Still , the events of the last few days remind us that we must remember, and so I will go, and I'll watch that CBS documentary by the two French guys again, and I'll re-read the memoirs of that event so stunningly recorded by my friend Alex Marx. Maybe I'll even write another chapter or two of White Powder: A Tale of Ground Zero.
Most of you probably know that I spent a month in the autumn of 2001 as a Red Cross volunteer at Respite Center One a couple of blocks away from the remains. Many of the rescue workers hung out there, for meals and showers and a little television and a little company, and sometimes just for a few hours sleep. Every once in a while someone would come in and wake up the sleeping firemen and they would dress themselves as neatly as possible and march out to form an honor guard in the middle of the night with the harsh white lights of the recovery operation beaming down on them.
Part of my duties took me nightly right through the site, where the skeleton of the North Tower still stood and the fires still burned even three months after when I finally went home. I wrote about it extensively at the time, mostly for my home town paper, and reprinted on my other web page.
One of the things I wrote about was the spontaneous memorials, both civilian and professional, scattered about the periphery. I tried to bring all our volunteers through there at least once before they left.
One night, about three in the morning, I came across a tribute to FDNY Captain Thomas Farino. I didn't mention it in the story for the newspaper, but it shook me to the core and after I read it I stumbled over to the nearest curb and sat down with my head in my hands.
"I'll be all right," I said to the first kind Red Cross volunteer who offered me comfort.
But I knew I wouldn't be, and I wanted so very very much to forget. Respite and nepenthe.
Here's what I said then:
Things are winding down here for our operation, and with each passing day more of our national folks are going home. As one of the principal EmergencyResponse Vehicle operators, it generally falls upon me to take them on a final tour of the Ground Zero area. One of the last stops is a pair of impromptu memorials. One we call the "Teddy Bear Site", where friends and relatives of the September 11 victims have left flowers, messages, and hundreds of stuffed animals. Across the walkway, ironically near a permanent memorial to police killed in action in New York, is a site dedicated to the various police agency and fire department personnel lost on that fateful day. Among the many messages is a letter written to FDNY Captain ThomasFarino:
I love you more than forever.
I am glad for two reasons. One reason is that I am happy God is making you happy.
Also my second reason is that you died in a very honorable way and the world thinks and is thankful that you saved people and you are a hero.
Thank you Dad.
In the last twenty-four hours the bodies of at least twelve firefighters have been removed from the rubble of the North Tower of the World TradeCenter. This has coincided with the most spectacular Leonid meteor showers of our lifetime.
The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.
One cannot come to this place without being changed, and changed utterly.
(If you click on Capt. Farino's picture you can learn more about him.)
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