbroken. We’re all in this together, even though we’re 3,000 miles apart. I think since we weren’t physically touched by this, people here feel we have a responsibility to do what we can to help.”

Jim Ogonowski, 42, Air National Guardsman whose older brother John, 50, was a pilot on American Airlines Flight 11

“I was on my way to the airport when I learned that an American Airlines flight had crashed. I turned around and went back home. I had a sick feeling that it was John’s plane. Now I keep looking at the cornfield behind John’s house—hoping my brother will walk on out.”

Joseph Dziak, 44, Prague-based Internet executive who had been planning to fly from L.A. to D.C. to visit relatives

“I was the first person to check in at 6 a.m. for the United flight to Dulles, and I was seated at the gate when an airline official told everyone to clear the area. People began to run around like hens. Later I saw a television in the airport bar and saw the two towers of the World Trade Center. I thought there was a terrible fire. When I got to the luggage claim area, all around me people were yelling; some people were sitting on the ground. Everyone was very nervous. The airline people were sweating like horses, little old ladies were yelling, but I just kept looking for my luggage. When I walked outside, another passenger told me the planes had come down. My heart went numb.”

Rev. William Lawson, pastor, Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, Houston

“I felt a kind of numbness this morning. How to respond to this? I’m an introverted person and my first thought was to go off and pray alone, then I thought: What about the others? And what better place to grieve than a church? There’s nobody to turn to like God. So we called a prayer meeting.”

Daniel Gutierrez, 21, a student at University of Texas at Austin and one of several thousand who attended a spontaneous candlelight vigil on campus

“The tragedies today were nothing that anyone in my age group would ever have expected. A big part of American youth just can’t identify with something like this. It will probably be the worst thing to happen on American soil in my generation’s lifetime. At least I hope it is.”

John Dingle, 38, general manager of two restaurants at Enron Field, Houston’s baseball stadium

“When tonight’s game was canceled, I just decided we should mobilize the forces and bake cookies. We baked 300 chocolate-chip cookies for blood donors.”

Amanda Myers, 22, a San Diego bookkeeper, was about to board a plane to Hawaii with her husband of 60 hours, Michael, 27, when the Los Angeles airport was shut down

“Nobody said anything to us. We just saw the looks on their faces and we knew. Then a voice came over the PA system: ‘LAX is closed, please go home.’ Home? We had nowhere to go. We had come up from San Diego the day before and stayed in a hotel. But I can’t be selfish about this. This was my honeymoon, but look what happened.”

Rep. Steny Hoyer, 62 (D-Md.), stood with nearly 100 other lawmakers on the Capitol steps Tuesday afternoon singing “God Bless America.”

“No one had planned to do it at the conclusion of the press conference. A couple members to my right started singing it very softly and then everybody joined in. It was spontaneous, a statement of American solidarity and resolve. It was a moving experience. This has been a day none of us will forget. A horrible day.”

Edward James Olmos, 54, an actor, donated blood at the Red Cross center in L.A. He had arrived the day before on United Flight 11 from Boston

“Watching the news became a nightmare. We’ve grown accustomed to watching so much violence on television—the shot of the plane hitting the building was like a special effect—so we were not really able to grasp the full horror of the situation until we saw the faces. As of right now, everyone we know in New York is accounted for. But we still don’t know who was on the flight coming to L.A. It was the evening of the Latin Grammys, so people were coming in from all over.”

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