One week ago today (as I write this), I visited the 9/11 Memorial in New York City. To say I was moved would be an understatement. As evidence I’m choked up again after typing a single sentence. Later that same evening, my wife and I grabbed dinner while sitting at a bar in the city of my mother’s birth. I struck up a conversation with the gentleman next to me and expressed how moving one particular moment at the memorial had been (I’ll share that a little later in this post), and he asked, “Did you lose someone in the attack?” My response was spontaneous and without thought. I share it here:
Didn’t we all?
Three little words
I’m struck by how powerful three word sentences can be. Take “I love you” or “I hate you” as proof. “Didn’t we all?” has stuck with me for a week. I wanted to write this post a week ago but thought to myself, “No, it’s still too raw and you’re too emotional about it.” A week later, not a thing has changed. I lost some faith in humanity on 9/11/2001. I have no idea who or what you lost, but I’m fairly certain that day touched all of us in big and small ways with which we are still coming to grips. It’s the Pearl Harbor of my generation. It’s the moment we lost our innocence so to speak.
I could tell you where I was on 9/11/2001 but you can read “9/11 – There are no guarantees” and sort that out for yourself. But this post is not about me, it’s about the four people I will never meet or know who’s live path’s crossed mine for a moment in time last week at the 9/11 memorial.
Thirty minutes into our visit I totally lost it
From the moment we exited the subway and I took the picture that accompanies this blog post, I was choked up. While waiting in line I tried to joke with my wife to loosen up and it didn’t work. I spent 30 minutes walking the grounds of the memorial, shifting between awe at what has risen from the ashes and a deep sense of loss from what occurred 11 years earlier. You see, there are thousands of names etched in the retaining walls of the two fountains that mark the footprints of the original One and Two World Trade Center buildings. As a child and young adult, I visited those buildings with my mother, aunt and grandmother. They were majestic and amazing buildings defining the NYC skyline.
After 30 minutes, I looked at my wife and said, “Okay, I’ve paid my respects and think it’s time we find some lunch and levity.” As we were walking to the exit, I saw four folks who looked as normal as you or me etching a name from the fountain retaining wall. Two of the four were women no more than about 20 years of age. The other two were gentleman perhaps my age (late-40s) and wearing T-shirts that declared them first responders.
While it’s only speculation, I’m pretty sure I witnessed two girls etching the name of a loved one who had served with the two first responders. I turned, walked as far as I could to the chain link fence surrounding the memorial and sobbed. Remember it’s been 11 years and if they are 20, their last memories of the loved ones lost in the attack are those of a 9 year old.
So on Labor Day …
I know Labor Day is a U.S. holiday but regardless all around the world let’s just take a moment to remember those who run into burning (attacked) buildings when everyone else is running out. They face down violent criminals while most of us of rest safely in our beds at night. They toil in hot steel mills and doing other jobs we’d never imagine doing.
And yes, I think we’ve come far enough that we can all agree Labor Day is no longer just for organized labor, but for all of us who strive to leave a better world for future generations than the world we live in.
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