Sunday, September 11, 2011
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, September 11--Family, immediate and extended, good friends, and my word processor notwithstanding, horses and racing are the most important thing in my life. But not today.
You might have noticed that the dateline didn’t not include the year. That’s because on this day 10 years ago, everyone’s world changed forever. And not for the better.
Today was, and still remains, a happy day for our family. Nana, my wife’s mom, is celebrating her 96th birthday today. And we‘ll help her do that.
Here’s another factoid about the former Aida Codraro, who landed on these shores 83 years ago, December 7, 1928, long before anyone even heard of a small harbor on the island of Oahu, way out there in the Pacific Ocean.
Another coincidence and without giving it a second thought, I turned on my television this morning at precisely 8:46 a.m.
At first blush, I didn’t think beyond the possibility that it was a terrible accident, the pilot of some small plane somehow lost control. Maybe he had suffered a heart attack, or stroked out. But that was not the case, of course. Instead, it was American Airlines Flight 11 bound for LAX from Boston.
Rather, it was a big plane, full of my countryman and a handful of terrorists, and it was no accident that the jumbo jet crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
Several minutes later, I turned on the television. Matt Lauer and Katie Couric were piecing together driblets of news, trying to make sense out of what we were all seeing from a remote camera perched on top of the Empire State Building.
My oldest daughter called, wondering frantically if anyone had heard from her baby sister, who was job hunting downtown early that morning. It turned out she was fine, thank God, after we had lost cell contact for about five hours. Like all of us, she cannot forget what she saw that day.
On her way to her first job interview, she exited the subway station on forever congested 14th Street. But for some other sad coincidence, not so on that morning, eerily unpopulated.
She, and a countless number of other New Yorkers, stood in an intersection and watched in horror as the South Tower, the second of the twins to be struck, crumbled to the ground.
She walked back to her dorm room in one of the School of Visual Arts apartment buildings on East 23rd Street. When at last I was able to hear her voice, she told me about the National Guard troops stationed across the street on 3rd Avenue below. They carried assault rifles, she said.
I can’t recall if that was the first time I cried during that insufferably long weekend, for those countless then nameless countrymen, and for my daughter’s, and for the future of all the children in all the world, a planet that would never be the same again.
At 12:35 p.m. this afternoon, Sam Grossman, a.k.a. Sam the Bugler, will perform a rendition of “Taps,” surrounded in the Belmont Park winner’s circle by Nassau County Police Department officers.
The New York Racing Association then will hold a moment of silence in honor of the victims and heroes who never made it home that night 10 years ago today. Grossman will play the “Star Spangled Banner” and all eyes at Belmont Park will fix on a new 10th anniversary memorial flag that was unveiled earlier this week by Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Ten years ago, this racetrack was closed for several days, racing suspended, the plant serving as a staging area for emergency personnel and their vehicles in the days following 9/11.
Seven weeks later, on October 27th, I parked my car in the lot and walked from the grandstand entrance around to Belmont Park’s clubhouse.
It was Breeders’ Cup day and the fences outside the building were lined with national guard troops carrying assault rifles. Snipers were stationed on the roof at the press box level of the mammoth racetrack.
The National Anthem had special meaning that day for myself and many of my colleagues who were covering their first “event” following 9/11. A racetrack press box never was so quiet, never before did so many tears flow before the running of a race.
Later that afternoon, Tiznow came again with a game and stirring stretch performance to become the first ever repeat winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Wanting to stand with the fans, I watched the race from the grandstand apron. And Belmont Park shook.
The American horse, a champion, won, making history in the process. For that brief moment in time, suspended from memory were the utterly horrible events that transpired seven weeks earlier.
I promised myself that I wouldn’t watch the televised memorial ceremonies early this Sunday morning, on 9/11/11. I lived it once and that was enough. But watch the ceremonies I did, of course. And I was bucking up quite well.
Then, Sweet Baby James Taylor sang an acoustic version of “Close Your Eyes.” There was no chance I could close my eyes, nor stop occasionally to wipe away the tears.
Later, it was Paul Simon, another great American troubadour, and his acoustic version of “Sounds of Silence.” It was difficult for this boy from Queens to get through the song he wrote without his voice cracking, the pitch of his voice lowered to navigate the lump in his throat.
At that moment, a frame of a member of the New York Fire Department, eyes closed, head bowed, as were many in the crowd, the cameras panning the crowd of families and friends of the 9/11 victims, came up on the screen.
We memorialize, and the lost live on forever. God rest all those souls, and bring peace to those who remember them.