We all have our memories of where we were and what we were doing on September 11, 2001. I was in Barrow for a trial to terminate parental rights on a family who seemingly had no desire to get sober or less violent in order to have their children returned. As we entered the courtroom, I think we were all shell-shocked. We’d just watched some of the most horrific reality TV it would ever be our misfortune to see.
The judge acknowledged the tragedies that were unfolding even as he called his court to order. Then he looked at us and said that we would proceed as planned. It was the only bit of normalcy in that day. America had been struck but was not mortally wounded. Life would continue.
I didn’t know it then, but my 9/11 memories would soon get very personal. Every bad memory of those planes hitting those towers got decidedly worse the day I got a newspaper clipping from my aunt showing the mass for United Airlines pilot Victor Saracini that was held at St. Michael’s, my childhood school and parish church. The plane he’d been piloting was the one flown into the south tower of the World Trade Center.
When I first saw the name Saracini in the papers after 9/11, I knew it sounded familiar. But I figured there were probably Saracini’s up and down the eastern seaboard due to the immense immigration of Italians to that part of America in the early 1900s. I thought there was little chance that it was the same family from my neighborhood. But it turns out it was. It turns out that Victor was one of the little kids in the background of every movie my father ever took of a First Communion, Confirmation or May Day procession at our church. I felt as though someone had taken a huge red magic marker and drawn a bloody slash through the memories of my childhood.
At Vic’s memorial service, classmates from his 8th grade graduating class came to mourn and remember. There are a lot of people who found that odd. They could understand high school and college graduation but for most people, 8th grade graduation didn’t make sense. But it did to me. Leaving St. Michael’s to go on to high school meant breaking away from a small cocoon that had nurtured us and made us all one big family. Now we were mourning the loss of one of our own, someone lost in the most horrific of ways. Even those of us who couldn’t make it to the memorial service felt the pain as well as the comfort of that big family coming together again.
The World Trade Center complex didn’t open until after I moved to Barrow. But on a trip back east to visit my Brooklyn friends in the mid 70s, we went to the observation deck on the South Tower. We were still not able to afford the restaurant that topped the North Tower, but looking was free. After 9/11, I couldn’t help but wonder if that was the last thing that passengers on Vic’s plane saw before they struck the tower.
Here’s what else will always stay with me since 9/11 – an immense sense of gratitude and pride in those who serve us as fire and police personnel. My brother is a volunteer fireman. Has been most of his adult life. Unless you are part of the family of firefighters, I’m not sure you can ever truly imagine the camaraderie that holds them together on any given day. Their world consists of putting their lives on the line for others and depending on the person next to them to help keep them safe. It’s a powerful bond. I know I’ll never be able to understand the depth of the pain and destruction the loss of so many of that family meant to those who survived. I know I could hear the emotion in my brother’s voice when he spoke about it. He isn’t a NYC fireman but he is of the brotherhood.
So in case I’ve haven’t said this enough, I could not be more proud of my brother Philip, or more grateful for the firefighters and police who run towards what most of us run from.