Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Pandora and Manhattan Box 5-5-8087

Five days ago, our nation observed the thirteenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Attacks that killed, among others, 23 members of the NYPD, 37 members of the PAPD and 343 members of the FDNY.  Attacks that continue to kill members of those services.  Members who either were there that day and lived to tell the tale and/or members who spent days, weeks and in some cases months thereafter at Ground Zero in the search for victims of the attacks, including their fallen brothers and sisters. 

On September 8, 2011 at FDNY Headquarters in Brooklyn, the Memorial Wall for members of the FDNY who had died of 09/11-related illnesses in the decade since the attacks was unveiled. The inscription on the Memorial Wall reads, "DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF THOSE WHO BRAVELY SERVED THIS DEPARTMENT IN PROTECTING LIFE AND PROPERTY IN THE CITY OF NEW YORK IN THE RESCUE AND RECOVERY EFFORT AT MANHATTAN BOX 5-5-8087 WORLD TRADE CENTER." 

When the Wall was dedicated in September 2011, fifty-five names were etched on it.   In early September 2012, approximately one week prior to the eleventh anniversary of the attacks, nine more names were added to the Wall.  By the time the twelfth anniversary of the attacks was upon us in September 2013, twelve more names had to be added.   A little more than ten days ago, when we were slightly more than one week away from the thirteenth anniversary of that terrible Tuesday morning, the FDNY added another thirteen names.  In the thirteen years since it lost three hundred and forty-three members in a single day, the FDNY has borne witness to eighty-nine more members die as a result of that day's events.  It is as if the answer to the question, "How much suffering can be packed into one twenty-four-hour period?" is, "An infinite amount."  

The FDNY is not alone, of course, in marking and mourning the deaths of its members from September 11, 2001 almost a decade and a half after it occurred.  The NYPD has continued to monitor the effects that the September 11 attacks have had on its members, above and beyond the twenty-three who were killed in the line of duty on that Tuesday thirteen years ago.  In the NYPD's annual ceremony that was held in May 2014, twelve more names were added to a Hall of Heroes that already included more than fifty members of the FDNY who had died since September 11, 2001 due to illnesses contracted at Ground Zero.  

I sought refuge from hard science in the hallowed halls of law school so I would not pretend to know when - if ever - death will stop hunting for the men and women who risked their lives in an effort to save the lives of strangers on September 11, 2001.  I do know enough to know that not nearly enough is being done for those who are dying as a result of the life-saving efforts in which they engaged that day and in the rescue and recovery efforts that took place in the weeks and months thereafter.  This, however, is an important step in the right direction.  

More steps need to be taken.  Once upon a lifetime ago, the First Responders who have been dying since September 11, 2001 ran headlong into Hell for men and women whose names they did not know and likely never learned, including those whose acquaintance they never met.  

It is time that we do for them what they did for us.  What can we do?  For starters, we can make certain that our elected representatives in Congress get off their asses and do the right thing.  

It would, after all, be a nice change of pace.  


Monday, September 15, 2014

The Captain and the Captain's Daughter

After I spent most of Saturday morning at the office and returned from a six-plus mile run through town in what was actually a very relaxing and cooling drizzle, I spent a bit of my afternoon watching "Nine Innings from Ground Zero", the simply extraordinary documentary that HBO first aired in 2004.  I have seen it too many times to count.  Every time I watch it, it makes me cry.  And not just when Mariano Rivera throws the ball over Derek Jeter's head and into center field, turning a certain double play into something altogether different and setting the stage for Luis Gonzalez's Series-winning heroics. 

The film not only tracks the exciting, back-and-forth World Series that the Yankees ultimately lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks in seven games but, in considerable detail, the way in which baseball played a role in trying to help the people of New York City reacquaint themselves with anything bearing even a passing resemblance to normalcy in the weeks following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.  Among the persons to whom the viewer was introduced was a thirteen-year-old girl, Brielle Saracini.  

