Discovering news of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 is a defining moment in each of our personal histories, much like the assassination of JFK and the attacks on Pearl Harbor were for previous generations. Everyone old enough to read a paper or watch TV vividly remembers the details of how they found out, where they were, who they called and what they were doing. While I do recall answering the phone call from my fiancée in Minnesota as I was trying to iron out details on a print job I was ordering at a Sir Speedy in Delaware- anxiously getting the last things on my list done before taking two weeks off for our wedding, it is actually all the moments the rest of that month that will always be vividly clear in my memories.
The whole thing did not hit me fully until I made it into the office and was immediately surrounded by colleagues asking me about my family in NY, how my friends in DC were, if everyone was okay and if we were going to move forward with the wedding. Suddenly everything hit me all at once and I was faced with a breakdown or actually doing something. With the help of many of my co-workers, including Heather, Dave, Gregg, Val and Mary Beth, we all went into action like we had a pre-planned disaster recovery plan, quickly discovering that while phones all over the US were locked up in busy we were still able to make calls with great ease. It took several hours, but through the help of my co-workers, we were able to find each member of my family, directing those who were unable to make it off Manhattan to Tobacco Road. My co-workers were impressed that even in times of great tragedy; we could somehow get people assembled at a reputable drinking establishment. There is a certain comfort knowing my family could still find a good bar with the world falling down around them.
Friends in Pennsylvania opened their home to me that night, taking me out to eat at a very empty restaurant and ensuring our table was no where near the television surrounded by the servers and staff. Knowing my immediate family and close friends were all safe and sound, Victor and Diane helped me deal with the next order of business; deciding whether to call off my wedding in NY the next week. There were so many pros and cons to each decision, most of the wedding party, including the Groom, were 1000+ miles away, our guest list spanned over 20 states and 4 countries and it was obvious that my plans to return to Minnesota prior to flying to NY with my fiancée were not going to happen. Yet, as any bride can attest to, the thought of having to plan the wedding all over again was overwhelming and after weeks of wondering if I was “marrying material,” the turmoil in the world made me realize once and for all that I wanted to make wadE an honest man. Our friends and family received word on our decision on an email appropriately subjected as “Love Conquers All.”
Even through the overwhelming hours glued to broadcasts of bad news and sad stories, each day brought us new reasons to celebrate. Bridges in NY were eventually opened to the general public I was able to get to my family on Long Island, never so happy to see my family. My fiancée made it on the first flight from MSP to New York that allowed non-stranded passengers to fly. One bridesmaid, unable to make the wedding as she waited on word whether her husband would be shipped overseas, mailed her dress which arrived on time and fit a long-time friend like a glove. Battling a rough case of bronchitis contracted from the soot in the air from the smoldering twin towers I somehow lost 10 pounds in one week, causing the need for emergency dress alterations in the right direction.
With all these memories and all these moments, there is one evening that stands out above all else; my bachelorette party and youngest sister’s 21st birthday party on the evening of September 19th. We debated whether our pre-9/11 plans of committing multiple acts of debauchery in downtown Manhattan would now be considered in bad taste; drunken women in feather boas parading their wares in the former shadow of the World Trade Center. We were encouraged to move forward with our plans by a cousin who stressed the need for business as establishments in lower Manhattan were suffering. Ten well dressed women ready to have fun descended upon Manhattan in a white stretch limo and were clearly the only women around.
The bars were not empty; instead they were packed with firemen from around the country; with roughly 12 firemen in Red Rocks West for every one of us, we took full advantage of the attention that evening. Around Five O’clock in the morning, our driver informed us that we were going to go over our time which in turn made the firemen to realize they were late for their shifts. Presented with an opportunity to serve our country and perform our civic duty, we piled 10 firemen in our limo and headed to the World Trade Center, passing police barricades and descending upon ground zero as the first rays of morning light rose above Manhattan. Half the crew was due at the Trade Center while the other half needed a lift to the rescue staging grounds at Shea Stadium. Firemen hanging out our sunroof brought us the attention of the NYPD, who soon realized we were carrying special cargo and gave us a full police escort all the way to Shea. Already well over the time in our rental agreement, we were unable to entertain all the men who poured out of a city of tents at the staging grounds to offer us hot dogs and beer (at 6am!). Our driver rewarded us for our good deeds; he did not charge us for the two hours we went over and actually thanked us for an experience he would never forget. We never did get to formally thank the generous heroes from the Oak Brook, Illinois; San Diego, California, Columbus, Ohio and all the other fire departments who made for a very memorable evening ;-)
Every wedding has a set of issues and ours was no exception. The yacht club where our wedding was located asked us if we would be so kind to open the club prior to our photos for a funeral lunch of a friend lost in the towers. We of course said yes to discover it was an Irish funeral with mourners ready to join our wedding celebration. Many of our guests were late, stuck in traffic on bridges as each car required inspection to cross. Even our flowers were a reminder that the wedding was not business as usual; wilted flowers from a florist unable to get a shipment in since the attacks. All that did not matter as we were married under a beautiful blue sky surrounded by the love and support of friends and family, the wedding serving as a joyous celebration of life and love and reminder of what is beautiful about the world (although the world would have been much more beautiful with live purple flowers rather then dead pink ones- oh well).
The day following our wedding, we had dinner reservations at the famed restaurant Windows on the World, atop the World Trade Center. It was very sad to think the person who months before took our request for a romantic table by a window might have perished in the attacks. After a very empty flight, we closed September 2001 on the lovely island of St. Lucia, empty of travelers; we practically had the entire resort all to ourselves.
Six years later I can say the experiences and lessons of 9/11 restored my faith in the greater humanity as people far and wide came together to heal a nation and each other. It reminded me of the kindness of strangers, the goodness of friends, the comfort of family, the power of love, what is truly important in life… and that sexy firemen are the best gift any bachelorette can ask for.