This past week was the seventeenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks on our country. Having grown up just north of New York City in Mt. Vernon, NY, this was a particularly difficult day for me. The Twin Towers were a part of the landscape of my life in lower Manhattan. When I took the subway downtown, they always oriented me once I came up above ground.
Despite living there for my first eighteen years, I personally knew no one who lost their life that day. My grandmother had an appointment in New York City that day and my parents were bringing her there when the awful events began. We were unable to connect until much later that morning but fortunately, my dad was able to turn around and get off the island of Manhattan before it was completely shut down.
I've often thought about all the first responders who descended upon the World Trade Center that day, without regard for themselves, but who were only interested in saving someone else's life. And as I think more and more about them, I remember a day that has the distinction of being the scariest one in my life.
It was a warm, muggy afternoon in the summer and our oldest son Patrick was running a fever. As we got to the latter part of the day, Patrick was acting a little more lethargic and slower than usual. My Wife and I didn’t think much of it as we were also feeling that the heat was impacting us as well.
However, as the day went on, we became more and more worried about Patrick. He was having trouble verbally answering our questions and at one point, his eyes glazed over. My Wife called 911 and I just remember holding him, begging him to answer even the simplest of questions.
Within minutes, members of the Williston Fire Department were in our house. They were asking questions about Patrick’s day and when we told them he was running a fever, all the first responders visibly relaxed. We were told he was probably having a febrile seizure and while it was serious, it ruled out other much more serious possibilities. While I was still petrified, seeing them relax after hearing he had a fever throughout the day, allowed me to relax a little as well.
Fortunately, Patrick only had that one febrile seizure, an indication that they would not repeat again during his life. After a few days, we went to visit the Fire Department to thank them for their prompt response. While meeting with the folks who came to our house, one of them mentioned humbly, we were “just doing our job.” That has stuck with me, “Just doing your job,” made a substantial difference in my family’s life.
We owe a debt of gratitude for all the people who run into danger for the sake of others. It is a level of selflessness that rises above political party, race, creed, sexual orientation, or gender identity. It is something that reminds us of our humanity, that when something truly terrible has happened, none of those things matter.