Brielle Saracini had a very direct connection to the World Trade Center attacks.  Her dad, Victor Saracini, was a Captain for United Airlines.  On Tuesday, September 11, 2001 Captain Saracini's United #175, a 767, took off from Logan Airport in Boston on its way cross-country to Los Angeles.  It never made it to California of course.  Instead, it terminated at 9:03 am when it flew into the South Tower of the World Trade Center.  All of the passengers and the crew died including, of course, Captain Saracini.  

As documented in"Nine Innings from Ground Zero", shortly after her father was murdered Brielle Saracini wrote to Derek Jeter.  In very plain, poignant terms she told Jeter who she was, who her father was, just how badly she, her sister and her mom were hurting and just how much she would appreciate - as a big Jeter fan - getting to meet him.  It is an extraordinary story and well-worth the investment of slightly less than the five and one half minutes needed to view it.  

If the story of Brielle Saracini and Derek Jeter began and ended thirteen years ago, then it would still make for a better-than-average tale.  It did not.  A relationship that began with her letter to him thirteen Septembers ago remains very much alive and vibrant today.  And as is the case with true friends, they have been there for one another in both the best of times and the worst of times. Presently, Brielle Saracini is enduring the latter.

She is only twenty-three years old.  And right now she is battling Hodgkin's lymphoma, which Jeter's sister also endured and defeated, for a second time.  Her treatment course is so intense that she was not able to attend Derek Jeter Day at the Stadium a little more than a week ago.  To date, she has undergone twelve rounds of chemotherapy.  Through it all, Jeter has been there for her, imploring her to stay positive.  To a lesser person, his pep talk might seem ring hollow.  Not to Brielle Saracini.  

As of right now, her itinerary includes a trip to Boston the final weekend of September.  It is in Boston that barring a miracle Jeter's storied career shall come to a close.  His career shall end.  

Their friendship shall not.  


Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Glimpse Backward at the Where and When

Being a hopeful sort (I keep it well-hidden so feel no embarrassment if it is something to date that has eluded you with regard to me), I kept flipping back to watch the Yankees game against Tampa Bay on Thursday night, even as the team f/k/a the Bronx Bombers flailed away helplessly against the Rays' young pitcher Alex Cobb.  Through 7+ innings Cobb threw a no-hitter, which was broken up by one of the newest Yankees, Chris Young, and the double he laced to the wall in left-center field.  Cobb then left the game - to robust applause by the home folks in the Bronx I might add who showed appropriate appreciation for his efforts, which his bullpen proceeded to blow.  In the bottom of the ninth, that man Young struck again and the Yankees snatched victory from defeat's jaws.  One wonders if Young could have possibly known the hell that awaited them in Baltimore on Friday ("We would love to drop both ends of a day/night doubleheader, thanks for asking!") he would have exerted the effort he did on Thursday night. 

Thursday was, of course, September 11.  As I watched the Yankees play the Rays on Thursday night, I found myself paying less attention to what was happening on the field than to what had happened at the Stadium on the first anniversary of that terrible Tuesday morning.  And unlike the first seven-plus innings of the game that was being played, the memory of that long-ago evening was a good one. 

I spent the evening of Wednesday, September 11, 2002, at Yankee Stadium.  Not the current iteration of course but its predecessor.  That night, the Yankees played the Orioles.  While as I recall it, Margaret was less than thrilled when I told her I had purchased tickets for Rob and I to be at the Stadium that evening, she understood that as Yankees fans it seemed to us to be the place to be to honor the memory of those who had died and to pay tribute to them and to their loved ones.  

Truth be told, we did not stay to the game's conclusion.  Typical of a Yankees/O's game of that era, it took forever to play and for good measure it was not resolved until the bottom of the 11th inning.  I do recall, though, what an incredible, moving evening it was.   Shortly before the game began, the Yankees unveiled a monument dedicated to the Heroes and Victims of September 11, and appropriately entitled "We Remember", in the hallowed ground of Monument Park.

