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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years Later: 9/11/2001

The Anniversary has always been hard for me, and over the years, although I've written many posts about it, I always go back to the beginning: to where I was on that date. That's what we all do, we who remember the day. We know where we were.

This morning I went to Mass, already walking a thin line emotionally, and pondered how perfect were the readings for this day, as if God knew exactly what we needed to hear and pray on this tenth anniversary - and indeed, He did, for 9/11 didn't take Him by surprise.

I think what's hardest for me right now is that ever since I left emergency services, I don't have any friends now from that time period. I don't have any friends who wear badges...or ever have. I don't have any friends in police or fire services, or any area of EMS.

When I left for the last time, I left for good and because I was never truly called to those careers, I did not maintain the friendships - and so 9-11 is not just a sad day, but a lonely day, because there isn't anyone who understands my pain. Those I know NOW  saw the images on TV, like any other disaster. But they didn't see it as a rescue worker, they didn't have friends or relatives there - for the people around me, they don't understand why I continue to take it to heart each and every year.

One friend of mine, usually very sensitive, said to me today, "Yeah....but it was 10 years ago. Get over it."

I think my silence in response to that remark said far more than any blog post I've ever written.

There are just some things that can't be expressed in words, but only through shared experience, shared understanding at a visceral level...shared understanding with others who know what it's like.


I am saddened to see many of my fellow faithful Catholics poo-poohing the images of September 11, 2001, and several have expressed the fact they desire to FORGET. They admonish we who watch the looping video from that day, bringing in the Sacrifice of Christ, pointing out that remembering does not mean seeing.

That may be true to a certain degree...for them.

Indeed, in the Sacramental Theology of the Church, the Sacrifice of Christ takes place EVERY DAY, an unbloody re-presentation, making us present there, at Calvary, and yes, I believe this and agree with it.

But that doesn't mean I don't need my bloody crucifix of Christ to remind me that His death was anything but pristine, and the ransom He paid for my sins was anything but comfortable. When I gaze upon the bloodiest renditions of Christ in any work, I am moved, for I am forced to confront the violence of sin and the very bloody price paid for my Salvation.

While certainly, maybe we don't "need" from an intellectual level, we who are faithfully enlightened, to see the bloody images of Christ to know about His Sacrifice, and maybe we don't "need" to see looping footage from 9/11 or for that matter, any other given disaster anywhere in the world, on a very visceral human level...yes...some of us do.

I can't agree with some of my dear friends that the images from 9/11 should not be shown, for I hold that we DO need to see them in order to properly recall the full extent of human evil and human suffering, and human triumph on that day. We need to see those video loops because we can't help but witness the best of humanity brought about by the very worst. (Caveat: some can't handle the sight of blood and/or violence; I offer my "need to" with the suggestion of prudence on behalf of sensitive individuals.) 

Ten Years Ago

Ten years ago I was a rookie with some serious life experience, but still grasping to learn, on the cusp of belief in immortality and recognition of mortality.

Ten years ago I was barely practicing my faith, although I was trying, and not a day went by at the Training Tower that I did not pray, "I can do all things in Christ, who strengthens me." It was the litany that got me through many terrifying tasks.

Ten years ago, I didn't know my Faith and I only prayed when I was afraid or when I had a big decision to whether or not God was calling me to take the Fire Test, or if I passed, whether I was really supposed to be a Firefighter. Because from the beginning, it terrified me and with God's Grace, He pushed me through fear into...well....I'm still not sure what.

Firefighter training, and for that matter, coupled with earlier Police training/experience  made me realize my mortality, and drew a very clear black-and-white line in the sand for me...especially on 9/11.  Although I went back to class on my deceased father's birthday, September 12, in looking back, I think that perhaps was the day I realized I didn't have it in me to do what the 343 NYFD Firefighters had done the day before.

Even though I didn't even know what my life was about, or perhaps, BECAUSE I didn't know what my life was about, I knew I couldn't lay it down for anyone. I didn't have the courage for I didn't even know the cause. The First Cause.

I think that in the last ten years, I have been seeking a cause, and that's what led me to study Theology. In confronting death, I was forced to confront God and learn, at a very basic level, who I am in relation to Him and therefore, everyone else.

But that doesn't explain 9/11 or why each year I spend this day holding back tears. Why MANY of us hold back tears, and live in the loneliness of grief we can't express, for that grief has nowhere to go and no ears, hearts, and souls that truly understand. 

