Dedication: To the heroes of September 11, 2001. We will never forget you.
Year of Sorrow
A light breeze blew from the sea, bringing with it a hint of autumn. It was a typical day in the northwest; a steady rain had fallen since before daybreak. Near the shore, a light mist obscured the water, leaving only the mournful mantras of the foghorns to hint of the sea beyond.
Two figures stood in silent isolation above their city, watching the scattered lights blinking on and off like fireflies on a summer's night. In the room behind them, candles flickered, lighting the darkness with the warmth of their flames. Soft music played; the haunting sounds of Navajo flutes danced quietly on the air.
They had debated how to commemorate the day. Nothing felt quite right, not attending one of the many public services held throughout the city... not going to their captain's house for a quiet get-together with friends... not being at Rainier for the candlelight vigil with the students there. At last, the partners had agreed that the only place they wanted to be on this night was home.
So, as the night passed, they stood in the gentle, lingering rain, unmindful of the early fall chill. There were far more important things to consider, reflections that were soul-numbing rather than body-numbing. An important mission lay ahead this night, but it would have to wait until the rain had completely ceased. That the final remnants of rain would stop before the stroke of midnight, neither man doubted. There comes a time, even on the dreariest of days, when the rain stops, when the clouds part and the dazzling stars can be viewed once more.
The smaller man glanced up, and as though perfectly choreographed, his friend's eyes met his and held. The wetness on Jim's cheeks might have been rain, but Blair knew better.
Tears or rain... it didn't matter anyway.
This was a night created for tears, a night destined for the deepest sorrow.
Just as the entire year just passed had been.
Blair breathed deeply, not ashamed when the release of air was unsteady with the force of his emotions. There had been times over the past twelve months when he'd forgotten the shock of September 11th - bright, cheerily normal days when he'd fall into bed at night, happily exhausted, only to realize he hadn't thought about the horror even once.
On those nights, Blair fell asleep with a vague, lingering guilt.
The unfairness of it all still angered him. He had been given so much, but those who perished that day in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington had felt just as fortunate, just as blessed, as he. What right did anyone have to steal those lives, so violently, so selfishly? They had gone to work that day or had boarded their plane completely innocent, expecting it to be just another average day. Their loved ones had said their good-byes, or not, without ever considering that the farewells of that bright September morning might be their last.
As Blair gazed up at Jim, he read clearly the depth of emotion dwelling within his sentinel's ice-blue eyes. Suddenly, Blair realized once again, with a jolt that never lessened, how easily he might have been the one mourning a loved one on this bitter one-year anniversary.
What if Jim had been one of New York's finest instead of Cascade's? Without a doubt, Jim would have been there that day, right in the thick of the action, using his senses, his innate strength, and his courage to save others.
What if Jim had chosen New York when he left the military?
What if... ?
Oh, God, it could so easily have been Jim.
Blair's heart broke again, as it had countless times since that day. Even after a year, he felt the pain almost as sharply as he had hours after the tragedy. His empathy for the families and friends of the victims swelled within him, and he wondered desperately how he would have survived.
How were they surviving? He remembered the photos he'd seen of the children born since their fathers' deaths that day... the brave faces of the mothers left behind to raise their children, alone with their love and their memories. Mothers and fathers... brothers and sisters... friends and loved ones, left with only their memories of what was and the painful shadows of what might have been.
Blair's face crumpled in pain, and blindly, he reached out for Jim. The sentinel's strong arm wrapped around his shoulder, drawing Blair close to his side. Blair slipped his arm around Jim's waist, grateful for the physical and emotional support. They stood in silence that way for over an hour, looking out at the lights of their city, so blessedly peaceful, as the rain finally slackened to a drizzle, then completely ceased.
When it had stopped completely, the clock in the belfry of the nearby church had already chimed eleven o'clock. Blair looked up at Jim, his unspoken question bright in his eyes; the older man nodded grimly. Blair moved into the loft and picked up a white box, bringing it carefully out onto the balcony.
Setting the box down on a chair, Blair began removing small objects and settling them reverently about on the balcony - on the railing, the chairs, the floor, tables - everywhere there was a bare spot. Jim stood silently by, the sentinel watching his guide, seemingly understanding that this was something Blair needed to do alone.
When he was done, Blair joined Jim in the center of the balcony. This time, it was the guide who signaled the sentinel to begin.
Jim raised the black notebook. His voice was deeper than normal, husky with the emotion Blair knew his friend was fighting to contain.
"Members of the NYPD who gave their lives in the performance of their duty, September 11, 2001..." He paused between each name as Blair lighted a candle, one candle for every police officer who died that day, one year before.
Sgt. John Gerard Coughlin
Sgt. Michael S. Curtin
Sgt. Rodney C. Gillis
Sgt. Timothy Alan Roy, Sr.
