I, like most Americans, can remember exactly where they were when they first found out about the terrorist attacks. I, like most Police Officers and other first responders who worked that day, get a sick feeling when September rolls around again. Though it is now 13 years later we can still remember the awful confusion, fear, and exhaustion of those first hours that turned to months of hazardous and sad work. My coworkers and I also remember with great joy the wonderful unity we felt with the people of our city. The small kindnesses that meant so much to us. A bottle of water on that hot and dirty day or an invite to use the rest room. I remember with a laugh the nasty and hateful comments by motorists when we told them they could not enter into Manhattan because we had to shut it down. None of us in the early moments knew what was happening so we had to laugh as we were told "I hope you burn alive" or "drop dead." How surprised we were by people lacking empathy for something much greater than a simple inconvenience for them. Fortunately most people that day remembered that there were others who needed help and acted bravely and without regard for themselves.
I chose the first picture since it really struck me with such sadness to see the personal effects of a brave human being. A shield she proudly wore and a gun belt that represented her oath to protect and serve. Moira Smith went to work that day like we all did. She made a choice to go back in to help others and paid the ultimate price. I never knew her but can't forget the picture of her leading a man to safety only to go back inside the towers and perish. Moira was cited for her heroism in the 1991 subway crash at Union Square. She was awarded the Distinguished Duty Medal for saving dozens of lives. September 11th was not a one time event for her. She lived to protect and serve.She had a beautiful little girl and a husband. Most cops who worked that day heard her last words on the radio and I, like many, had a hard time processing that. I remember my partner and I turning to each other when we heard her voice and anxiously waiting to hear more. Sadly there was no more.
The second picture is of Tommy Schoales. He was a cop in my precinct before he was called to be a fireman. He was young and kind. I remember speaking with him about the fire dept while he was waiting to be called. My dad was a retired chief in the fire dept and so I told him how happy I was for him and that he would love the job. My dad loved the job as did almost every fireman I met. I thought he would be safer. On one of his last days in the precinct I wished him well and his smile could have lit up Broadway. He was so excited and I was for him too. Tommy didn't get to enjoy years of working as a fireman. He didn't get to marry or have a family.He too was taken that day.
There are countless stories and memories of bravery. I am still struck by thoughts of those ordinary citizens that took action that day. I am overwhelmed when I think of those amazing people that took control and made a decision that they knew would end their lives. The people of that plane that sacrificed themselves for the greater good. We will never know how terrible the outcome would have been if they had not decided to take action. Could I have done that? Could you? I have lots of questions still but no answers.
I remember with great pride how the people of the city lined up holding signs to thank us as we drove by the bus loads into Manhattan. I waved back and mouthed the words "thank you" to let them know how much we appreciated those simple words. I didn't do anything special that day or in the weeks to follow. No heroics or fanfare just every day work. I simply was part of a bigger machine that helped put the city back together. We all were. While I never want to go back to the tragedy of that day, I would love if we still shared the same unity. Maybe it's just part of the human experience. We rise up when the need arises and fall back to the same old when life resumes to normalcy.
I believe I am no different than many people when September rolls around again. I feel sadness, pride, loss, hope, and a deep sense of longing. We can never go backward and change the events. We can only move forward and hope our lives are an example of our best qualities. Love, laugh, and live. It is September again.