He is blinded by smoke, numbed by the crushing weight of gear across his shoulders. It’s a double high-rise hose pack and it weighs nothing – today. As if in a drill, civilians file down the stairs, surprisingly calm, though blackened by soot and ashes. He sees the whites of their eyes. The booming voice of a bleeding man shouts, “You’re goin’ the wrong way, boys!” This is not a drill. They are probably in shock, he thinks. All he can feel is the constant pressure of the tie that binds him to his brothers above and behind. There are orders. There is no turning back. The silver saint medallion is stuck to his heart by the sweat of his chest. The medallion she gave him at graduation from the fire academy is a cross he never removed.
In the Twinkle of an Eye
The Score of his life with her plays in a flourish of every season’s colors – and ends with the morning’s longest last union, a lovers’ symphony: his namesake begun. The upward tug is now a gentle but insistent beckoning: “Take My hand, My son.” Brave souls are burning and bleeding above and beneath. The concrete and steel groans, then roars– and like a dying beast, disappears into dust. “Oh, dear God!” Thomas prays for them all. The blackness is illuminated by the lives and the dreams of thousands, their own lives’ Scores clear a Path. From the brilliant Light, “Take My hands My sons and daughters!” Accepting hearts and hands reach upward, their Peace made perfect. They breathe, unhindered by smoke and ash; and they are surrounded completely and safely, by Love. That Blessed incessant tugging reminds him at once of a big catch on his dad’s trout line – and his Lord’s calling, calling – louder than all the alarms and engine bells of this day – and echoing among the Saints Forever.
New York, NY – World Trade Center Memorial – September 11, 2013
Thomas was ready to find Dad’s name carved in the weeping fountain wall. She was ready to bring him. “Here it is, Mom – Engine 202, Ladder 101! Thomas Patrick Callahan, Senior.” She gave him a perfect, thornless white rose. As tears welled in his eyes, he dropped it into the endless falling waters of the Weeping Pool. “What about Dad’s carving? The rose goes in it.” He looked up at her. “His rose is for the tears, Mama, all the tears from the Firehouse – they’re mixed together. Dad’s not crying, now.” Thomas Jr.’s eyes sparkled up at her. Among the thousands mourning and embracing, crowding benches with strangers, murmurs of prayers and soft cries like the sound of angels’ wings – filled the air. She pressed her hands over the letters’ cold burnished bronze carving. In the September sun, flecks of untarnished gold sparkled from the deep grooves of the lettering. The endless flowing waters continue singing their dutiful song. Thomas took his mother’s soft cool hand from the wall with a half-smile. “Let’s go home now.”
*Red Hook Raider is inspired by the author’s post 9/11 journals, a legendary photograph of a wide-eyed fireman, – taken by a survivor on their way to safety, as the responder ascended the steps into the hands of the Almighty. The names are fictitious, representing the Irish heritage of those who perished. Most memorably, the piece was inspired by the hospitality of the survivors of the Brooklyn firehouse, Engine 202, Ladder 101, during a pre-arranged day trip to deliver letters and colored pictures from the students of a local school, who raised over $350,000 to purchase new engines to replace those that were destroyed. It was a gift in return for this same firehouse sending a horse-drawn fire truck to South Carolina, as a gesture of good will following the Civil War.