Today is an anniversary of 9/11. It's not the first, or the fifth, or the tenth. It doesn't matter.
I don't need it to be the tenth or 25th or 50th to celebrate it.
Yes, celebrate it.
Each year, on September 11, I celebrate:
- The love shown by thousands of rescue workers and ordinary citizens, in NYC, Washington, D.C. and on Flight 93, when they knowingly put their lives at grave risk so that others may live;
- The love expressed by victims who lived for a desperate hour after their fate was sealed, and used the last minutes of their lives to call loved ones; as Rabbi Irwin Kula eloquently wrote, "in the face of terror and the dearness of the vanishing moment, [they] showed no anger or any desire for revenge but simply and heroically witnessed a yearning to love and the faith that love ultimately swallows up death."
- The love expressed by victims’ family members, many of whom spent weeks desperately touring hospitals throughout the NYC metro area, hoping that their loved ones had miraculously been spared;
- The love that I witnessed when I emerged from my office building in midtown Manhattan in early afternoon, and indeed throughout America and much of the rest of the world, for months afterward;
- The heroic response to the call of duty from tens of thousands of men and women across this land who have now served more than a decade fighting a war on terrorism that, for all its flaws, has prevented another major terrorist attack on US soil that most of us thought inevitable after 9/11.
Many of us vowed that day that our outlook would be forever changed - that we'd hold our loved ones closer and longer, that we'd be more patient and compassionate with strangers, and less driven and harried, than we were on 9/10.
Each September 11 is an opportunity
to remember those vows.
Today, I will think about the manner in which so many people responded to the certain end of their lives by calling their loved ones.
I will also recall how the heroes of 9/11 and the ensuing years saved us, in the words of my wise aunt Eileen,
“from having that day be remembered as one of being simply victims, totally demoralized....and turned the story into one of great pride in our values as a country and in the bravery and devotion to duty that our people can show.”
And I will beam with great pride about our values as a country, and in the bravery and devotion to duty that our people can show.
I will recall all of those ordinary people who perished that day while lovingly doing remarkable things, so that others may live.
I will remember the incredible sense of hope I got from one of the most impactful commercials I have ever seen, at a time when many believed that New York City would never recover.
I will recall my law school classmate John Moran, a chief in FDNY whose last known words, as he entered Ground Zero, were "I am going to make a difference today."
I will pay homage to Timothy Stackpole, who had suffered horrifying injuries in a fire years before, and battled with the fire department medical staff simply for the right to return to work, only to then give his life on 9/11.
I will raise a glass to for Pat Brown. At an apartment fire long before 9/11, Brown and his crew were on the roof of a burning building, with a man desperately hanging out a window. A rope rescue was in order, but there was nothing on the roof to anchor the rope to. So they anchored the rope to one of the crew members, and as Brown straddled the building ledge to supervise and buttress the rope, a firefighter was lowered to the window. Brown knew that when the desperate man was pulled from the window and his weight doubled the burden, all of the men involved might very well plunge to the ground. But he did it anyway, and the man’s life was saved. On 9/11, Pat Brown led his crew into the WTC, and was last heard from on the 35th floor.
I will remember Moira Smith, a police officer who stormed into one of the towers to find the revolving doors were preventing people from fleeing quickly enough. She shot out a giant plate glass window, allowing the lobby to empty and, with the lobby cleared, ran upstairs to guide thousands of frightened people out of the building.
I will honor Stephen Siller, who was on his way to play golf, but hearing the news, picked up his fire gear and headed to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to enter lower Manhattan. With his truck hopelessly blocked by traffic, he ran through the mile-long tunnel on foot in full gear, and perished.
I will think of the Langone family. Peter Langone was a fireman about whom was said he "had only one speed, and that was fast forward." Thomas Langone was an officer in the police Emergency Services Unit. He collected 42 medals in 18 years and went to Oklahoma City in 1995 to help recovery efforts after the bombing there. Gov. Frank Keating of Oklahoma said at his funeral that Officer Langone and his colleagues "brought with them honor, courage, humor and occasionally a funny accent."
I will sing, more than once, the words of Bruce Springsteen, from "Into the Fire":
May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love
May your love give us love
I will pay heed to the words of my friend Robert Sullivan, who wrote that we "truly honor [those who were lost] when our first thoughts of them bring smiles and not tears....Miracles never really leave if we never forget. And we will never forget. God bless them all."
Let's celebrate. Let's never forget.
Let's make a difference today.
May God bless us all.