On September 11 2001, I wasn’t invited to leave my band class only when a parent or guardian came to pick me up. I was told to.
On September 11 2011, I wasn’t invited to sit around the television set with my family in quiet fear. I was told to.
On September 11 2001, no one invited terrorists into the United States to attack my city, to attack Americans. They were told to.
On September 11 2001, first responders weren’t invited to run towards the chaos while everyone else ran away from it. Some were told to. Others knew they had to.
On September 11 2001, at 11-years old, while all of my friends had the protection of one or both of their parents, while many of my friends waited to hear all of their loved ones were safe, while most of my friends had the knowledge that their parents were safe, that they were safe. I did not.
On September 11 2001, at 11-years old, I was supposed to understand that while everyone else rushed home to their families and loved ones, rushed home to safety, my dad had to run into chaos and fear. My dad had to run towards what everyone else ran away from. My dad was a first responder and he knew no other way.
On that day, those men and women who ran to protect our country, to protect the city of New York and the thousands of Americans suffering from the terrorists attacks weren’t invited anywhere. They didn’t need an invitation, they just went. Many didn’t wait for the go or the okay from their supervisors, they simply suited up and ran towards the chaos, towards a country and a city that needed them.
On September 11 2001, when these men and women ran towards the chaos without invitation, it was what was expected of them. Our country and our political officials praised those men and women for being the best of the best. These men and women didn’t ask for anything in return, maybe a thank you here and there, but these men and women did what they did because their hearts told them to.
Ten years later, I stare at September 11 2011 and one similarity stands out to me: the lack of an invitation.
Mayor Bloomberg has informed our country that “lack of space” means our first responders are not invited to the memorial at Ground Zero this year on September 11. I can’t help but chuckle because, they weren’t invited there ten years ago either – but they were there.
Should first responders need an invitation to a place they know all too well, a place where many lost brothers and sisters, both blood and not? Should first responders need an invitation to something that should be a somber celebration of their sacrifices for this country? I think not.
The towers were collapsing around them. Buildings falling. People screaming. People running away. They went anyway.
When was the last time you willingly went somewhere in those circumstances?
On September 11 2001, for the first time in my life I saw that my mom could be afraid of something. As an 11-year old child, you imagine that mom and dad are never afraid of anything and can protect you from even the scariest of villains.
But monsters under the bed were no match for Osama Bin Laden and fire breathing dragons were nothing compared to burning buildings. A damsel in distress in a fairy tale just doesn’t scare you as much as imagining your husband, your father, your brother, or your son, your wife, your mother, your sister or your daughter being the damsel in distress at Ground Zero.
What scared my mom? Fear for the hero. Fear for the men and women who were there sacrificing everything, completely disregarding their own safety and well-being, for the safety and well-being of strangers. It scared me, too.
In the weeks, months and even a year or two after, the first responders were praised by our country. We had never been more patriotic. However, it seems we have moved away from that haven’t we? Politics and greed has led our country and our politicians to put much of our financial burdens on the backs of our public workers – our firemen, our police. We have stripped them of their benefits, and in most recent times, even denied thousands medical care and monetary benefits to help aid the losses they suffered when running into the chaos.
They’ve taken the blows; they’ve felt the pain again and again. Now we stand up and stab them in the back once again.
They won’t be invited to the memorial on September 11 2011, but for many, that feels no different than that day 10-years ago – there was no invitation then, there will be no invitation now. The difference though, is that the sacrifices they made on that day 10-years ago are still raw and freshly ingrained in their hearts. On this day more so than any other day.
What do I think such an action says about our country, about the state of NY and the political leaders who can make such decisions: that they are cowards which they seek nothing but a photo opportunity and praise for “their efforts”.
Ironic since I also just read today about NYPD’s “vamped up security” for the memorial. We’ll use them to protect us, but we won’t honor them as our heroes.