Ok, those who know me understand I detest all things self-referential.

My family actually gets an allergic skin reaction from any such behavior, including those who take themselves seriously. Treacly emotion, not for us, even a Hallmark card puts us in a diabetic coma.

But I can't help it, not today.

Like too many other towns in the New York area, the 9/11 terrorist attacks killed loved ones in my hometown of Rockville Centre, at least 65 people. My beautiful sister Catherine married a fireman on September 9th, two days before 9/11. Chris, who I adore, dug out his brother-in-law, also a fireman, from the demolished lobby of the World Trade Center, pushed underground, that New Year's eve. My brothers and sisters knew many who passed away.

Uppermost in my mind is how the good people of Rockville Centre responded, just like the entire Tri-state area responded--with kindness and compassion.

Uppermost in my mind, too, is how the good people around the country responded to perfect strangers, sending letters, notes, school children signing banners with messages of love and care to us tough New Yorkers, made out of anything they could get their hands on, even the sheets they took off of their beds.

It still brings me and my friends to tears, the memory of the messages you sent that hung on banners around Ground Zero. You stepped up.

New Yorkers needed you, those of you who saw the pain, who reached out. New Yorkers haven't forgotten Americans across the country who stood with those who lost loved ones. They never will.

For the people of Rockville Centre, a leafy Long Island town 45 minutes from Manhattan, it was painful to see guys who I went to school with, grew up with, gone.

Neighbors who had prayed long into their night that their father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter, husband or wife would come home, only to find out they were gone.

Then the funerals and dealing with the sinking realization that their loved ones will never come home.

People were falling to their knees onto their heads crying, at home, in the shower, in the hallway.

It's a pain that we've all gone through in our lives, I know you have too, dear readers. This was crushing.

The pain still runs thick and deep.

Rockville Centre is a town of New York City financial services professionals, firefighters, police officers.

Rockville Centre is the home of Doris Kearns Goodwin, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, who used her childhood there as the basis for her book Wait Until Next Year, about her love affair with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Marilyn French, author of The Women's Room, is a native.

Rockville Centre is a place, too, where, on a hot summer day in the 60s and 70s, local priests were seen, in all irony, blessing cars exiting from the church parking lot on the way to the beach, using dashes of holy water.

Like many areas around the city, Rockville Centre was punched hard by 9/11.

But my hometown, this commuter-belt community, 45 minutes from Manhattan by train, looked death squarely in the face and mobilized.

Priests from St. Agnes Cathedral, the eighth-largest Catholic diocese in the country, made themselves available 24 hours a day. The church immediately held services.

I can remember, after receiving communion at one of the funerals at St. Agnes, turning around and getting set back on my heels.

Most everyone in the packed cathedral were kneeling with their heads in their arms on the pews in front of them, a dense, unrelenting vacuum of desolation.

I can't forget this and I never will.

But along with the sadness, families immediately went on the move. For example, they dropped off pots and plates piled high with food at the Rockville Centre Recreation Center for families in need.

They took children in if parents were needed elsewhere. They made phone calls, they cleaned, they did laundry for those affected. Or they stood there silently, they sat in one another's company, hoping the kindness of their presence, a shoulder to cry on, would be enough, unusual approaches, maybe, for this unsentimental town.

And the families who lost loved ones themselves went on the move. I remember how the families of Stephen Tighe, 41, and Timothy O'Brien, 40, both now gone, responded. Tighe and O'Brien, both natives of Rockville Centre, were brothers-in-law and fathers of young children. Both worked in securities trading on the 105th floor of the World Trade Center at Cantor Fitzgerald, a global securities firm that suffered the heaviest losses of staff.

I can remember their father, Bernard O'Brien, telling me: "I got strength from Timmy. He was the rock of our family. Both he and Steve took things nice and easy; they never got too excited, they got things done."

O'Brien spoke at a series of nine masses at St. Agnes the weekend after the attack. Mourners stood five deep in the aisles to listen to his moving tribute, where he read the names of the missing and gave thanks to the community.

Like the O'Briens, other families hurt by terrorist attacks in my hometown looked ahead.

"So many people waste their time complaining about stupid things. You really want to make the most of life," Bonnie O'Connor told me at the time. O'Connor's younger brother John Ahern was the victim of another tragedy, Pan Am Flight 103, which blew up over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 (I grew up with John, he was also my childhood boyfriend).

"You get so much extra energy from this grief you don't know what to do with it. If you don't do something with it, it can really eat you up and destroy you," O'Connor said at the time.

O'Brien agreed.

For instance, at the masses where he spoke, he made this final remark: "I asked everybody to make themselves a promise. I asked that they would never let a day go by that they wouldn't give their loved ones a hug and tell them that you loved them, because you never know when the opportunity won't present itself again."

O'Brien added: "The tissue papers came out," and seeing the compassion enveloping him in a warm bear hug of an embrace, that's when he started to cry.

And each time he spoke, O'Brien got a standing ovation.

PS Being a (horribly lapsed) Catholic, who fears bursting into flames if she walks by a church, I do very much love a number of saints who help me through times of trouble, one being Saint Dismas, a man whose name has been lost to the sands of time. He made the ultimate leap of faith that still rings down through the centuries that has grabbed my heart for good. A thief, he didn't question, he didn't say, "If though art Lord," instead he said with the simple clarity and purity of a humble soul, "Lord." 

And if you know who he is, then you get what I mean.