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911 Remembered – Words From Ground Zero

The American FlagEleven years ago today, our dear friend Jaye lost her brother, Paul, a Port Authority Police Officer.  Several days later, while there was still hope he survived and was trapped in the rubble, we held a candlelight vigil on the lawn at the house he shared with his girlfriend, Charlene.  Just at that time, a woman passing the house joined us and then led us all in an inspirational song.  We didn’t know this woman and then found out Charlene didn’t know her either.  She just happened to be passing by, but that song left us all, for a too brief moment, with a sense of comfort.  Her name?  Angel.  Find comfort wherever you can.

A few days later, I was standing in “the pit.”  Just looking around me and thinking of all those not yet found and those who would never be found.  Another detective came to stand with me.  I didn’t know him, but I’m sure he had the same thoughts.  An older gentleman came to stand between us.  Then…he joined hands with each of us and said “Let us pray.”  And in that moment, there was a sense of peace.  That gentleman turned out to be a chaplain for the Chicago Police Department.  Hold on to whoever gets you through the day.

Weeks later, in the dark of night, I was at the Staten Island Recovery Center.  It looked like a moonscape: acres upon acres of mud, dust and stone under eerie floodlights.  Dozens of detectives and federal agents all looking the same in Tyvek suits, hardhats, gloves, boots, goggles and respirators.  The landfill site where all the rubble was brought to be sifted through.  That was our job: to shovel, rake and pick through tons of rubble looking for valuables, cash, firearms, ID cards and, yes, human remains…anything to provide answers for loved ones left behind.  We found photographs, birthday cards, teddy bears, pocketbooks…all the things you’d keep on your desk at work.  And, yes, human remains.  And then I found one particular piece of tchotchka: a blue and silver medallion, probably sold in the gift shops.  On one side was an engraving of the Twin Towers.  On the other side were the words: “Peace On Earth.”  That medallion was passed hand to hand, without a word, from me to the men working with me, six big, burly NYPD detectives.  And just then, when it reached the last man, seven sets of shoulders visibly relaxed, still without a word.  And in that moment, a sense of peace came over all of us, a peace that eased the job we were doing, a peace that remains with me to this day.  Find peace wherever you can.

For weeks afterwards, the downtown streets were closed to non-emergency vehicular traffic.  But not to pedestrians.  Not to the hundreds of volunteers who handed out bottles of water or sandwiches, or manned medical tents, or collected work clothes, flashlights and shovels, or who provided spiritual comfort.  Not to the people of this city who stood along West Street with American flags, with signs thanking all emergency personnel, with words of support for this country.  For weeks afterwards I saw those flags and those signs, especially at the corner of Christopher St & West St in Greenwich Village.  Never have I been so proud of the people of this city, our neighbors and our country.  Find comfort…and peace…wherever and with whomever you can.  PEACE ON EARTH.