Thirteen years ago, I loaded my precious cargo into the car, turned on the radio, and heard the words, "Smoke is pouring out of one of the World Trade Center towers." I ran into the house, told my husband to turn on the tv, and got back into the car. As I drove, I listened to an NPR reporter who was on the streets of New York City. I listened as the second airplane hit. As I pulled into a parking space in front of the fire station, the first tower fell. Upon entering the fire station, I wasn't sure what to say first - to wish my sister a happy birthday or to break the news in case she hadn't heard. That's when I noticed the tv in the office and the firefighters gathered around it. Approaching the fire fighters, I was assured that our fire station field trip would continue as scheduled.
As our group of adults, toddlers and preschoolers explored the fire station, learned about the different types of fire trucks, the firefighter's gear, and watched the firefighters slide down the fire pole, the parents were kept abreast of the tragic situation calmly and quietly by the firefighters who had gathered, on duty or off. We were thanked profusely for continuing with our field trip. We thanked the firefighters for their hospitality - for allowing our visit amidst tragedy and chaos.
One firefighter took me aside that day and put things in perspective. Hundreds of emergency workers had responded to the towers. Many had surely died. That morning the firefighters at the fire station in downtown Naugatuck, CT were provided with a greatly needed reminder - of laughter, excitement, amazement, joy - of LIFE itself. A dozen or so little smiling faces, oblivious to violence, terrorism, and the horrors of the world. Innocence - the very thing they needed to witness to help counteract the horrific images embedded so quickly and permanently in their memories.
In the weeks to come, many people were declared heroes, and rightfully so - the emergency workers who went into the towers and never came out; the people on the airplane that took action to try to help save lives; the many that searched through the rubble for survivors. For me that day, there were more heroes. Heroes who sheltered the innocent and showed them a wonderful time while keeping their parents quietly informed. Heroes who scampered about a fire station, asking questions, climbing on trucks, and delighting in ringing the bell - bringing smiles to faces that would spend the following days, weeks, perhaps months in tears.
Today I celebrate this special bunch of heroes.