Like so many others who lost friends when the towers fell on September 11, 2001, I thought of them constantly in the days and weeks that followed. Reporting for Fox5 in New York right before that fateful day, I shared on camera time with firefighters, sanitation workers, and Port Authority officers during live shots all over the city for the morning news. At least 4 of these extraordinary civil servants I knew lost their lives that day. My FDNY buddy Kevin Hannafin lost his brother Tommy in the attack, and remarkably found and walked out of the rubble with his brother’s fire helmet in hand. He told me it was “the proudest day” of his life.
They say “time heals,” but I find it just puts feelings on hold, until something reminds us what’s still really going on inside. Each year on the anniversary of that horrific day, when the country takes a moment to remember, I feel what I am supposed to feel, and shut the door until the next day of remembrance. I worry that I am losing my connection with the victims I knew — and that maybe the horror of that day (and the lessons we learned from it) might be slipping out of my — and public — consciousness.
But last weekend, I got the message I needed to see — when I took a trip to Pepperdine University overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Malibu, California, where each year they honor the victims and emergency responders who died on 9/11, with a daunting display of 2977 flags poised on the school’s majestic hill.
There, amidst the tourists, the Boy Scouts and the biker dudes, I saw this little girl on her knees — praying, alone — with the most loving expression you could imagine on her face. At age 8, Lily May Schmidt wasn’t even born on 9/11/01. But there she was — kneeling — reflecting — on souls she said she “wanted to pray for.”
That simple image made me realize we haven’t forgotten. And we can count on the likes of Lily May Schmidt to keep us on track: conscious — and compassionate.