9/11 firefighter went in without delay

At his kitchen counter, Tim Harrigan flipped through the yellowing, plastic pages of the scrapbook. Part is pictures he took at ground zero. The other part, clips of Newsday articles about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Ten years ago, he put the book together for his kids.
“I didn’t know how long I was going to be around,” he said. He didn’t know if he’d get to tell them his story.
The 46-year-old husband, father of four and retired New York Fire Department lieutenant is tall and built, composed and matter-of-fact. He paused between pages. Until recently, the book had been in his attic.
“It’s enough that it’s on your mind all the time,” he said.
He pointed at a picture of a void in the rubble of the World Trade Center’s south tower.
“We rescued somebody out of this hole,” he said.
He turned the page and pointed at another.
“That’s where we were when Tower 7 collapsed.”

 Click here to read the rest of the story, which I wrote for the Tampa Bay Times and originally printed Sept. 11, 2011.

Through smoke.

Every year around 9/11, memories and commercials rope me into watching a show (or two) that documents the attack.

I could never forget what I saw while it unfolded on live television. I could never forget half my tiny high school huddled in silence in the boys’ locker room — the only room where we could find a TV.

But watching footage years later, and interviews with the people who were there — and even interviewing people who survived — keeps it real. It keeps it from fading into memory so distant it stops reminding me how to love.

So last weekend, when National Geographic aired a couple of documentaries, I watched. Every story moved me.

Like the wives whose husbands called from airplanes and the businessman in his young 20s who lost his life going up and down flights and flights of stairs so he could save the lives of men and women several years his senior.

And the Muslim man who hit the ground, forced into falling by the power of the smoke and ash that swiveled around street corners after each tower collapsed. From the concrete, he couldn’t see anything. He couldn’t get up. He probably thought he would die there.

The smoke near his face started to clear. He could see a man — clearly a hasidic Jewish one, with curly sideburns and a yarmulke on his head. The stranger reached toward the Muslim man, through smoke.

“Come on, brother.” he said. “Let’s get out of here!”

That, the Muslim man said, is the last thing he expected to hear. This Jewish stranger was the last person he expected might save him. But he grabbed his hand, shot up from the ground and the pair ran together. Eventually, they lost each other in the crowd. They never saw each other again.

So much of what happened between them reminds me of how we’re to love.

How tempting it is while our world crashes down around us to work our own way out, to secure our own safety, while ignoring the ones around us who need our help.

How typical in this culture to ignore the ones around us, even while our world is in completely intact.

Love your neighbor (and your enemies). Even through smoke.