As Attorney General Andrew Cuomo once stated, “We were the capital of compassion.” It didn’t matter your station in life, it only mattered how great our city’s need was. If you could, you were on line at St. Vincent’s to give blood. If you could, you brought donations to the Javits Center. If you could, you volunteered for the rescue effort at Ground Zero. The world’s image of New Yorkers as brassy and self-interested did not exactly jibe with the outpouring of support that went out from all quarters in those days. That city-wide effort – whether on a grand scale or a small one – showed even the most insular of New Yorkers doing their part to help cushion the blow somehow, even if for a moment.
With the faces of the missing everywhere, each one of us were participants in a massive, but collective, grieving process. Help was seemingly everywhere, and then sometimes nowhere. For a society that still has little idea of how to properly grieve, we did our very best at the time – we left flowers, we drew placards, we held hands, we lit candles. It could have been any of us that day. And when you suffer a tragedy that strikes down nearly 3000 people at once, it goes without saying that there’s not a one among us who doesn’t know someone who was there.
If we learned anything on 9/11, it’s exactly how valiant, how dedicated, our police, our firefighters are, and how far they will go to protect us. In the aftermath of such horrific loss, we saw fit to honor them in a way that unfortunately we’d never quite been brought to understand before. Perhaps we took their essential roles in our society for granted. Clearly, though, we will never look at cops and firefighters the way we once did. After far too many funerals for one day’s work, we learned that not only were they put on this earth to protect us... but in fact, they are us. They fear, they love, they mourn, they rejoice. They are our city’s soldiers – and they are heroes simply for going to work every day, and for the commitment, dedication and self-sacrifice that they bring to that work. We still ought to be tipping our caps to them, and as often as we can.
Sure, we always knew it, but was it ever more clear than on 9/11 that our city is made up five boroughs? Brooklyn and Queens and Staten Island and the Bronx rushed over bridges and through tunnels to save Manhattan – to save New Yorkers, to save foreigners. No longer could any of us, no longer could the world for that matter, think of New York as simply Manhattan. For all to see, our city became a testament to its diversity, a dedicated working class made up of hard-working citizens from all walks of life, from all ethnic backgrounds, from all faiths. It was the most laser-sharp kind of census imaginable, and one which hopefully has left an indelible impression upon us, as we cope with/embrace constant change in our ongoing struggle to create the city’s future.
Who knows how safe we are from another terror attack? Only the terrorists themselves can really know for sure. No doubt our new President’s already been presented with a number of eye-openers since his arrival at the White House. The point is, though, with our nation already growing accustomed to the extra vigilance, and our habitually increased security presence, it seems that the corollary effect just might be that we’re actually safer from all the other crimes likely to be visited upon us. Our streets and our subway platforms seem less solitary and forbidding, our neighbors less self-centered, more engaging. Because if we see something, we say something. And so far, that seems to be rather a good thing. So far…
Take a trip downtown to the World Trade Center PATH Station and tell me you don’t see the seeds for the future growing slowly but surely. It’s almost as if, just beyond that last vestige of relative quiet that yet pervades the last footprints of the Twin Towers, this transportation hub is actually Ground Zero for our city’s renewal, too. The further we traverse from sacred ground, the more animated the populace becomes, the louder our surroundings, and life and work seem to begin again. Certainly we will never forget, but then again, as New Yorkers, don’t we always seem compelled not to be beaten, don’t we always seem compelled to emerge even stronger?
For all of the families who lost loved ones on 9/11, we continue to mourn with you, resolving as ever to lead the kinds of meaningful lives that the departed would have wanted for our citizenry, mindful every day of the values and principles that each and every one of them held so dear. And while your loss is great, the message of love and compassion that you’ve conveyed these eight years now is, by comparison, even greater. To this day, it still inspires us. And for that, we salute you, and promise yet again… that we will never forget.