In a little less than an hour and forty minutes it will be September 11th. Twelve years ago on September 11th 2,996 civilians lost their lives.
343 Firefighters, EMS, Police Officers, and other public safety officers lost their lives running in to what they knew could be the final call they would respond to.
My wife is giving me my space tonight. This is a difficult time for all Americans. It is the anniversary of the date we came to understand that we are not invulnerable. There are many, many people who will commemorate the day as that which they lost a son or a daughter or a father or a mother or a sister or a brother or a husband or a wife or simply someone he or she loved to an attack by people most of them were content to simply leave alone. We mourn the loss of men and women no different than ourselves or the loved ones we say good night to each night. Those people loved and cared about others, left behind people who counted on them, had dreams and hopes for themselves and those they were close to.
They were the first casualties in a war the enemy did not give them the courtesy of openly declaring.
As it unfolded all of America mourned. They sat in shock and horror as, on live television, one tower after the other crumbled. I doubt our nation has shared such a moment of harmonious dismay since December 7th, 1941 when the news from Pearl Harbor reached the mainland United States.
Then there are those trapped in between. I'm talking about the P.S.O.s (Public Safety Officers) who did not die that day. The firefighters, cops, medics, and others who spent the following days grasping at any hope, ignoring reality, that someone, anyone could be pulled from that rubble. The men and women who have spent every day, from that to this, reliving those hours that streamed in to one, long day wondering what would have happened had they looked right instead of left, listened one minute longer, not taken that one more break. The ones who eschewed safety equipment to mount the piles of rubble, inhaling God knows what, because a fifteen minute air pack would barely get you from the Incident Command to the site before vibrating and telling you it was near empty. The ghosts who floated in and out of the dust clouds indistinguishable from one another for the layers of dirt and debris. The ones who found the shoes and eye glasses of civilians or the helmets or hats or boot of fallen comrades and carried them back reverently so the families, once identities were made, would have some piece of the one they loved to bury.
I feel absolutely qualified to tell you of this limbo world these people live in even now.
I know I am qualified to tell you this story because it's my story.
I was there. I spent the first nine days clawing and pawing through that debris until my fingers bled through my heavy gloves...then kept going, like every first responder with me. It took me years to seek help. I am dealing far, far better with the events of those days, but I know what it does to my wife when she wakes to see me clawing at the sheets, drenched in sweat. Those are the combination of nightmare and flashbacks I still have now and again...soaked in sweat on those days during that September, clawing through concrete dust, rebar, steel...anything in hopes on finding someone. When I wake from those nightmares it is not to tears or shaking but resignation. A part of me sometimes has wished I would stay in that dream because there, hidden behind agitated REM sleep, I have more hope than I did at any time during those nine days.
Now I will ask something of you all. I will ask it of you be you Christian, Islamic, Buddhist, Jewish, Wiccan or even atheist. I will ask because it will cost you nothing but a moment of your time.
Ask for closure for the families who never had anything to bury but a memory. Ask for peace for those civilians who lost their lives in a war they did not even know yet we were fighting.
And, lastly, pray for those who have not had a single day pass when we've not caught ourselves staring back in to the past wondering...what more could we have done.
God bless you, all that lost part of yourselves that terrible day, twelve years ago.