Branford Marsalis played "Taps" on the saxophone during the pre-game ceremony.  During the 7th inning stretch, the Yankees played "God Bless America", which they have done unabated at every home game since September 11, 2001 and which, to my knowledge, they are the only MLB team that continues to do so.  However, during most home games now the Yankees play a recording of Kate Smith singing "God Bless America".  Not that night.  On that night, the great Irish tenor Ronan Tynan stood in the area behind home plate and sang it.   Try as I might, I could not locate any video of Dr. Tynan's performance from September 11, 2002.  However, I think that his performance of it at the Stadium on September 11, 2009 conveys fairly well how it felt to hear him sing it in such a setting.

An unforgettable evening.  One for which I shall forever be grateful that I was able to share with Rob. As the great Pete Hamill has observed, "And on certain days, yes, you want to live forever." 



Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Class of '76

Cirignano, DeStefano, Gorman, Hoey, O'Connor and Laggini.  These were the names I remember from my brother Kelly's high school days, which given the eight years or so between us, happened while I was still fumbling my way through the first half of elementary school.  The first five were names I learned for his teammates on the football team at Immaculata.  Dave Laggini - who if memory serves was not a football player - was Kelly's Italian friend who never once voiced an objection to being called "Boccigalupe" by our Irish parents.  I do not know to what extent my brother maintained contact with any of them or what any of them are up to presently...except for Dave Laggini.  On my weekend runs through Bound Brook and Bridgewater I see his face a lot.  I hope his realty business is successful.  He certainly has a lot of listings.  

One name that I do not recall from my brother's time at "the Big Immac" was that of John M. Collins.  I did not know, until I read something that Kelly wrote in his honor on Thursday that FF Collins, one of the 343 members of the FDNY who died in the line of duty in Lower Manhattan on Tuesday, September 11, 2001 was a classmate and football teammate of my older brother's.  

FF Collins lived with his family in the Bronx, New York until he was approximately ten years old. He was just four years old when he told his father, during one of their regular pilgrimages to the neighborhood firehouse that he was going to be a firefighter when he grew up.  Thereafter however the Collins family crossed the river to the Jersey side, which is how the Bronx-born future member of the FDNY ended up completing grammar school at St. Matthias School in Somerset, New Jersey before matriculating his way on over to Immaculata High School in Somerville where he played defensive back and wide receiver on the football team.  I presume - although I do not know the answer - that he was a member of Immaculata's Raritan Valley Conference-winning team in either 1974 or 1975, which title was clinched due to the efforts of one of our cousins, John Kelleher, and his teammates from Mater Dei High School and their upset victory over St. Peter's (New Brunswick) High School. 

When he graduated from Immaculata he applied to both the NYPD and the FDNY.  The NYPD had the first opening and he took it.  He served the people of the City of New York as a member of the NYPD for close to five years.  Finally, in 1990, his boyhood dream was realized.  He joined the FDNY.  

For three years leading up to September 11, 2001, FF Collins trained other firefighters in the ins and outs of their chosen profession.  He was, by all accounts, an exceptional trainer and teacher.  He missed, however, doing that which he really loved:  fighting fires.  On September 6, 2001 he got himself transferred back to Ladder 25 in Manhattan.   

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, FF Collins was supposed to be filling in at another firehouse but before he could get there, the house to which he was headed was called out to respond to the Twin Towers.  So, when the call came for Ladder 25, FF Collins simply hopped on with six of his FDNY brothers and headed downtown into Hell.  

All seven of the members of Ladder 25 - Lt. Glenn C. Perry (41), FF Matthew Barnes (37), FF Kenneth Kumpel (42), FF Robert Minara (54), Joseph Rivelli (43), FF Paul Ruback (50) and FF Collins, at age 42 the oldest of the five Collins siblings - who answered the call that morning died.  They were killed while helping those who were trapped in the South Tower, which the second plane struck - at 9:03 am - and which collapsed less than an hour later at 9:59 am.  

It took several months but in the Spring of 2012, the body of FF Collins was recovered from Ground Zero.  His family, still missing him of course, was at least able to bury him, which not every family of every person killed on that terrible day was able to do.  

