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Sep 11, 2009

Reflections on a 9/11 birthday

First, let me wish a very happy birthday to friends and colleagues who were born today, September 11.  In particular, I extend best regards to the Hon. Frank Rynd, presiding judge of the 309th Judicial District Family Court, and Jeremy Gordon, Asst. District Attorney.  May your birthdays be filled with special joy.


Having today as my birthday is truly bittersweet since the attacks on New York and Washington, DC.  And though I have pledged to try to keep this blog on the issues of the day, I think it necessary to reflect, albeit briefly, on my personal journey.  I will leave it to others to get into the long and necessarily involved discussions of the ramifications of that day.


We were stung that day, as a people, as a nation.  The conceit of invincibility was shattered in a way not even domestic terrorism like Oklahoma City had succeeded in destroying.  Our mortality - as a nation - for the first time since the attack on Pearl Harbor in World War II was being put to the test.


I believe it struck us even more so.  This occurred here on the mainland, in a country that proudly proclaims its status as the greatest nation on the planet, by a foreign enemy we, in part, helped to create.  We were attacked not on the field of battle, and not as part of an invasion.  We were attacked for our prosperity and diversity.  Many times people have claimed that it is their way of life under attack.  This is the first instance I can recall where this was indeed the stated goal of our enemy.


Our government officials acted quickly, and decisively.  We went to war in Afghanistan to pursue the perpetrators of this obscene act of cowardice (the right thing to do), and Iraq based on lies (unequivocally, the wrong thing to do).  We crushed them on the field of battle, only to forget that the field of battle in this case is not a land mass.  Despite all our technology and advances, we still cannot subdue the leader of this shadowy enemy, and it is arguable our hubris has jeopardized our ability to win the war and maintain moral authority.


We rediscovered our patriotism and a sense of national pride that had been waning in recent years.  You will hear Lee Greenwood all day today.  In many respects, we have renewed our belief in this way of life.  Throughout the country, today we celebrate Patriot Day, a time to reflect on the people who serve on the front lines here at home.


For me, the pain of that day has not subsided.  I lost friends, dear friends, that day.  People I attended college with.  People I love, respect, and admire.  341 firefighters died when the World Trade Center towers collapsed, as well as 60 police officers and 10 paramedics/EMTs.  Men and women on missions of rescue and aid.  I get a lump in my throat each time I see the iconic picture of firemen raising the flag on the floor of Ground Zero. 


For those who don't know, I am a volunteer fireman.  Even more so than other first responders, firemen share a special bond that is thicker than blood.  My brothers and sisters in FDNY seem almost forgotten.  I will not engage in debate as to why conspiracy sycophant Oliver Stone chose to tell the stories of Port Authority cops and not firemen.  For some reason, the firefighters have been an afterthought in this discussion, barely rating a passing mention today in the media.  These brave souls have been cast aside.


Or so I thought.  This morning, I was part of a group of firefighters who attended Patriot Day activities at Juan Seguin Elementary School in Richmond, Texas.  Teachers had tears in their eyes as they told our grade schoolers about the sacrifice that day, the reactions of children and parents as volunteer after volunteer was introduced along with their day jobs - a lawyer, a teacher, a probation officer, a cleaning service owner, an office worker, a graphic designer. To have a 6 year old thank you for coming to his school and to his house a week before. Never forget the men and women who risk their lives for us each day, be they first responder or constitutional defender.


I have not been able to go to NYC since that day.  I am angry with myself for having not gone and paid my respects.  My lips quiver, eyes fill with tears and hands shake when I think of my own failings in this regard, and in the realization that my reaction will be the same if I ever do make it to Ground Zero.  But today perhaps has affirmed my resolve to pay proper respects.


So, rather than focus on the wrongs and missteps we have committed or avoided in the wake of the attacks, I ask that you give me the birthday present of taking a moment and thinking of the folks on the end of that 911 call.  Say a prayer for those lost and those still engaged.  There will be time enough tomorrow to argue over the rest.


I leave you with this clip, David Letterman's monologue after the attacks.  It is one of the few clips Worldwide Pants has not insisted being taken down, and he says better than I ever will:

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Readers Comments
Ed Farnsworth
Sep 11, 2009 4:26 PM
Firemen are a special breed, especially volunteers who don't get paid and don't get the praise they deserve. I will say a prayer for you and the other firemen tonight. That Letterman clip brought back so many memories. Try not to be so hard on yourself. We all need time to heal and some need longer than others. Happy Birthday.
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