I can't explain what it was like that day to stand there in a Fire Dept. uniform, learning about and discussing the SOP's about skyscraper fires only to learn about the worst ever known, happening live on TV.  I can't explain what it was like to watch a Fire Chief weep while teaching a lesson, live, in real time, about something happening NOW, because, had we been there, we would have been called to go in, too, especially because our brothers and sisters had just been killed.  And in fact, his own dear friends had just been pulverized before his very eyes, and still, that Chief chose to teach even through the tragedy because that was what he was called to do. That's what most honored his friends, who had taught him.

I can't explain what it was like to have the reality of a "Job" brought so close to home, knowing that at any moment, we could get that Call, too, simply because of who and where we were in that given moment.

I can't explain what it was like to watch people leap to their deaths, for to us, it wasn't just news video, but the very reason we had applied to the Fire Department: so that no one would ever have to do that.

I can't explain what it was like to stand there, unable to do ANYTHING, watching futility in action, watching Firefighters in New York, Police in New York, Paramedics in New York...go into buildings to help victims of a coward's attack...and never leave.

I can't explain the grief within my soul that surfaces this time every year, even though I haven't worn a uniform and badge since May of 2002.

Do you know why I refuse to stop watching the footage from that day?

Now, ten years later, I have a Masters in Theological Studies, and although I am well versed in the theology of suffering, of redemption, of the Sacrifice of Holy Mass and even teach it to others, I find that mere theology is not enough.

It's easy to intellectualize and theologize suffering.

It's hard to LIVE it. It's hard to look into the eyes of those who are experiencing or have experienced REAL suffering and just tell them Christ died for them and therefore the images aren't important. To those who lived 9/11, and survived it, it is not sufficient to speak of the "unbloody re-presentation of the Sacrifice of Calvary", for to them, there isn't anything "unbloody" about it.

We always have to remember that suffering is not an abstract idea, but it is real, it is painful, it is agonizing and brutal, and the recognition of its bloody violence is ALSO necessary; for that is what paid our ransom for sin.

I am grateful for the programming each year that shows the footage from 9/11, because I NEED that, and I know that others do, too.

What I pray for is understanding from my fellow Catholics, that our desire to watch those events again is not "gawking" and is not "denial of the sacrifice of Christ", but rather, is perhaps a way to continue to seek to understand, to realize that others, too, struggle to explain this loneliness of grief that can't be easily expressed, and because we NEED the visual ensure that we will NEVER forget.

We watch the footage, again and again, because Theology has never been about mere intangible Philosophical theories, but about children of God who, every day, suffer the Passion of Our Lord, and never is this more apparent than during a disaster. Ten years later, those who suffered on that day CONTINUE to suffer, and those images are not mere images, but reality, for they live it day in and day out. To watch that footage is to enter into their suffering, to suffer with them, to take it to heart and to have, even briefly, a glimpse of their grief.

To forget that day, and those images is, to many of us, a denial of the heroism of those who went into those buildings, even though they knew they might never come out. To deny the images is to deny the very real, visceral, sacrifice, taken on willingly, by human beings who realized what their lives were really about. To forget that day is to forget all those who continue to suffer the losses of that day.

Anyone who has lost a loved one through the most ordinary of deaths knows that although there is much "support" in the beginning, it quickly ebbs and months, even years later, the survivors are forgotten, although they still suffer. So it is with 9/11 - many continue to suffer and many others who have been direct casualties of the wake of that day. To forget is to ignore them, too.

Bl. John Paul II wrote eloquently about compassion, explaining that this virtue was about being with others in their Passion. When I watch the annual 9/11 tributes and memorials, when I watch the footage, I know that in prayer, in emotion, in solidarity, I am with those for whom 9/11 never ended, for the reality of it goes on and on for the 3,000+ (and counting) who were murdered and were injured that day in New York, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania.

No, not everyone needs to see the images, but I can no more look away from the carnage of 9/11 than I can the carnage of the Cross. They are one and the same, for Christ gave His own sign of His presence that day through the death of Fr. Michel Judge, the first official death recorded for that day. Even 9/11's foundation was laid upon the altar, a priest who died offering his life to bring Christ to the hopeless through the Sacraments.

Today is September 11, 2011, and I pray that we will never forget.

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