America the Beautiful: Thoughts on 9/11/02

By Michael Spinner

Andy was not the type of person you could forget. I first met him at a lacrosse camp more than a decade ago and we seemed to always find away to run into each other. At a game, at a camp, sometimes on the street…he was always smiling, always talking lacrosse, and constantly reminding me of his success against me in a certain game we played against each other that was meaningless otherwise. I wouldn't say we were close friends, but certainly close enough to stop what we were doing and have a great talk whenever we happened to cross paths...and the occasional e-mail was sent.

He was a great lacrosse player, but you didn't remember Andy for how well he played the game. You remembered Andy because of who he was-loud but friendly, confident but not cocky, and always upbeat and happy. There was just something about him that always made me happy to see him.

It was three years since I last saw my friend Andy. I probably would not have even thought of him had not the newspaper been open last April when I returned home one night. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a picture of a guy with the biggest smile on his face in the middle of a lengthy article. I couldn't help but think that it looked like my old friend and began to read.

Andy had made a success of himself-no surprise. He worked for one of the most prominent of firms located in the most spectacular of locales, and a year ago today he went to work on time high in the World Trade Center. Like so many others that day, Andy tragically lost his life and I would like to think that he was helping others try to escape when the walls of tower two came down. He was just one of those people who would have cared enough to make sure everybody else was ok.

I will always have great memories of this fantastic person and I know the fact that it was not until seven months after the tragic events of 9/11 that I had learned of Andy's death certainly made me think about how infrequently I keep in touch with my friends and loved ones. If there is anything that I personally took to heart this year, it is that nothing is too important to keep you from staying close to friends and family. Tragically, Andy was not the only friend I lost on 9/11. Two of my friends in the New York City Fire Department were only found recently-but the fact that I had not been in touch with Andy for so long is something that will probably never stop bothering me.

Today marks the anniversary of an event that nobody can really put in words or explain-even a year later. Like everybody else, if you were to ask me what I did last week, it would take a moment to remember. But if you asked me what I was doing on 9/11, I could go on for hours. Born, raised, and having lived almost my entire life in New York City, I have never felt so helpless in my entire life than on that fateful day when I called everybody I knew from my home more than an hour away and could not get through. And when I was asked, where I worked, to convene a group of people just barely younger than myself and talk to them about what had happened and to make sure their friends and relatives were ok, I think for the first time ever I truly felt like an adult. The sights, the sounds, the smells of the day were… just unforgettable.

I work at a school in a community that was very hard hit by the tragedy of a year ago and the emotion of today is pretty tough to bear. Sometimes when you encounter such powerful and dramatic emotions, it helps to sit down and write about it. So I'll skip the usual sarcastic banter and lacrosse altogether, actually. Today it's pretty tough to write about the usual. Thinking about what happened on this day last year, how tough today must be for those who lost someone close to them, and just thinking about my friend Andy makes the idea of writing about anything else simply silly. When I sat down to write this column, I just wrote what was on my mind - in my heart.

A year to the day after the worst moment in the history of our nation, it means more to be an American that at any other point, ever. And tomorrow it gets even better. As somber as today is, it is still overwhelming to me how great it is to be an American. Somehow, in all of the sadness of the day, there is certainly a lot to be uplifted about. While today evokes the terrible memories of an awful tragedy, it was hard not to notice the sense of optimism and pride that came from the many ceremonies. America was hurt on 9/11, but not "injured." With all that has happened in the last year and all of the differences our country has experienced, the fabric of our society is the same and that is something we can celebrate - even on a day like today.

A few months after the tragedy of 9/11, I moved back to New York City for the first time in a while, and to this day I notice that there is a difference. I know more of my neighbors than I ever would have before and just feels obvious that, even in the shadow of this tragedy, everybody around me has something to celebrate American flags waving proudly from their homes. I feel a sense of community and spirit that I never felt when I was a kid. On the sidelines this past season, I wore an FDNY hat in honor of my lost friends. After a night game on Long Island where many firemen reside, the reaction of one man who thanked me for taking the time to care is something I will never forget. I wore the cap to help in my healing process and in some way, it aided his. There is a difference in all of us that will hopefully be the lasting impression of 9/11.

It will be a long time before we know what this tragedy in our history really meant to our country. The eternal optimist, my hope is that 9/11/01 represents the day that America was reborn and that our sense of togetherness and community had only begun on that day. But no matter what happens, the one-year anniversary made it clear that in the face of tragedy, we are a stronger nation than we've ever been before. Today was a difficult day for too many people. I hope that those of you who read this column who are grieving the loss of a loved one find that when the sun rises tomorrow, you will be stronger than you were today.

I think about my friend Andy and the others who I will never see again and it made today a very tough one to get through. At the same time, in the words of a very wise man on this day-the best way to honor their memories is to continue their work and strive to be the great people that they were…something that all of us can certainly become better for doing.

WTC Photo courtesey of WTC Foundation

September 11, 2002

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