It is not lost on me every, single, time, I walk near my wife’s office inside a tall Jersey City building at the banks of the brown Hudson River that I don’t marvel at 3 things. Her, she’s always number 1, and 2 & 3, the fact I can look out the building’s rectangular smoked glass windows and see to my left the gleaming, brand new, after more than 15 years, World Trade Center with this sort of white-ribbed, maybe better, white-winged thing, and to my right, the statuesque, Lady Liberty.
Occasionally, I’ll take the PATH (Port Authority Trans-Hudson) under the Hudson River, which is hard for me because I get claustrophobic and I’m a control freak, and now, I bravely emerge inside the new white marbled, squeaky clean train facility that houses fancy shops, and not yet opened, exspensive shops that none of the construction crew will ever shop at.
I’ll walk across the busy, multi-laned West Street with groups of distracted by their mobile phones tourists, because I know New Yorker’s do not obey the traffic lights, nor wait for the crosswalk sign, or for that fact, a policeman to tell them to walk, because they don’t wait for anything, nor anyone.
I think true New Yorkers have a sort of Shawshank vibe about them that equates to the films motto, “get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’.” The neon lit streets near Time Square might smell like a ménage of exhaust, grime and wanderlust, but as Robert Duval might appreciate, it smells like victory to me.
As I pass by the 9/11 memorial, I look at the names that have been chiseled into the large black marble rim that creates two massive squares, and within each square are waterfall fountains from where the twin towers footprints once stood. I think those waters are really memory tears.
I try to read new names each time I pass-by, and I’ll alter my course to take a different approach out of respect for each singular name. I wonder about each name, what was it like for them to have been there that day. As Billy Graham said at the national ecumenical prayer service, “they had no idea this would be their last… .” And I wonder about the younger tourists, do they realize they are walking atop sacred dry land.
I was lucky on September 11, 2001, I was watching those names fight terrorists from the relative comfort of my living room near downtown Orlando, Florida, as a disheveled plumber was fixing our dishwasher. I got a call from my wife, who at the time worked for a defense contractor. They had gone into total facility lock-down. She told me to immediately turn on the television, she told me she loved me, and she quickly hung-up, and then me and the one-eyed plumber with his senior citizen, Sancho Panza sized assistant, watched in horror as United Airlines flight 175 flew into the South Tower.
To be clear, I did not write, ‘watching those names fight terrorists’ by mistake, or as a passing flick of my writer wrists. Because as the towers burned, we silently watched live on CNN, human beings dangle at the window ledges high in the concrete jungle sky. And then we watched them decide to leap to their deaths as the camera followed them all the way down. I cannot think of any act more defiant to the terrorists than being fully aware you decided to defy them, and leap to your death. To me, they fought back with the only choice they had left.
I don’t know if I would have had their courage. But I do know I can stop, and read their names as I travel to whatever important destination I have on the island.
However, I do know two people who do have the courage, the integrity, and have actually been fighting back against terrorists. And defending my freedom to write what ever I want.
One of them was on an officer aboard a Naval ship that cruised into New York Harbor as the towers smoldered gray and black smoke into the blue sky, the other was an Air Force officer and he ended up in a place called, Fallujah.
And now, I am proud that each has been ‘selected’. One selected to be a rear admiral, and the other selected to be a colonel. In truth, they earned their selection.
Back in the day, we gave our colonel friend a hard-time telling him, he was ‘deli-select’, per the cold cut commercial, when he was selected to be a captain. He likes the term these days, he told us he had been ‘deli-selected’. In truth, back then, we didn’t really know what to say. I’m not a military man, I’ve been a businessman, and I write for the pure pleasure to express my thoughts.
All I know to write now is, thank you.
Thank you for having our collective backs as we stare down at our mobile phones as we walk across the busy street, as we text gossip to our friends unaware of the oncoming heavy city traffic, and as we thoughtlessly take selfies in front of a sacred memorial.
Thank you as I freely walk down crowded 5th Avenue with a kaleidoscope of humanity and pay an immigrant 3 dollars for a rancid hotdog smothered in yellow mustard.
Thank you as I take the aged trains like burrowed tunnels within an ant hill toward here and there, as my wife reminds me to give up my seat to the tired old Asian lady supporting her tiny body against a metal pole.
Thank you as I get on a packed plane to safely travel across the country.
Thank you for protecting my right to waste away my life watching stupid reality television shows.
Thank you for allowing me to endure my daily hardships to safely earn a living.
And thank you for protecting me, to allow me to freely practice whatever faith I choose, or not to practice anything at all.
Thank you for letting me live out my life within this protective cocoon we call the United States of America.
As I stood watching Lady Liberty from my wife’s office, it occurred to me she silently continues to watch time pass lower Manhattan with her right arm defiantly thrust into the sky grasping a golden torch.
At night, that torch lights the dark night, to provide, in some way, a bright beacon for safe passage to those that approach freedom. And I guess in my own way, to my two ‘deli-select’ friends, thank you for supporting her arm and keeping the flame lit.