FF John Collins
IHS - Class of '76
FDNY - Ladder 25


Friday, September 12, 2014

In Honor of Adulthood

It sometimes seems extraordinary to me that yesterday marked the thirteenth anniversary of September 11, 2001.  At times it feels in my mind's eye as if the events of that day just happened.  And at times it feels as if they occurred a lifetime ago, in another place and at another time.  The advantage of having been a bystander to all that occurred that day - having watched the events unfold from the Jersey side of the Hudson River and having enjoyed the tremendous, randomly-bestowed benefit of not having sustained a direct loss of a family member or of a loved one.  

For one such as myself - and perhaps for you as well - fortuitously insulated from being a victim of that day's events, it is instructive to see and to hear and to read first-person accounts of those who were less fortunate than I was.  If you are of a like mind then I would recommend that you read this piece from yesterday's New York Post.    While it is not to be mistaken for an in-depth analysis (in-depth analysis is not why one reads the Post after all), it is a fascinating piece.  It is the first-person account of seven different "twenty somethings", all of whom were children (some as old as juniors in high school) and living in or near Lower Manhattan in September 2001.  None of the seven lost a family member at the World Trade Center but the impact of the events of September 11, 2001 reverberated through them and through their families for years thereafter and continue to do so. 

I would also recommend that you make time to watch the simply exquisite documentary that Steve Buscemi has made.  "A Good Job:  Stories of the FDNY" is presently airing on HBO.  It is sixty minutes well spent.  You may not be aware that thirty years ago, Steve Buscemi was a member of the FDNY.  Beginning as a twenty-two-year-old Probie in 1980, he spent approximately four years at Engine 55 in Little Italy.   Engine 55 lost five members on September 11, 2001, all five of whom were initially listed as "unaccounted for" that day.  Buscemi joined the other members of Engine 55 - including several who he had served with almost two decades earlier - at Ground Zero on September 12 in the search for their lost brothers.  Ultimately, four of the bodies were recovered.  

Mere moments into the film, it is clear what a labor of love it was for him to have created a forum in which probably more than a dozen men and women of the FDNY shared stories of the job, including but not limited to the way in which what happened to the FDNY on September 11, 2001, in terms of both the loss of men and the impact upon those who survived that day and woke up the following day duty-bound to continue running straightforward into the mouth of Hell.  

Inscribed into the stone above the West entrance to Norlin Library on the campus of the University of Colorado, Boulder are the words of University President George Norlin:

It is as true today as it was all those days ago when President Norlin spoke those words aloud.   We not only owe a duty to those whose lives were lost thirteen years ago to never marginalize or trivialize what happened to them and to their loved ones by reducing that day to footnote status in history but we owe a duty to ourselves as well.  The world in which we live commands us to be adults - including at those times when we would prefer not to be so.  Keeping an eye fixed on the course ahead while keeping alive in one's mind the course over which you have already traveled is not only a fairly easy thing to do, it is the prudent thing to do.

One might even say it is the "adult" thing to do.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Prayer Through The Glass

Through it all an eagle flies
Some people walk on some look paralyzed
I pray through the glass for heaven tonight.
-Phil Ayoub

As one who was alive and living in the United States thirteen years ago on this very date, I shall never forget where I was or what I was doing.  Neither shall you.  As if that matters. 

It does matter.  But it matters only as long as those of us who emerged from that day unscathed as I did - without having to endure the death of at least one family member and/or friend - never allow ourselves to forget those who were murdered that day and, perhaps even more importantly, the families of the murdered.  Lives were severed that morning.  And for some of the families affected, the damage wrought by the four plane loads of murderous cowards on that terrible September Tuesday morning has continued to reverberate almost one decade and a half later. 

I am not a man of faith.  If you are, I respect your beliefs though I cannot pretend to understand them.  I cannot understand how one who embraces the notion of some type of Divine Father explains what happened thirteen years ago on this very date.  As if that matters.  It most certainly does not. 