Det. Claude Daniel Richards
Det. Joseph Vincent Vigiano
Jerome Mark Patrick Dominguez
Stephen Patrick Driscoll
Mark Joseph Ellis
Robert Fazio, Jr.
Ronald Philip Kloepfer
Thomas Michael Langone
James Patrick Leahy
Brian Grady McDonnell
John William Perry
Glen Kerrin Pettit
Moira Ann Smith
Santos Valentin, Jr.
Walter Edward Weaver
Jim hesitated several times as his voice faltered, and twice, he had to stop reading altogether. Each time, he brushed at his eyes with his sleeve, then with a look of absolute resolve on his face, Jim continued reading his part of the tribute.
"The Fire Department of New York City lost a total of 343 firefighters and their chaplain. We cannot light individual candles for each here tonight, although every one deserves their own eternal flame to honor of their heroism. Instead, we honor each unit and the members it lost."
Again, as Jim read, Blair lighted a flame. Each light added to the flickering glow now encompassing the small balcony.
"Twenty-three chiefs, including the chief of department, the first deputy commissioner, two assistant chiefs, and nineteen battalion chiefs."
A single candle joined the glow...
"Chaplain Mychal F. Judge... "
"Fire Marshall Ronald Paul Bucca... "
"Engine Company 320...235...10...26...21...214...230..."
"Twenty-two captains... "
"Battalion 57...Battalion 8...Battalion 9...Battalion 50...Battalion 6...Squad 1..."
"Forty-six lieutenants... "
"Battalion 2...Battalion 49...Battalion 7...Battalion 11...Ladder Companies 24...3...105...35...20...13...2...7..."
"Two paramedics... "
"Rescue unit 4...Special Operations... "
"Two hundred fifty-one firefighters... two hundred fifty-one... "
"Division 15...Squad 1...Ladder 24...Ladder 3...Ladder 105...Ladder 35...Ladder 20...Ladder 13...Ladder 2...Ladder 7..."
More and more candles, determined and bright, as Jim read on and on...
Jim's voice broke on the final words as he bowed his head, eyes closed, a single, escaped tear trailing down his cheek.
Blair moved to his side and rested his hand on the small of Jim's back, lending what small comfort he could. There were no words adequate to offer. Taking the notebook from his friend's unsteady hands, ignoring the slight tremors in his own, Blair began to read.
"What we offer tonight isn't much, in the grand scheme of things, but it is our memorial, a testimony to the courage and the honor and the dedication to duty of all the men and women who offered their lives that day to save others. If you asked each of these police officers and firefighters before September 11, 2001, if they were heroes, without a doubt, each of them would have denied the title. They were ordinary Americans, just doing their jobs."
"Yet, when all hell broke loose on the streets of New York that day one year ago, each one plunged headlong into the inferno without hesitation. Yes, they were undoubtedly afraid, but isn't that the true definition of courage - to be afraid, but to go ahead and do what you have to do anyway? If so, then these men and women were the epitome of courage."
"I can't imagine what I would have done that day, if I had been there. I like to think I know, but I'm not sure. I want to think that I would have been just as willing to help as they were, just as courageous. Maybe... " Blair glanced up at Jim, knowing in his heart what the sentinel would have done. He let his gaze wander back to the array of light surrounding them.
"As it is, the best tribute we can offer those who gave all is to live our lives to the utmost, to be an example to their children, to our children, to our friends and neighbors and to the world, of what it is to be an American. To live with courage. To refuse to allow fear to stand in the way of living, regardless of what happens tomorrow. I ask for the strength to do just that. May each of us find that strength within ourselves."
Leaning closer to Jim, Blair pressed his shoulder against his friend's arm, then tilted his head to rest on Jim's hard bicep. A soft voice whispered from above him, "Amen, Chief. Amen."
The clouds parted overhead, revealing a canopy of stars scattered like diamonds across the heavens. Above, those thousands of stars twinkled brilliantly, while all around them, the flames of dozens of candles flickered and danced in the night air.
From the distance came the sound of pealing bells. It was midnight, and all over Cascade, church bells were ringing in memory of the heroes of 9/11. Their tones rose in a choir of chimes, low, sonorous basses supported the melodious trebles, while the resonant altos chanted on.
It was a long, difficult year... a year of sorrow and regret... a year that saw dreams destroyed while a nation's innocence was lost. Yet, through it all, the music still sang, the chimes still rang, and friendships and love endured.
We have survived the first year, and the flames still burn.
Our spirits still soar.
Author's Note: I obtained the list of NYPD and NYFD casualties from the web address below. To see the complete list of the victims, including those who worked in or were visiting the Towers, go to:
I could not list all names or even all the names and numbers of companies, battalions, and units who lost members on 9/11. Please accept my assurances that in the names and numbers listed, I was honoring them all.
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