I have thought long and hard of the events of the last week and of the hearts broken, the lives thrown into despair, the shock and horror of it all. And I know that I, and most of you, will never be the same.
When I visited Ground Zero and walked through the ruins -- and they are ruins -- I was reminded of a poem I read in high school by Percy Shelley:
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things….
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains.”
I think of the monuments to greatness that we've built, the World Trade Center standing tall and proud. A symbol, to the architect who built it, of man's dedication to cooperation and world peace; yet in an evil moment, taken down, destroyed and nothing but this wasteland of mangled iron and acrid smoke remains. And yet, and yet, amidst the ruins I see a sea of humanity as I’ve never seen it before and out of my despair and great sadness and broken heart, I see men and women fighting, hoping, believing, caring, hanging on.
When faced with death, we learned how many cell phones rang, how many messages were phoned in. "I love you,” they said. "Remember that. I'll always love you." " Live your life," they said. "Remember that." I need to remember that. You need to remember that.
Eddie Aswad, one of New York's finest, a tough cop who rushed to the site to help, told me his story, a story to remember. As the second building was falling, he was pinned behind a pillar with debris piling up to his chest. Unable to breathe, unable to see, unable to move, he was choking and suffocating, and when he was certain that we was about to die all he could do was to repeat the names of his children in his mind, over and over again. As he was about to take his last breath, his partner struggled to reach for his gun and shot out the window behind them, miraculously saving their lives.
The next day, in pain and shock, he wandered through the dark and devastating site, covered in ash, and came upon a torn photo of a baby on the ground. This small photo, through all the violent fires and chaos, had endured. This was someone's child. He picked it up and placed it gently on a shelf. No one was there. No one would see it. But he had to. I understand and I hope you do too that that simple act was an act of defiance against this monumental act of evil. That small gesture was an act of nobility. In the ruins, in the ash, something does remain.
I will always remember that. I hope you do too.