Sunday, September 11, 2011

How I Spent My 9-11

I've lived in this neighborhood
For twenty-seven years
I know where to get good bagels
And exotic beers
The favorite sidewalk cafes
Where locals like to eat
But I never paid attention to
The firehouse on this street

My house is about half a mile from our main township fire station. I'm particularly glad about this given that, because of zoning regulations, our area does not have fire hydrants, it's somewhat reassuring to know that the tanker truck is right nearby. The one time we had to call an ambulance the firefighters got here really, really fast.

Last week, driving by, I noticed the station had put up its 9-11 memorial banner. It's a white banner with a red, white and blue lapel ribbon and the words, "We remember 9-11-01." My son, who is 6 and has no knowledge of the attacks, asked about it.

I explained that 10 years ago there was a terrible tragedy in New York where many firefighters were killed. All the firefighters all around the country were scared and sad, and all the people in the country were scared and sad too. The sign says that the firefighters here are remembering, because the 10th anniversary of that day is coming up.

Neighbors lit votive candles
Laid flowers at the door
Baked casseroles and homemade breads
But wished they could do more
And the guys inside were grateful
But preferred to grieve alone
Though trained to save the lives of others
They could not save their own

I decided bringing something to the firefighters today would be a good and appropriate way to commemorate the anniversary and involve the kids. We had a massive Tollhouse Cookie fest this morning and made probably six dozen or more cookies. Every surface of the kitchen and every surface of my son was coated in flour and dough. The whole family helped, which was a nice bit of togetherness and unity.

This afternoon, my son and I took a huge plate of cookies over to the firehouse (important tip -- the total capacity of a single Chinette dinner plate is close to, but not quite, 6 dozen cookies if you stack them really carefully and then wrap in foil). There are two firefighters on duty at all times there, one in the other station in town, and nine total.

I'm not sure what I expected. Half of me was afraid this would be the 47th plate of cookies they got today. Another piece was afraid they'd look at me like I was crazy. Neither was true. The two guys on duty were quite appreciative and very touched. They kept saying "you didn't have to do this. You really didn't." But both of them acknowledged this was a really hard day. They said they were trying to keep busy and not turn on the TV.

The guys let my son wear one of their helmets and get his picture taken in front of the engine with him standing on the front bumper and the two firefighters below. They let him sit in the driver's seat. He was in heaven. We said goodbye and thank you, they said come by anytime.

I'm glad we went. And it was heartbreaking. I don't think it could possibly have been otherwise.

Maybe next year the pain
Won't be as sharp
As it is today
Though it will never
Completely go away
We will talk in terms of
'Before' and 'after' the attack
And wish that more than anything
We could bring those brave men back

Reality sliced cleanly through
That slender thread of hope
The digging just went on and on
Some snapped
Most of us still cope
The photos of the missing men
Are missing from the glass
Of the red door where
We say a prayer
Whenever we walk past

Note: The lyrics interspersed in today's post are from the song "Firehouse" by Christine Lavin, off her album "I Was in Love With a Difficult Man." It was written for the men of Ladder 25 on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Every singer-songwriter wrote a song about 9-11. This one, in my humble opinion, is the best for many reasons, but mostly because it so well captures the common experience of 9-11 in all of its many facets, as well as the experience of the first responders who lost their brothers and sisters that day.


Colleen said...

Christine Lavin's is also the best because she tells a funny story about herself, baking the petit pain au chocolate for the firefighters every week! Christine Lavin does a great job of poking fun at herself to lighten the mood and bring in perspective on moving on with life, while remembering and being sad, worried, and scared. Given that she lives in Manhatten, it rings true.

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