This is a photo I put together, copied, and then framed to bring with me to all the places I would visit this somber September 11th in 2016. It is of my former husband, a federal responder at Ground Zero, who remained there for 4 months straight after the disaster and remained on high alert for several years afterwards, mostly engaged in covert activities protecting you and me in a post-9/11 world. He eventually succumbed to a litany of illnesses (of the body and mind) due to his time at Ground Zero. Our marriage initially was strengthened by his struggles, but ultimately suffered at the hands of them. Even so, I’ll always love him and remember the sacrifices he made. I’ll always respond in empathy and understanding when I reflect on how deeply the immediate and slow death of hundreds of people who he personally knew affected him all these years as he tried to handle his own pain the best he could. Steve, who on 9/11/2011 was an extremely healthy 44-year-old man died this past December, an extremely sick man at age 58.
On this 15th anniversary of the 9/11/2001 disaster in New York City, I, now living in Arizona, set out to find something I could do to honor Steve and all the others who not only died on 9/11 itself, but died slowly by the hundreds in the years following 9/11 from working on the rescue and cleanup at Ground Zero, of which Steve was one. I also wanted to honor the thousands upon thousands of residents, local business people, school children, and general cleaning crews who became chronically ill as they were
forced strongly encouraged to return to the toxic dust-affected areas when doing so was absolutely unsafe.
I set out this September 11, 2016, to find one good deed to do for someone–anyone–that could help me feel like I was somehow balancing the pain of this terrible day, but especially to balance the pain of the aftermath of 9/11 that is unknown to most everyone I’ve ever spoken to outside of the metro New York area, and even to some who actually live in the New York area. But I didn’t know exactly what to do.
So I started out simple and mapped out a set of places to visit where I could place Steve’s photo–any location that felt somehow connected to 9/11 and, therefore, Steve. The first place was the Field of Honor Memorial in Chandler, Arizona, a beautiful memorial (in the works) for all branches of the military, situated at the equally beautiful Veterans Oasis Park. I tucked Steve’s photo safely within one of the points of the memorial’s ‘star.’ Steve, a Navy man, will be in good company here, I thought.
The memorial, when it is done, will be so healing. For me, today, it already is.
The next place I visited was the Chandler Fire Department Administration building, where a World Trade Center beam is on display year-round. I placed Steve’s photo next to the beam, hoping someone might care to meet Steve and hear his story. Maybe a firefighter would accept Steve as one of his fallen brothers.
The following is a commemorative plaque at the Chandler Fire Department Administration building:
And in the courtyard of the fire department’s administration building are hearts strung across a courtyard, with sweet notes written by school children, honoring firefighters for all they do.
Next I placed Steve’s picture at the 9/11 Memorial Healing Field in Tempe, AZ, where there is a full-sized flag in place for every single person who perished on 9-11-2001. Each flag has a large, laminated tag giving information about every individual who passed–their age, where they lived, and a few personal words about who this person was, whether the CEO of a financial institution or a young man who loved fishing in solitude. Along the edge were yellow ribbons tied onto the flag poles for all the first responders who died the day the airplanes struck the twin towers.
Somewhere among these flags, I arranged a little memorial for Steve, right along with the hundreds of FDNY firefighters who perished in the towers, the very firefighters he trained each year in hazardous, radioactive and nuclear materials. They were the very firefighters he knew by face, if not by name, the very ones whose loss would affect his psyche dramatically, both immediately and for years to come.
When my boyfriend and I stepped back to sit in the shade and view Steve’s memorial from a distance, right away people stopped at Steve’s picture and read the story, took photos. Some parents appeared to be explaining the picture to their curious child who didn’t understand but wanted to. The tears just fell for me. Somebody cares . . . somebody else knows . . . he mattered.
On the way home in the afternoon, I stopped in at the VFW in my home town, intent on asking if they would put Steve’s photo on view, at least for the rest of the day. Long before Steve met me, he considered the VFW his family. In a way, he considered his fellow veterans his closest family. Not only was my request well received, but besides displaying his photo immediately in one of their glass cases, they offered to make a brass tag for him and include him as one of their Life Members. A kind gentleman there told me they would contact me when they have their next induction ceremony, so I can attend. I think Steve would’ve liked this. I know I do. It helps me to feel his presence where I live, which is comforting.
Also, on my way home, I placed Steve’s picture outside the Gilbert Town Hall Municipal Building, where a section of a World Trade Center beam is on display year-round. I could tell many others already visited there before I did. I knew, too, that many more would be there again in the evening where a vigil would take place.
I like how the sun rays reach from the heavens down to Steve in this next photo:
A better view of the Town of Gilbert’s 9/11 display, where Steve’s photo now sits.
Later in the evening, my boyfriend and I returned to Tempe’s Healing Field for a candlelight vigil. Among the flags, I spotted this young boy, laying on his back, gazing up at the sky. He remained there a long time, enough for me to assume he was laying near a loved one’s flag. Just the thought of it touched my heart. The Healing Field seemed to be doing what it was intended to do.
