Democratic Underground  
Still on the Job
September 11, 2003
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 bucks."

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."

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