( - promoted by CaptCT)
(Cross-posted at the Himes for Congress blog.)
Seven years ago today, just before 9 o'clock, my subway screeched to a halt a block from the World Trade Center. Accustomed to New York, I thought it only a little strange that several panicked women ran into the station and out again. I left the train, emerged onto Broadway, looked up, and saw that everything was changed. The clear blue sky was marred by smoke and flame from the burning Towers.
An hour later, my coworkers and I switched our gaze between a television and the window of a conference room. The falling towers were first an impossible vision on the television, then a boiling cloud of smoke in the street below, debris hitting our window, then darkness in the late morning. The ventilation was switched off to protect the inside air. For a time, we sat in the unnatural quiet and heat and fear.
|When the air had cleared enough to breath, I left my building and walked the few blocks to the site, believing that thousands were probably injured. Years ago, I worked as an EMT, and putting those skills to use, was the only way I could think of to help. By the time the setting sun turned the dust clouds orange, we faced the cold truth that there were almost no wounds to treat. Most people had either survived unscathed (on the outside at least) or they were gone forever.
I spent the day working with a jumpy and armed agent of the Immigration Service and another businessman trained as an EMT. We worked with ambulance crews to gather surviving equipment, search for the injured and treat the occasional first responder.
Looking back from a distance of years, I am left with two unshakeable memories. First, the horror. We were under attack and deeply vulnerable to people we might never understand. Thousands of families whose lives are taken up with the rhythms of soccer, school and work were now changed forever. Our innocence was gone.
My second, more powerful memory is the overwhelming sense of common purpose, shining through the smoke and falling paper and debris. In the eyes of the INS agent, determined to look under every crushed vehicle and into every blocked storefront. In the throngs of New Yorkers, breathing through shirts, lining up around blocks to donate blood. In the waves of nurses and doctors pouring off of the Staten Island Ferry to help. No one called them, but they came -- with intent and passion rarely seen. My country has been attacked and I am of my country. I am my country.
In that moment, and afterwards, without reference to our physical distance from Ground Zero, we would have done anything for our country. Anything. If called.
Seven years on, we face uncommon, maybe unique challenges. Though it has become a slogan, we must and we will change to lead this world into the future as we did through the past. Thinking back seven years, I know we will do what is required to nurture the sense of common purpose that will see us through. Anything. If called.