Views From Kennewick

Monday, September 10, 2007

Three Hundred Forty Three

They knew they were climbing the stairway to heaven disguised as hell, laden with the burden of gear, certain in their ability to help those they could, breathing in soot and ash, accepting good wishes of those who would live. They knew what they faced—this unspeakable horror, but they climbed with fierce determination to do their jobs. Three hundred and forty three beloved members of the New York Fire Department. Three hundred and forty three. Each loved. Each knowing their tomorrows’ was at an end.

Yet they climbed. And they died. A nation mourned and poured out the deeply felt appreciation and love onto their families.

A year later, a group of disparate individuals came together to pay homage and try to understand this grievous loss to our country, and what it meant. Led by Detective Stuart Goldstein, TARU unit, the group slowly drove down the ramp into the pit, just days after the first anniversary of 9/11. Only three lived in the area, for the rest it was a trip to a city they’d only heard about.

The sheer magnitude of the city itself humbled us. The maw of the pit stretched out as a wave of silence quieted the city above. We climbed out of the van, supporting Stuart. His voice choked with emotion, his body shook with visceral remnants of that day. Stuart explained where each building stood, and where he was when the first tower, then the second came down in a thundering crash of steel and glass.

He showed us the building across the street, a gash right down the middle that was now repaired, the new bricks intentionally set in another color. Remnants of the parking garage, ceiling corners soot stained from the fires.

This was all that was left in the pit a year later. The earth beneath our feet bore no evidence of that grim day. The only reminders—the pit itself, the observer platform, the corners of the parking garage. The tears of the families were still palpable in this sad, sacred place.

Near a wall lay the I-beams fashioned into the memorial circle. At each end, a bouquet of flowers, a picture, a golf glove, a treasured item of the lost loved one, an offering left to those who vanished a year before.

We walked the circle, reading the names of victims, hoping we could somehow remember these un-met friends. A sad, slow walk, no words spoken. As if on cue in some strange play, most of us cried out, “Look! The orchids are alive!” In each bouquet withered, dead flowers...except the vibrant orchids. Each delicate orchid thriving on the humidity of decay of the dead carnations, roses, and mums. Each tiny face peering up at us as a goodbye of hope and love.

Slowly we drove back up the ramp, and parked near the memorial table, offered prayers, each police officer hugged tight, official protocol thrown to the winds.

Stuart led us to the observation deck, showing us the street view, explaining what had been. Our fingers traced the carvings from friends and families left in despair on the handrail. A little heart carved out with an arrow pointing to the former home of Tower One. Inside the heart “My daddy works here.”

A jet engine roared above and to the South of us. On this street in New York City, one year and eight days after this evil attack, thousands of people gasped. Every head of turned up to look and quickly watch and wait. Silence for a moment more then a collective sigh of relief.

As this enormous city of life gathered her skirts and set back to work to repair the gaping hole in the skyline, we turned our faces to our own futures down the street, or across the ocean.

Three hundred and forty three firemen, two thousand six hundred and seventeen humans, remembered with a prayer, stones, a pin and a silver cross.

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