A year after the 9/11 attacks, I attended my hometown Fire Department's Memorial Ceremony. I don't think I'll EVER get the sound of that siren out of my ears. No, not the usual blasts heard for clearing traffic. This was long and continuous, like an agonized wail, as it was sounded for those who were lost. It was the longest, most painful 30 seconds I've ever experienced.
On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I was once again at the Fire Dept. bright and early for a different kind of tribute.
Using donations and Firefighter labor, a memorial for 9/11 was created to stand outside the main station. The only thing I knew about it was it would contain a piece of steel from one of the World Trade Centers. When I took a couple of seniors for a tour of the Fire Station last week, it was covered. There was a small crowd present today, mostly Firefighters, their families, other emergency responders and a few folks like me who'd been there before.
When the ceremonial cover was removed, a collective gasp was heard.
No applause. No murmurs in appreciation of the creative process. Just...silence. Silence reserved for being present in a grand cathedral, not while standing on the sidewalk in front of the Fire Station.
Silence in appreciation of how quickly life can change.
I think we believed we'd witness a short chunk of steel stuck in granite. It would be symbolic and we would nod in reverence. No one had anticipated the steel shape flanked by black granite replicas of the World Trade Center towers. There is nothing so eerily quiet as an awestruck crowd.
Twisted and bowed between the two black towers, I found myself thinking that piece of steel was the perfect symbol. It wasn't just a memorial to those who gave all, it stood as a symbol of American strength at a time we'd had to dig down deep inside to keep standing rather that cower in fear.
Perhaps most unexpectedly touching was that in the reflective surfaces of the memorial, you could literally see the faces of our community. Americans. Void of political or religious strife. Standing shoulder to shoulder.
A woman old enough to be my grandmother slowed and softly grabbed the arm of the Firefighter in front of me, bringing both of us to a grinding halt.
"Thank you for your service," she offered with a sweet smile.
The Fireman nodded to acknowledge her, slightly embarrassed. From behind him I whispered, "Not just today, but every day."
It didn't matter that my words were lost in the crowd. It mattered to me that I voiced them.
We have our ridiculous moments of petty stupidity, we Americans, but in the grand scheme of things, "they" didn't win. Because we're still here. Standing shoulder to shoulder. Today we stepped out of the shadows to acknowledge those strangers willing to run into a burning building to save us.
Today we took the time to tell them thank you. In person.