The town of Chapel Hill organized Friday's vigil in response to President Bush's declaration that Friday would be a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance for victims of the attacks.
"Just standing here, I'm just overcome with how lucky we are to be here with the people we know and care about," said Mayor Rosemary Waldorf, as she scanned the crowd of business people, politicians, families and students.
Waldorf said she and Chapel Hill Town Council members wanted to ask people to join together in a statement of solidarity for all those affected by the tragedy.
As she took her place in front of the crowd, Waldorf thanked the police officers and service men who were gathered around her to represent rescue workers who died in the collapse of the World Trade Center towers for their courage.
Waldorf encouraged people to be proud of U.S. freedoms and acknowledged a collective sense of sorrow in those present. "The hole in the New York skyline mirrors the hole in our hearts," she said.
Barbara McIntyre, a New York City native, sat in a back row, a small American flag pinned to her shirt and one in her hand ruffling gently in the breeze.
"This flag means freedom and democracy, and I wear it proudly today and every day," she said.
McIntyre said her emotions have shifted from shock to anger in the past few days. "I want to lash out," she said. "The payback can't come fast enough."
Echoing McIntyre's frustration, Laurie Hill, who stood with two friends in the back, said she also brought feelings of sorrow and anger with her to the vigil.
Hill, a Chapel Hill town employee, said that although she holds reservations about the U.S. using violence in retaliation, she doesn't see an alternative.
"What is stronger than violence?" she asked. "I'd like to know if there is something else that we could do that would make the same statement."
Later in the vigil, all stood silent with their heads bowed as William Gattis, minister of University United Methodist Church at 150 E. Franklin St., led the group in prayer.
"Renew our souls with the vision of a world where compassion transcends violence," he prayed. "Most of all, make us instruments of thy peace."
A bell on Rosemary Street began to ring and, as if answering its toll of mourning, a bell on Franklin Street joined in. The crowd stood frozen in the surreality of the moment. People thought, prayed and held the hands of loved ones.
As the crowd dispersed, Ray Hardee, an Orange Water and Sewer Authority employee, discussed the symbolic use of the flag with a group of men.
"When the flag flies at half mast, the person raising it should take it up all the way to the top, hesitate a moment, and let it drop to the middle," Hardee said.
Hardee looked for a long moment at the flag flying half raised in front of the post office. His voice wavered as he spoke of his daughter.
"My girl's birthday was 9/11," he said. "And she told me it was not a happy day."
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