“I heard we’re not going out for recess today”
“Something about construction outside”
I could see the basketball courts from my fourth grade classroom where we would play pickup ball every single day during recess. It was the nicest New York day you could ever imagine. Sunny, no clouds, not overwhelmingly hot – just perfect.
When you’re young it takes a rare figure to question authority. I rarely did at the age of ten and neither did my classmates. But I could not see a single bit of construction where I went out for recess everyday. Something was going on, but we went on with our day.
Then my classmates started to get picked up from school. The day was barely halfway through and one by one their parents were arriving to bring them home. By day’s end I was one of three kids left in my class that had at least 20-25 fourth graders.
The bus was about 25% full and I still had no idea what was going on. I didn’t even worry about it, which seems so strange to me now. I guess that’s the beauty of being a kid, you’re naive to many of the horrors that can happen at any moment in this world.
Then I got off the bus and my sister (who is four years older than me) was at my doorstep, yelling.
“There was a terrorist attack in New York City! Planes were flown right into the Twin Towers”
I got into the house and my Mom was visibly distraught. She worked in the Towers before her and my father moved a bit north of the City. That wasn’t the problem though. My dad had left for work that morning, fresh off of a promotion as a Captain on the greatest fire department in the entire world.
It’s hard to believe 9/11 was 15 years ago from today. A world where people weren’t in constant communication on cell phones and airport security was much less complex. That day changed everything and for me, a ten year old who’s biggest worries consisted of finding enough kids to get a game going or getting a ride to a friend’s house. I realized how quickly things could be taken and to never take anything for granted.
When you get promoted on the FDNY, you’re not instantly put in a new firehouse. Opportunities have to open up so naturally; my Dad was playing the waiting game along with 9 other guys that were promoted at the same time.
Throughout this time they were doing building inspections throughout New York City. There had been a few disagreements between the inspection department and my Dad’s division, so in pairs they would schedule dates to meet and sort things out…in downtown New York City.
My dad hates letting things linger, especially chores that he’d rather not do. His partner in his group wanted to meet with the department on Tuesday the 11th, but my dad kept insisting they get it out of the way Monday. Two other Captains from their group took their original Tuesday slot.
They both died in the attacks that morning, rushing over to save lives.
My dad’s birthday is September 12th. I couldn’t wait for him to get home the night of the 11th so I could say Happy Birthday, give him a hug, talk about the Mets or Jets while he had a Budweiser, then go to sleep. To this day I’ve still never been so happy as I was that night to see someone walk through a door.
I did yell Happy Birthday, but he was (understandably) a wreck. When you think someone is invincible your entire life, it’s always strange the first time you see them in a vulnerable state. I’m not sure what it’s like to lose that many friends in one morning, that many brothers.
Every working member of the FDNY on that day was eventually given commemorative medals, but I’m entirely positive my dad threw his away. Nobody wants a participation trophy from the worst day of his or her life.
That’s the number of firefighters that were killed on September 11th, 2001. I remember the funerals. I remember spending a lot of nights with my Mom and sister, waiting for my Dad to get home from the city. The clean up process took months. Two of my uncles were down there as well, both on the fire department. I was just lucky to have those nights and the opportunity to know that they would all eventually be home.
Maybe my dad was kept around by pure luck. Maybe God just wanted us to watch Johan Santana’s no-hitter together, the first in the Mets’ history, in which after he said to me ‘I’m really glad you were home so we could witness that together.’ Maybe it was to save another man’s life years later by literally pulling his unconscious body out of a burning building (which he was awarded a medal by the New York City Mayor for).
This isn’t a story about luck or fortune. It’s a story about appreciation on a day that’s importance has begun to fade in this country. In a time where America is searching for unity, I’ll never forget the time we stood as one more so than ever.
I hated those few months. Everything was different and all I wanted was things to be normal again. But I’ll never forget the beautiful side of humanity that it brought.
I hope on this day, one that’s importance can’t be understated, that we all stand together. If someone chooses to kneel near me, I’ll still offer my hand after to help him or her back up. I’ve seen this country knocked back on its heels with not an inch to breathe.
There’s only one way out from that, to push forward inch by inch, together.
Feature Photo: top left: my uncle Mike, top right: my uncle Jerry, bottom 2nd in from right: my dad