What matters - at least from my admittedly limited point of view - is this:   We cannot ever allow ourselves to forget September 11, 2001.  We cannot ever allow ourselves to take faux solace in speaking of that morning in terms of numbers, such as the total number of innocents murdered.  We must always remember that 2,996 INDIVIDUALS died that day and the families from whose grasp they were ripped suffered a loss of each and every one of them.  Speak of the collective if you must but respect the loss of the individual and the effect that each and every one of those losses had on the family that was forced to endure it...and still endures it every day. 

What the world at large observes, today, as an anniversary is for them yet one more day to endure their loss.  This year the point of intersection between the two happens to occur on a Thursday.  I would submit that it is the duty and obligation of those of us, such as me, who emerged from that terrible day without losing anyone who I love, to do all we can to honor the memories of those whose lives were lost that day and to honor the lives being lived, today, by the families and loved ones who soldiered on without them.  And who have kept on soldiering on today, and every day, for these past thirteen years.   

It was a late Indian summer morning almost fall...


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Love Don't Stop

Love don't stop, it goes on forever.
Love don't stop, and it never will.
Love don't stop, one day we'll be together
Love don't stop, and I'll sing this song to you,
On Heaven's highest hill...
- Billy Falcon

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, Lauren Grandcolas, a thirty-eight-year-old advertising executive for Good Housekeeping magazine, felt as if she had caught a little bit of good luck.  Ms. Grancolas had been in New Jersey for her grandmother's funeral.  Her flight home to San Francisco and to her husband Jack was scheduled to depart from Newark Airport that morning.  Whether by accident or deliberate design, she arrived at the airport earlier than expected.  Early enough in fact to trade in the ticket she held for her flight for an earlier cross-country flight:  United 93. 

Ms. Grancolas and her husband Jack were very much looking forward to the birth of their first child.  She telephoned him that morning prior to takeoff to tell him that she had caught an earlier flight and would be home several hours earlier than anticipated.  Jack was asleep.  He did not hear the phone ring.  Then, after all hell broke loose on Flight 93, Ms. Grancolas called home again.  Again, however, her efforts to reach her husband proved unsuccessful.  He was asleep and did not hear the call.  What he ultimately heard was the message she left for him on the couple's answering machine in which she calmly told him that "we have a little problem on the plane."  She also told him that she loved him and asked him to tell her family how much she loved all of them.  https://www.facebook.com/FrankSomervilleKTVU?fref=photo.  

In one unspeakably cruel moment, Jack Grandcolas had his whole life forcibly taken from him.  Lauren, his wife, his best friend and his partner was taken from him by a group of murderous cowards.  And with her, the couple's unborn child.  http://www.flight93memorialsfb.com/Heros-Of-Flight-93/pages/Lauren-Grandcolas_jpg.htm.  Lauren Grandcolas was a remarkable woman and in the thirteen years since her murder, Jack and Lauren's family have never stopped keeping her alive and sharing the depth and breadth of her strength and her character with the world.  http://livingtributes.com/livingtribute.php?memid=818.

Not too long prior to her death on September 11, 2001, Lauren Grandcolas had started to work on a book, which was intended to be a "How-To" guide for women.  In 2005, through the good efforts of her husband and her two sisters, "You Can Do It!:  The Merit Badge Handbook for Grown-Up Girls" was published.   http://www.amazon.com/You-Can-Do-It-Handbook/dp/B000PUAHP8

From hate's destructive seeds, Lauren Grandcolas' family has sown something beautiful:  The Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas Foundation.  http://lcgfoundation.org/.  The Foundation's mission is "to provide funding for projects and activities benefiting women and children's health, education and welfare", which it has done since it was established in 2001. 

Jack Grandcolas and his late wife Lauren's family are proof that Love indeed does not stop.  On September 11, 2001, evil thought it could kill it.  It could not.  It did not.  http://news.yahoo.com/pregnant-flight-93-victim-honored-by-husband-s-lasting-tribute.html.

And it never will...