Tuesday morning, a gleaming New York City landmark, the World Trade Center, was destroyed. Half a day later, as dusk fell at Keene's landmark, 350 area residents gathered to pray and reflect on what had happened.
During a 90-minute interfaith prayer service at the white stone United Church of Christ at the head of Central Square, the mood was quiet and respectful.
The service, sponsored by Keene-area churches to honor those who died in Tuesday's terrorist attacks, was attended by adults, children, parents and their infants, middle-school students, Christians and Jews.
Rev. Robert Hamm of the United Church of Christ opened the ceremony by reading an e-mail from a friend in the Philippines.
"My heart bleeds for those who died and also for those who committed this horrible act," Hamm's friend wrote. "May all of us learn to live in the way of peace."
Nine clergymen joined Hamm in conducting the service. The prayers and songs they chose focused on faith, not retribution.
"If I have wounded one single soul today, if I have walked in my own willful way, if I have caused one foot to go astray, dear Lord, forgive me," said Rev. Fay L. Gemmell, a retired Methodist minister.
"We desire, Lord, to have peace in our nation," said Rev. John Reilly of the Keene Church of the Nazarene.
Rev. Garth McGrath of Monadnock Covenant Church in East Swanzey prayed for those who died: "We lift up to you the young children who will not go home to their parents tonight. We lift up to you the parents who will not go home to their children tonight."
The service was intended simply to give people a chance to be together, and comfort each other in a time of grief, said Rev. Charles Shook, also of the United Church of Christ.
"When (Rev. Hamm) and I called the pastors, everyone said 'yes' immediately. It was obvious this was a need in the community," Shook said after the service.
"I think it gave me a time to focus and think," said Michel P. Williams of Keene, who attended the service with his wife and two children. "Watching TV and radio tends to make one feel despair and anger and fear, and this can be pretty overpowering.
"It's overwhelming to think of just all of the people affected by this, and all of the emotions going through all of us, and to be able to turn to the community for support and peace and comfort ... is the most important thing we can be doing," he said.
"Our hearts have all expressed a need to be here, among others who would share this burden tonight," said Rev. Paul Cullity, campus minister at Keene State College.
The prayers offered comfort, but answers to mind-numbing questions, such as why someone would do something like this, evaded even the clergy.
Rev. Peter Coffin of St. James Episcopal Church in Keene said he had no answers. When he heard the news, he did what others throughout the Monadnock Region did: He picked up the phone.
"I called my sister (in New York City). I was okay until the answering machine came on. When the beep sounded, I couldn't speak. I couldn't find the words to say. That's probably where we all are tonight," Coffin said.
(This morning, Coffin said he later reached her at home; she was safe.)
Some said the service helped them deal with the tragedy.
"I had a deep sense of need to be in a community, and not just sit at home," said John A. Bleyle of Swanzey. "It was very spiritual, very comforting."
"People need to come together in a time like this," said Gail Woodward of Keene, who passed out candles -- symbolizing hope, she said -- as the crowd left. "We needed to do this."
Clergy who spoke avoided messages, trying only to offer prayers for those who died and those who are suffering.
"In a time of prayer, we don't try to get a message across; we just get together and pray. There will be other times for other things," Shook said.
While gathering the community for a service might seem simplistic and won't solve any problems, "I think that's all we can offer right now," said Rabbi Micah Becker-Klein, from Congregation Ahavas Achim in Keene.
"I think it's a very human need," said Rev. Mark Ferrin from the First Baptist Church in Keene. "When one of us weeps, we all weep."
Becker-Klein quoted from "Dirge Without Music" by Edna St. Vincent Millay:
"Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust ...
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned."