As bagpiped strains of "Amazing Grace" floated across Centennial Lake last night like the summons to a funeral, hundreds of Howard County residents marked Sept. 11 by celebrating undying hope.
People read uplifting quotations from presidents and locals. At least 150 uniformed police, fire and emergency personnel stood at attention as the nation's flag was hoisted to the top of the Fire Department's Tower 18.
An audience that by park estimates hit 2,500 rose to sing "God Bless America" -- and applauded spontaneously as the public safety workers filed away up a long pathway.
"Let us take time to honor and embrace the incredible American spirit that has helped us move forward," said County Executive James N. Robey, a former police chief. "Be proud of that spirit, because you are part of it."
Across the state yesterday, people were drawn to churches, colleges, community centers and outdoor spaces to remember the first anniversary of the worst attacks on American soil. They came to pray, to remember, to take comfort in numbers.
At Centennial Park in Ellicott City, where a memorial garden was newly planted, Howard officials tried to offer something life-affirming in the face of so much death.
Four of the nearly 3,000 who perished were county residents: Sara M. Clark, a middle school teacher who was on American Airlines Flight 77, and Darin H. Pontell, Ronald Golinski and Max Beilke, all in the Pentagon as the plane swooped down.
Their names were read last night, each marked by a single chime.
"We decided from the beginning that we wanted this ceremony to be about hope and about tomorrow," said Victoria Goodman, a county spokeswoman. "It's also a moment to grieve together."
The Columbia Pro Cantare chorus sang music for every emotion, including the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and a selection from Mozart's Requiem.
As dusk fell, officials released 50 white doves.
Visitors filled the grassy hill above the park's amphitheater, many in patriotic colors, some holding flags. Members of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post and its ladies' auxiliary passed out red silk poppies adorned with a message on a ribbon: "WE REMEMBER."
More than a dozen Centennial High School students brought lighted candles. "We thought it would be important to come," said sophomore Courtney Kehoe, 14.
Sherman Howell, a Columbia resident whose 27-year-old daughter was two blocks from the World Trade Center when it was hit, felt the same pressing desire.
"We can't forget -- we must not forget," he said. "We need to learn to live together peacefully as nations."
Five double-sided wipe boards were set up to take people's messages. By 8 p.m., they were filled.
Diane Peterson, a Highland resident who brought two of her daughters to the memorial, thought about how grateful she was to be an American as she stopped to read the handwritten notes.
"I think it's important not to just let it go as just another day, because it's not another day," she said. "This is something we're going to be living with now."