“Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country.”
This is something my Mother would type when testing a new typewriter. I was too young to know much about a book called The Early History of The Typewriter. I was certainly too young to know anything about Charles E. Weller. He’s the one who wrote this first. There were other things that Mom could have typed. For example, Mom could have typed “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog,” and this would have incorporated each letter of the alphabet. But no. Mom chose to write, “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of our country.”
I always liked this. . .
I think more about this quote now and in different ways. First, I still hold the sound of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in my heart. I am a man who loves his country. Although admittedly, I am not always proud of our history, I am still a believer. I have hope. And every so often, I see something that redefines my idea of what love is. Every so often, I see something so pure and so fantastic that I understand the need for civic responsibility. I understand that not all people will see things the same way. I also understand that I, myself, will often be alone in my opinion—and even if I am not alone, find me in the wrong room or place me in a circumstance where everyone else sees things differently—and then yes, I am alone. But still, I am no less human than anybody else. I have ideas and dreams and hopes and wishes. I am a person who enjoys the victories of the underdog. I love the smell of the ocean. I wake up almost every morning to watch the sunrise. And I’ve seen the sunset too. I’ve watched the reflection of the setting sun as it goes down into the palms of the horizon. I am someone who agrees with the quote from Anne Frank’s diary. “In spite of everything, I still believe people are really good at heart.”
(At least I hope so.)
I believe in the right to think. I believe in the right to feel. I believe in the right to do and to be and to grow. I believe in the right to learn and to evolve. Most importantly, I believe in the right to change my mind or update my thinking. I believe that we all have the right to improve or adjust our settings — and furthermore, I do not believe that anybody has the right to take this from us.
But ah, this place of mine — I love it so. I love the views I see. I might not have seen it all. But yes. I’ve seen beautiful things right here where I am. I have seen enough to know that beauty exists everywhere — it just takes an open eye to see it. I have seen a smile that will never be matched by anyone else. I have seen both crashes and destruction and yet, I have seen the rebuild and the rebirths of monumental things, such as a building we call “The Freedom Tower.”
I have seen my city collapse and run in fear. I have seen us in ruins; and somehow, I was there to witness my city’s rebirth, which means even in the face of tragedy, my city never fell.
Have you ever taken a walk along the Hudson in the summer moonlight? I have.
Have you ever walked with so much on your mind, and yet, somehow, the scenery was on your side enough to help settle the little disputes that fired off in your head. I have.
I was alone and walking alongside the Hudson.
Across the river was the State of New Jersey, which to me was like a totally different country. I saw couples and people walking along the same streets as me. I wondered if I would find love like them. I wondered if I would find my way or, was ever really lost? Maybe I was exactly where I was supposed to be and all the while, I never knew that everything I needed was right in front of me. I saw the Hudson River moving beneath the sky. The water appears black at night and the moon was reflecting across the surface. Behind me was a world that I understood. Behind me were the tall buildings and the skyscrapers. Behind me were the streets and the stories from “The city that never sleeps.”
I have fallen before. I have skinned my knees and scraped my hands. In fact, I’ve scraped my soul too.
I remember the Towers. I remember the feeling I’d have when driving towards the city—and there she was; my skyline. She’s so beautiful. I remember this feeling in my heart of how lucky I am to have been born here. There is a great big world out there. And only so many can say that they have seen what I’ve seen or been where I’ve been.
On the Tuesday evening when I finally arrived at home, my friend Ron called me. He wanted to know if I was okay. He wanted to check in on me because he was unsure if I had heard the news yet. He knew where I was and he knew what I saw. We were all hurting. Everybody was. When Ron told me, “They got Father Mike,” I was already in mid-turn towards the television. I saw the firemen carrying my friend’s body. I couldn’t believe this.
The day was September 11, 2001.
I remember thinking to myself, “How does something like this happen?” I heard from friends who were down at “Ground Zero.” I heard about their reports — even the more gruesome ones. I remember hearing about people who screamed for justice, and yet, they took out their anger and pain on innocent people, simply because they looked or fit the part.
I remember this day all too clearly. I remember thinking about the ideas of us so-called “Good men.” What does this even mean?
Especially now, between us, because we are far beyond the discussions of gender; however, the focus on differences and debates over politics has driven us further apart. I can only say that I have seen what division does. I can say that I have seen what disagreements do. I have seen what hatred feeds and what ignorance does to the masses. I have witnessed the stressors of misinformation and yet, none of these things are how my city was rebuilt. In fact, I can say that all of the above from ignorance to hatred and from misinformation upwards are all contributing factors to the destruction of my city.
I guess, I’m just hoping for a change.
Each day that I report to work, I look up at a tall glass building that stands taller than most in New York City. People built this. And I’m sure there were challenges. I’m sure there were disputes. There were accidents and arguments but in the end, this tall building that stands more than 1,400-foot tall, which I had the opportunity to see built from a hole in the ground and up to the sky was finished because regardless of differences, the main goal was to complete the project. And lo and behold, the building stands tall. This is how we build.
I have seen what people build. I have seen buildings that date back to the years of our country’s Great Depression. I have found old newspaper clippings at work from the year 1926. In fact, at the end of a demolition, I found an old whiskey bottle that was hidden in one of the columns, which hadn’t seen the light of day since the building was complete in 1927.
I suppose we had differences back then too. I suppose we had different problems and similar problems. They had bosses back then. they had deadlines. But problems and deadlines aside, buildings were built. Somehow, people learned to work together. Somehow, people were able to put their differences to the side and somehow; there came a time when all good people came to the aid of their country, or their city, or their state, or their town. somehow, we learned to overcome.
There was a time when I struggled to go downtown. I remember the first time I saw the fountains and the memorials. I walked over to where The Towers stood and bent to my knees. I said my thoughts to the friends I knew. I said my thoughts to the friends I knew who died post-attack; and yet, the attack is what killed them as well. But mainly, I thought of you. My friend.
One day I will repay the kindness you showed me. Someday, I will be more like you. At least, that’s is my goal. I think of you often. I think of the way you were to others, which is something I’ve chosen to learn from. I think of the love you showed and the love you received. I think of this and realize that man; it’s been 20 years since the last time we spoke.
20 years . . .
I was told a story about you. I was told about a conversation you had with a bunch of friends at lunch. You were telling them that you believed something was coming your way — it was like a new assignment or something like that. I heard you said that something was in store for you. You told your friends, “I don’t know what it is but I guess I’ll find out when God tells me.”
I guess you were right. If there is a heaven (and I hope there is) there is no one in the world better than you to guide all the souls of the people who passed on that day. But just so you know, you were never a priest to me. You were my friend.
I was thinking about what Mom used to type when she was testing out a new typewriter. “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country.”
Well, I’m trying Mike.
I really am.
Sleep well, my friend.
With all my heart
PS: I always heard they were considering you for Sainthood.
But to those of us who knew you . . .
You already were.