September 11, 2021: Twenty Years Later

I will write softly today, which is like the morning as it is, quiet and gentle, and yet solemn in memory. I am someone whose memory of this day is one that dates back to an uptown address and a rooftop. I was there. I was within clear view of the sky on this morning, twenty years ago today. And I think to myself, “How could this be?”
How does time move so quickly and yet so slowly? Sometimes, time can be so painful that it doesn’t move at all. Instead, we just just sit there. We hover in the moment to witness life’s unthinkable terms, totally powerless and with no control.

It is 8:16 now. It will be 8:46 in a short while. That’s when the first plane hit. And I want to send this out before the time strikes. I want to hold this moment like I wish I had during the quiet before the storm, but hey, time is time, and like you told me, “No one knows the hour or the day.” Am I right?

I will not watch the news today. I will not listen to the reports from broadcasters nor will I allow this to rehash the pain in a way that honors television ratings. My skin in the game is different from this.
Come to think of it, a friend of mine told me about a conversation he had with a younger colleague at work. The colleague asked my friend, “Are you one of those people?”
My friend asked, “One of what people?”
“One of those people who say they were there because you were in the City at the time but you weren’t really there.”

I thought about the insensitivity of people. I thought about the belief system we have and how cultures are different between us all. I think about the difference in age and how generations split the main stage, almost unaware of each other, and perhaps unforgiving at times.
I thought about a question like this, which was clearly from someone who was very young on September 11, 2001.
I thought about the people who saw what happened. I think about the views from the rooftops. I think about the people running from the destruction and how they were covered in debris. I remember people looking to anyone for help or just trying to figure out how to get home.

I remember trying to get home myself. I remember the eeriness of the sky. I remember the phone calls from my friends who needed to know that I was okay and that I was safe.
I remember when I heard the news about you.
This is when Ron called me. He asked if I was okay. And then I remember his voice. I can hear it now as I write to you. He told me, “Benny, they got Father Mike,” and as he said this, I can recall turning towards the television, which is when I saw the firemen carrying your body. But that wasn’t you. I knew you. That was only a shell, slumped and lifeless. Nothing about you was ever slumped or lifeless.

I will not watch the news. I’ve seen enough pictures from September 11, 2001. I have my own that I will live with. Instead, I will write this and place this in your hands, which are somewhere out in the universe.
There were people I knew in The Twin Towers. There were people I knew who worked nearby. There were people who I never had the chance to say goodbye to or hug one last time. There were people who made me laugh during the working hours on construction sites. And I never had the chance to tell them how important they were to me.

I write this to you because of a story you told before the attacks. It was said that you believed there was something about to happen in your life. You said you weren’t sure what it was but that you would find out when the time was right.

It was said at your eulogy that your purpose was clear. You were numbered casualty #0001 for a reason—and that it was you who was chosen to guide the 3,000 souls we lost on this day and take them home.
Since this was you, I hope that my task is not too much. So, here it goes . . .
Please let my friends know that I remember them well. Let them know that I am pushing through the tears with a heavy heart; however, wherever they are now, please let them know that I have not forgotten them nor has my love and respect vanished in any way. Ask them not to forget about me. Ask them to say “Hello,” if they can. And the same goes for you, Father Mike.

I can say in all my years, I have never met anyone who could heal the soul the way you can. And I know what you would say to me now. I know that you would smile and tell me to “Shhh,” and “Just listen.”

You would tell me that the signs are out there. You would tell me that I am never alone. You would tell me to sit quietly and close my eyes and just listen. You would tell me, “It’s okay if you don’t hear anything. Just listen because sometimes the silence says more than we think.”

I can say that I knew you. I can say that I still hear your voice when I need to. I can say that without you, I’m not sure where I might have gone. Not everything was easy for me. I had to fight a few times. I had to kick and scream a little but here I am, still here, and grateful.

Sleep well my friends,

I will always remember
I will never surrender
United We Stand
Until we meet again . . .

Your Friend,
B—

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