On September 13, 2011, I found myself in an uncharacteristically patriotic mood. Having been in New York City and having escaped the same fate as thousands of other New Yorker’s, I made my way to the Javitz Center to see what I could do to help.
Over the course of the days and weeks that followed 9/11, the fear, the hope and the community that pervaded the cold, hard city was palpable. I’d never felt so much compassion among strangers as I did in those few weeks. It quickly changed when we went to war and again became politicized individuals – but for that one brief shining moment, we all came together in a way that makes even the most cynical heart melt.
The following is something I wrote after a day of volunteering downtown. I was a lot younger then and so much has changed since, but in considering the anniversary of 9/11, I’m choosing to honor the naive, gentle, bright eyed young man who wrote these words almost 10 years ago.
September 13, 2001
It’s been nearly two days now since the tragedy which took sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters of this great city. I call it a “great city” because despite, or rather, IN spite of the horrors that have befallen us, not only do we go on, but we go on with more strength, courage and love than we’ve ever had.
Today I had the unique honor of volunteering to aide the firefighters, EMTs, police officers, military personnel and other volunteers who have arrived from all over the country. I helped distribute food to the heroes who make me proud to be an American.
There was a time, not very long ago, when I would giggle at such a patriotic statement. For me, it’s always been a statement that evokes President’s Day Car Commercials and third grade filmstrips about Washington crossing the Delaware. I’ve had very real moments in my life when I’ve been a bit choked up by something patriotic…I was able to visit the Smithsonian in Washington DC, back in eighth grade, that’s where they display the flag which Francis Scott Key was watching as he wrote “The Star Spangled Banner.” I felt truly proud to be an American then. Then a few years ago, I was doing a show in Media, PA. On a day off, I went to visit the historical sights of Philadelphia. I was in Independence Hall, where the Declaration was signed. Not only was I proud to be an American, but, I also experienced a strange sense of deja-vu.
Then today, after being on my feet for close to ten hours, and many of the would-be volunteers had been dismissed, I took some candles I’d packed in my bag (for reasons I was unaware of), I lit the candles, passed them around to some of my fellow volunteers, grabbed the American flag from the side of the truck and began singing the words Francis Scott Key wrote so long ago. By the time we’d finished, many voices had joined us, and those that did not had their eyes closed and their hands over their hearts. I don’t know why I did it, I just felt like it, and I am thankful to be an American, where I can do it if I want to.
After they began to close up shop where I was located, I headed to Penn Station to catch the train home. In front of the station, I saw some visibly ragged guardsmen. I walked up to them and thanked them. They then returned the thanks, recognizing me from the triage. I then headed down to the basement of Penn Station to catch my train home. In the corridor, sitting on the floor in front of a locked down marketplace, there was a man. He was a construction worker or a firefighter I think. I could tell from his dusty apparel, he’d spent the day at ground zero (as it is being referred to). I walked up to him and asked him how he was doing. He looked up and as a tear rolled through the caked on dust on his face, he said “I’ll be fine.” I said “Is there anything you need?” He responded…”My kids.”
I told him how sorry I was and expressed my gratitude for all the work he’d done…and this man…This man who had spent the last 50 hours straight risking his own life to save others’. This man who continued to work, despite his own sheer exhaustion. This man who was searching through the wreckage to find his children, apologized to me for not being able to work longer. THIS IS A HERO. And this is a man who makes myself and hopefully anyone else who reads this, proud to be an American.
If you are in New York and you see a man or woman with dust on their boots or a firefighter, police officer, EMT, or a military officer, please, take a moment to thank them and ask them if there’s anything you can do to help them. These are heroes.
Take a break from bickering over who’s to blame, what George W is going to do next, and about impending war. Take a moment and throw a thought or a prayer to my heroes, who will continue to work through tonight and many more nights to come.
Some days, I really miss the kid who wrote that.