Bloody, But Unbowed
If I live to be 100, I'll never forget it.
The shocking images on the TV screen and the expressions of incredulity etched on the faces of the newscasters.
It was the day I ran frantically, along with thousands of other parents-wiping tears from my eyes-to collect my kids from school. We didn't know why, but we all needed to have our kids close to us.
It was the day America fell into outraged silence and all air traffic came to a history-making halt. It was the day I saw Army helicopters hurtling through the air over my house, so alarmingly close to the ground.
It had started out as one of the most glorious Tuesday mornings on record. Sunny. Cool. Wonderful. My husband was taking a break from work, standing on Staten Island's North Shore, striper fishing. He had gone fishing every single morning in the weeks preceding the 11th, and he had caught and released hundreds of fish. But, oddly, for some reason that only King Neptune can explain, he caught nothing on that particular morning. It was as if the fish 'knew' and had fled the area.
New York City is known as a tough town. A city that never sleeps, where cops fight the good fight, and the most dedicated public servants of all rush into burning buildings-as sane people scurry out of them.
In a city bulging with 8 million people living in 5 boroughs, Staten Island holds the fewest: only half a million. Of the 343 firefighters who fell so catastrophically on that horrible day, we lost 78, a terribly disproportionate amount that still makes me cry. I will always remember the sight: motorcades of long, dark vehicles bearing American flags, carrying devastated loved ones. It went on and on for months.
But, something else, something quite astonishing, went on and on for months, too: As waves of tired and weary volunteers reluctantly dragged themselves out of The Pile in Lower Manhattan and made way for those starting their shifts, ordinary New Yorkers began to appear. They formed a gauntlet of grateful citizens through which the dusty and fatigued workers walked, limped, and slogged away from their tragic, collective burden. Waving American flags with re-ignited enthusiasm, these ordinary New Yorkers clapped, cheered, and serenaded the volunteers with patriotic songs. They stood watch over the city's finest, bravest, and saddest as they carried out the depressing task of finding closure, which, naturally, they never really unearthed.
What we all did find in the following months, however, was our soul. Sure, it had taken one hell of a beating, but it hadn't abandoned us. It had roared back to life, stronger than ever.
When I fall victim to the cynicism that occasionally overtakes me, I have but to think-just for a moment-about the fabulous citizens that I've witnessed holding up this great city, and I am once again rejuvenated. My faith in America is restored, and I know that the head of my country may at times be bloody, but it shall forever remain unbowed.
For the stirring phrase, 'bloody, but unbowed,' I must give credit to William Ernest Henley and his immortal poem, Invictus.