Ten Years Later

I didn’t want to think about 9/11/01 today. I really didn’t. But that seems to be impossible. If for no other reason that my Dad lives with me these days.

I was sitting in my office at Bishop Guertin High School when I heard about the first plane crash. That didn’t sound good but I knew that planes had hit New York City skyscrapers in the past. Still I turned to the Internet for news. Soon after a second plane hit. A student came through my office and remarked about it being some coincidence. I replied that it was not a coincidence. One could be an accident but two meant deliberate action. I didn’t want to be right but I was.

Soon after I saw two girls, the Oganowski sisters, accompanied by a guidance councilor and a campus minister walk quickly by with tears in their eyes. I found out shortly after that their father had been the pilot of the first plane to crash.

Soon I started thinking about people I knew in the City. One of them I knew worked in one of the buildings at the trade center though I didn’t know which one. Also I wondered about my father. Dad lived on the eastern end of Long Island but he was still the senior chaplain of the New York City fire department. Had he gone to the City that day?

I was able to find out about my friend. He was late going to work and wasn’t at work when the crashes happened. He was safe. I couldn’t get in touch with my Dad right away.

It turns out that my Dad had been home when the first crash happened. He’d gotten into his truck (a  Chevy Blazer) and using red light and siren made amazing time getting to the WTC site. He knew a lot of firefighters involved including some senior officers and of course Fr. Mychal Judge one of the department’s other chaplains who died in the building collapse.

Dad was on the scene for pretty much 6 weeks straight. The first night or two he slept in his Blazer a block away from what came to be called “Ground Zero” by all. FEMA put him up in a hotel nearby at some point. After a couple of days masks became available and required. Still, my Dad’s lungs have not been the same since. In fact I wonder how many of his current medical issues  derived or were worsened by those weeks.

After about 6 weeks Dad was hospitalized with pneumonia. Oh did I mention that he was already 76 and had been spending 12 to 18 hours a day at Ground Zero for weeks with no breaks?

Dad spent his time in several ways. One was helping prepare the many clergy who volunteered to help. He warned clergy not to “shove the dove” as he put it. In other words not to use this as a chance to do a hard press on evangelism. First responders needed support and comfort.  Not judgment or hard press preaching. Living the faith was the important thing.

Dad also spent a lot of time with families of the victims. This is a role that Dad was uniquely prepared for. When one loses a spouse it is often easy to feel, and often correctly, that counselors don’t know what they are going through. Dad had outlived two wives by this time and really deeply did (does) know what it is like to lose a spouse. He’d also seen a lot in his years as a chaplain both for  the Fire Department and the Navy. These were not his first visits with families who had lost a loved one. And he’d seen some pretty horrible things during World War II where he saw more combat than most.

A lot has happened since then. Dad finally retired from the Fire Department – the last of several jobs he retired from. I’ve since left teaching and gone back to industry. Security theatre runs rampant throughout the country. We’ve still got fighting forces in Iraq and Afghanistan to no apparent good for the US.

No one won that day. Everyone lost. What is important now is where we go from here.

One Response to “Ten Years Later”

  1. Rich Thompson says:

    Thanks for writing Alf. Like you, I did not want to think about 9/11/01. But because of the family connection to that day I put out my flag in solemn remembrance. And your question is well taken, where do we go from here?

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