on the Job
By Michael Shannon
"You are at your best when things are at their worst."
The above is a line from the movie Starman; it encapsulates
one of the most beautiful truths of humanity. In spite of
our undeniable capacity to cause ourselves incalculable pain
and heartache, the best that is in us always prevails. Though
it was a manifestation that we all prefer had never happened,
what happened September 11, 2001 was that while a handful
of murdering scum showed us at our worst, millions more were
at their best.
I was in New York within a few weeks of the attack. Visiting
the site - I only got as far as the police barricades would
permit me - was a life altering moment. The smell was unlike
any I had ever known. The dust still clung to every nook and
cranny it had so violently thrust itself into. The pale white
smoke rose in a ghostly dance through the ring of spotlights.
The air was sad.
Yet surrounding this pit of sorrow was a city whose heart
had been broken but whose spirit was unbowed.
I was in New York to attend one of the most moving of the
celebrations of that fact. Paul McCartney had thought it would
be a nice idea to put on a show for the people of the New
York Fire, Police and Emergency Services Departments. So he
called a few of his friends, they called a few of theirs,
and when it was all said and done it was one of the great
nights in the history of rock music. Of the twenty-some-odd-thousand
people who were there, at least half were directly related
to or knew the men and women whom had given their lives. It
was a privilege to be among them.
Of the six in my group there were two members of the FDNY.
One a friend since childhood, Lieutenant Nick D'Alessandro
and the other a guy who works with him in Woodside, Kenny
Warns. I had never met Kenny before but it was obvious from
our introduction that he was a regular guy and we got along
fine. We met at Nick's house on Long Island and headed into
the City. It was day where I would experience every emotion
a human being capable of experiencing.
We parked at Nick's home away from home away for 18 years
on West 83rd. Engine 74 just so happened to be celebrating
its centennial in 2001. In its 100 years of service they had
never lost a man, until That Day. His name was Ruben Correa.
His work gear now hangs on the wall leading to the house's
living quarters, and will hang on that wall as long as there
is an Engine 74.
Nor did his passing go unrecognized in the neighborhood
he served. Standing outside the house for breath of fresh
air, a well dressed middle aged woman walked me and pulling
out her checkbook asked, "Who do I write it to?" I pointed
her inside. Two hours or so later as we prepared to leave
the local bar and grill, I asked the bartender for the tab.
He looked at me, looked at Nick and Kenny and said, "Five
Everywhere we went it was the same. Just as it was in every
neighborhood, town and city in America. We as a people had,
through horrible tragedy, been made to appreciate how many
among us work for the betterment of lives and at a cost that
can be absolute. And whether they wear a uniform or an apron,
they do it because they want to not because they need to.
During a quiet moment in the show, Kenny turned to me and
quietly said, "All this talk about being a hero, I'm no hero."
I asked him if the next time the alarm went off at four o'clock
in the morning if he was going to jump out of bed to answer
it, and he said, "Yeah, I am."
I replied, "Then yes you are."
Contact Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org