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september 11 revisted: part 4

september 11 revisted: part 4

From October 12, 2001:


There are moments that years from now will stick in your mind. Images burned somewhere in your brain that don't get tossed out with other forgotten memories. These images are usually something stark, horrifying, disastrous. A car accident. A lover turning his back and walking away forever. Things that get stuck in your psyche.

I had one of those images today. For as long as I live I will never forget the sight of sharpshooters poised on the roof of a church school, guns in hand. Two more perched on my neighbor's balcony, dressed in black, rifles ready. There were a lot of images thrown into the mix today, but none so jarring and unforgettable as that.

This is about a memorial service, but only partly so. The service was for Dan Richards; bomb squad investigator, member of the elite International Association of Bomb Investigators, Airborne Ranger, Police Officer, brother, uncle, friend. I didn't really know Dan. But I know his brother, who is like family to me, and his neices, who were my kids trusted babysitters for many years. I went to the service, as did my family, to support our friends in their time of need. But it became more than that. For so many people there, it was a memorial to the time before 9-11. A lot of the tears cried and anguish realized were a culmination of events in the past month.

This is what we have become. A nation where a bomb sweep needs to be done in a house of worship before a service. A place where helicopters have to fly overhead and men with rifles are watching your back as you gather to pay homage to someone. A place where you hold a service, not a funeral, for someone because there is no coffin, no body. Just a memory.

There were dogs. Bomb sniffing, loyal dogs, sporting red, white and blue bandanas around their necks and they stood color guard as if they were born to do that. There were policemen. Thousands of them, literally. They lined the street 10 deep and hundreds across. There were army men, Airborne men, decked out in dress gear, reassuring and scary at the same time. And in the middle of this, there were people. Regular, everyday people who aren't heros of the life saving kind. Friends, relatives, neighbors who had come to say a few words, to pat someone on the back, to tell them it will be alright.

Dan was obviously loved. Not just loved. Admired. Revered. Respected. And after all the talk, and finding out so much about him through the tears and speeches of those who knew him, I discovered one thing that kept resonating in my head. Years ago, Dan went to Bosnia on a special task force mission. He was sent there to help remove land mines. After going to a foreign country to denonate explosives and living to tell about it, this man died in practically his own backyard. Doing his job.

There were other things today. The motorcycles with their quiet roar parading up the street, flanking the limousines that held the family. The three men standing on top of a Special Services truck, playing taps on their bugles while NYPD helicopters circled overhead and someone in the church belted out Ave Maria, all at the same moment, causing me to ask my mother, "Is this real?" because in my world just a month ago, this would be a movie. Not my life.

There was the women who wrenched the heart of everyone in the place as she sang a soulful, mourning Danny Boy. The bagpipes. The standing ovation the mourners spontaneously gave to the members of the police department as they made their way out of the church. The men and women of that department streaming out with tears in the eyes of each and every one.

We all cried. We sobbed. And it wasn't just for Dan, because some of us hardly knew him. And it wasn't just for his family, even though we were there for them. It was for everyone. For every single person who is living out this nightmare. And I don't care if you are from Timbuktu or right here in New York, whether you were there when it happened or knew someone who died or if you never even spoke to a person who has been within 3 states of New York. We are all grieving. We have all been touched in a horrible way by this. I cried for every single person in America today. I cried because we live in fear, because we need armed guards at funerals, because our lives are narrower and straighter than they used to be. I cried for every person like Dan Richards, who lived his life protecting people and died doing the same.

I felt like I was part of a movie script today, surrounded by guns and helicopters and bomb sniffing dogs while church arias blared in the background. I kept waiting for someone to yell "Cut!" I'm still waiting.

The images and feelings from that day were all magnified by the intenisty - the immediacy - of the situation. While some of the wording may seem overwrought today, that is what I felt then.


I'd hardly call it overwrought; raw and emotional and full of frayed nerve endings like most of us had then might suit.

"While some of the wording may seem overwrought today, that is what I felt then."

I don't think it sounds that way. I think it's a very accurate, emotional description of how the nation was feeling.