Tuesday, October 2, 2012

An Elixir for the Soul

To call Sunday an extraordinary day would be to commit an affront to the English language.  Limited as I am however by my own use of language I have no better way in which to describe it.  Imagine if you will being in the presence of tens of thousands of people - most of whom are strangers to you - and being in fairly close quarters to one another with nary a cross word being spoken and with a palpable wave of love, affection and remembrance filling the air.  If you are able to close your eyes and open your mind's eye so that you can be transported to such a place, then you have a reasonable understanding of what the 11th Annual Tunnel to Towers Run/Walk was like this past Sunday. 

The Missus and I took an early-morning PATH ride across the river from the Jersey side to meet friends of ours who had stayed in Manhattan Saturday night.  One of our friends is a volunteer firefighter in his town in the State of Concrete Gardens and he spent Sunday morning doing what countless other of his firefighting brethren did to honor the memory of the 343 members of the FDNY who died so others could live on that dreadful Tuesday morning eleven Septembers ago:  he ran in his turnout gear.  Running from here to the end of this sentence in full firefighting gear is no small undertaking.  Jeff and all of the the other firefighters who did what he did (and we met firefighters from as nearby as Yonkers, NY and Passaic, NJ and as far away as Honolulu, Hawaii and Anchorage, Alaska) did so on a race course that includes the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel.  The run through the Tunnel from Brooklyn to Lower Manhattan takes up about 1/2 of the 3.1 mile course.  Extraordinary.

On our way from the PATH train to our designated meeting point, Margaret and I walked past the construction of the new Tower.  As we stood on Church Street - in the pre-dawn hours on Sunday morning - I took a picture of it.  I do not get into Lower Manhattan much - in fact I was likely there most recently this time last year for the 2011 Tunnel to Towers Run - and I like to use these annual pilgrimages to mark the progress of the construction.  As I gazed upwards at the still-being-constructed new Tower on Sunday morning, something about have the building was framed against the still dark sky moved me.

In order to get from Manhattan - where the finish line is located - to Brooklyn where the race starts, runners and walkers are put on shuttle buses.  On our bus Sunday morning I had the chance to sit across the aisle from Captain Chris Fay of the Lake Saint Louis, Missouri Fire Department.  In 2012 there shall be upwards of seventy-five Tunnel to Towers Runs in venues all across the world.  Saturday, October 6, 2012 is the first-ever Tunnel to Towers Run in Lake Saint Louis, Missouri.  

Captain Fay has been actively promoting his community's local race by spending the hot, late summer months in America's Heartland running in 5K and 10K races in his full firefighter's gear.  Sunday morning he participated in the original Tunnel to Towers Run for the first time.  His anticipation for it was off the charts as he sat on the shuttle bus on Sunday morning.  Remarkably, post-race in the crowds of people near the finish line area I ran into him again.  I had a chance to introduce him to Margaret and to ask him how his race went.  His ear-to-ear grin told me all I needed to know.   A good man, Captain Fay.  I hope that our paths cross again somewhere up the road on a late September Sunday morning sharing a bus ride to Red Hook.  And I hope his community's first-ever Tunnel to Towers Run this Saturday is a smashing success.  If he has anything to say about it, then it shall be. 

In 2010 when my running companera Gidg and I participated in our first-ever Tunnel to Towers Run, which was the ninth edition of the race, the shuttle bus dropped us off at Coffey Park in Brooklyn.  However, last year and this year the drop-off point was the IKEA store in Red Hook.  Sunday morning, just before we started to make the walk from the IKEA lot to the Brooklyn entrance to the Tunnel I happened to look across into Manhattan.  From where we stood, we could see the new Tower, which from this vantage point appears to simply tower over everything else in one's line of sight

I am fortunate in that no member of my immediate family was killed on September 11, 2001.  Thus while it is a day that moves me still more than eleven years later, it has touched my heart without ever invading the four walls of my home.  Sadly, not everyone I know is as fortunate as I am.  Among those whose family was affected directly by the events of that morning is my good friend Gerard Gonnella.  Gerard's cousin Antoinette Duger - who worked in the World Trade Center - was one of the good people who died that day.  This year I ran the Tunnel to Towers Run in Antoinette's memory and in her honor and in honor of Gerard and her family.  Margaret made me a sign that Gidg pinned to the back of my race shirt

As we lined up in Brooklyn awaiting the start of the race, a woman tapped me on the shoulder.  She introduced herself (but being 88% an idiot I forgot her name as soon as she said it) and told me that when she saw the memorial sign on my shirt she wanted to tell me that while she did not know Antoinette she recognized her name.  She then explained to me that in 2006 she was among the individuals who read the names of those who had been killed at the annual Observance Ceremony.  Antoinette's name was among those she read.  She further told me that she has kept at home the names of those she had read in remembrance at the Ceremony and that when the 09/11 Memorial opened last year she went to it and looked to see where each name was engraved on the Memorial.  She said that she did it in order to introduce herself to them and to remind them that not only would their families and their loved ones never forget them but that she would never forget them either.  She proved to my satisfaction on Sunday morning that she has honored her promise. 

Sunday was simply an extraordinary day.  My participation in the Tunnel to Towers Run might well be the single-best thing I do all year.  Admittedly, when one is a half step or two above "anti-social reprobate" the bar is set not especially high.  However I spend the day in the company of incredible people - such as my wife who not only comes to watch the race every year but donates to the Foundation, my friend Jeff and all of his fellow firefighters, my friend Gidg, my brother-in-law Russ, the Wardlaw-Hartridge Girls' Soccer Team and Captain Fay and the good people of Lake Saint Louis, Missouri. 

The Siller Family has turned an event that could have sown the seeds of destruction in their family into a wholly positive thing:  A Mission to Do Good.  In doing so - and in allowing those of us who never had the pleasure or privilege of meeting their brother Steven to do so as well - they remind all of us that when one does good it benefits not only the person being assisted but the person providing the assistance too.  


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