Wednesday, September 10, 2008

We Draw Strength From Each Other

I gave this speech on October 15, 2006 at a dedication ceremony in NYC - honoring four firefighters from Engine 6 who died in the North Tower on 9/11.

A person is what they do, no more and no less
A person can become what they admire.

I was at work on that day, I heard the towers had collapsed
and I ran home.

I was eighty miles away from the danger, and I ran home.

I put on the television. I watched as my head swam.
Fear, confusion, anger, frustration and sadness.
I waited impatiently for my family to come home.
And when they did, we hugged, cried.
And we watched the television to see if other, braver men and women would make things right in the world again.

We're here to honor four such men.

Lt. Thomas O'Hagan
FF William Johnston
FF Thomas Holohan
FF Paul Beyer

All of the 343 active duty firefighters who lost their lives that day. And all of the men and women who chose to put fear aside and CHOSE to make things right again. I deeply admire you.

In order to create this piece, I listened to the stories of the men of Engine 6. I read the letters their loved ones wrote. I watched that day unfold again, and again.

Amidst the cloud of pulverized concrete and glass, an image emerged.

I saw fallen heroes and the walking wounded.

I saw men and women who spent their days hoping and praying, digging, searching, thinking, tearing, praying and more hoping, praying.

I saw lives ruined and families rocked and whole communities wracked with sorrow.

And I saw men and women who CHOSE to do something about it.

I asked Billy Green, the only man from Engine 6 to have made it out of the the North Tower, "What were you most proud of that day?" and he said -

"We stood fast."

In the face of overwhelming destruction
when a nation sat in dumbstruck fear,
these men stood fast, and then,
proceeded up those stairs,
to put out "that fire."

Over thirty flights of stairs,
Turnout coats,
Soaring temperatures,
I asked Billy, "How did you guys go on?" and he said,

"Well, we kind of drew strength from each other."

These men may not have been perfect, but they became perfect at that moment and in that hour. And it was this strength that transcended the darkness and the evil that was transpiring above them. I have read of firefighters despairing that they themselves did not save enough, or very little. To you, my brothers, I must say, your mere presence brought comfort to those in the final moments of their lives. You inspire in the minds and hearts in those around you an idea. The idea that you might not be perfect, but you will try to be. That you may not be able to save, but you will try to save. For in the end, all of the men and women who CHOSE to save.

And these four men.

Lt. Tom O'Hagan
FF Billy Johnston
FF Tommy Holohan
FF Paulie Beyer

You bring the promise of hope.
You draw strength from each other.
May we draw on that strength,
so that we might have the courage to do
what we should do
in the hour
of our calling.

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