We also stopped by the memorial we had left for Steve. It was clear others had visited him while we were gone and read about his story. We found extra flags had been placed there, as well as a yellow rose and a feather. I don’t think I could have asked for anything more. I felt like my mission was complete.
And just when it felt so healing, there was this disgraceful act . . .
The Tempe Healing Field was a lovely, touching visual tribute to those who died on September 11, 2001, but their evening candlelight vigil was an utter disgrace. For the time that I could stomach sitting through it, there was no mention of people like Steve in their ceremony. I didn’t expect there would be, but hoped beyond hope there might be.
What was mentioned, ad nauseum, was the exhaustive praising of their small and big business sponsors, and equally exhaustive praising of themselves and their committee members for putting together the annual event.
What was not mentioned nearly as much as the sponsor- and self-centered kudos of the organizers of the event was the sacrifices of the people who died that day. It was truly over-the-top cheap pageantry.
Ten minutes of bagpipes, color guard, national anthem, Pledge of Allegiance, and an introduction to set the tone of the hallowed evening were IMMEDIATELY followed by ten minutes of commercial advertisements about the products and services each of the event’s sponsors offers their customers, the sponsors who are also listed “in this great magazine we’ve printed, right here in the back . . . did I mention there’s this great magazine and our sponsors are all listed there? . . . hey, and don’t forget that there is a magazine with all of the sponsors listed for your reading pleasure . . . okay, and now let me tell you each and every frikkin’ service they offer you, their potential new customers.”
Really? Yes, really.
Next were some thoughtful words about those who died, followed by an exhaustive 10-minute dissertation of the next speaker’s political and business achievements.
It was so disgusting a portrayal of business- and personal-agenda self-centeredness that a lovely couple sitting in front of us with their eight beautiful, well-behaved adopted children all dressed in matching, patriotic clothing befitting of the day, all got up and left 10 or 15 minutes into the “ceremony” (really, it was akin to watching a show on TV for 2 minutes, then sitting through 15 minutes of commercials, then 2 minutes of something potentially engaging, then another 15 minutes of commercials). We left another minute or so after the lovely family in front of us (Mind you, we were all sitting up front in the 3rd and 4th rows that ran all of 20 seats across . . . it was noticeable that we left.).
Instead of the fake fest, we went back to the Healing Field and sat down on the grass next to the memorial we arranged for Steve. We felt healed again sitting with Steve, far away from the whatever the hell it was we had just been subject to. But even in the Healing Field, we had to leave after a few minutes. The sound from the speakers managed to reach us. We could still hear the words of the actors on stage delivering the lines of a despicable play that, to us, only served to insult everyone who died on or after 9/11 and everyone who still suffers or mourns, that served to deliver unto its unsuspecting audience a committee- and sponsor-appreciation gathering masquerading as a ceremony to honor the dead.
Next year, we will attend a smaller affair in a town next to ours, where we will hope for a more humble reflection on everyone who died on 9/11. And if they don’t make special mention (rather than a side note) of everyone who died since 9/11 and all those who remained chronically ill since, I will do my best to educate them so that some day, they might give a nod to the disregarded of 9/11.
So, did I achieve my goal?
I wanted to embrace #911Day this year, to make an effort to do some good on 9/11 for someone else’s benefit. At the start of the day, I couldn’t for the life of me think of anything “good enough” to make up for what was wrong about 9/11 and the fifteen years that have passed since. This attempt to share Steve’s picture, to share his story, is all I could come up with. But by the end of the day, it dawned on me that the person I did something good for this September 11th was Steve. I elevated his story to a few more ears, possibly ears that will listen, and care, and who might when they talk of 9/11 make mention of people like Steve who gave their all AFTER 9/11, even when nobody noticed.
I keep trying to give a voice to Steve and hundreds (who have already died) and thousands (who are still very ill) of people like Steve–in similar yet unique predicaments after the World Trade Center disaster. Most 9/11 memorial services never mention the hundreds more who died after 9/11 because of the clean-up efforts in unsafe conditions at Ground Zero, and nobody ever mentions the thousands upon thousands of sick children, residents, and workers
in many circumstances forced encouraged to return to the area, even when it was unsafe to do so. Every year, I’ll try to give the disregarded victims of 9/11 a voice. I think this year was a start.
An excellent source of articles and other stories related to the topic of the disregarded sick and dying AFTER 9/11 can be found here at:
This page also includes articles about Jon Stewart’s valiant efforts to speak before and against Congress about their abysmal treatment of those affected by the aftermath of 9/11, and ultimately being key in the all-important Zadroga Act being passed through Congress on December 18, 2015,
FOURTEEN YEARS AFTER 9/11/2001
ELEVEN DAYS AFTER STEVE DIED.
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