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The jolt will never fade

Sheila Flynn | Thursday, September 11, 2003

There is a store near Rockefeller Center that sells only FDNY paraphernalia. Long but narrow, it’s easy to miss – the small storefront is dwarfed by surrounding buildings. A glimpse of red through the glass, though, attracts passers-by, revealing a huge model fire engine on the display floor.

Manned by off-duty firefighters and other fire department employees, the store is a popular destination for class trips, which come for instructional sessions on fire safety. Proceeds are used to fund further education on the subject.

It’s a great little store, but I hadn’t visited it before Sept. 11, 2001. I don’t even know if it existed then; it probably did, but the first time I stepped through the doors was several months after the tragedy. I was on a gift-buying mission and reasoned that I might as well support the FDNY – like the rest of New York, I had a newfound respect and enthusiasm for the fire department. So I selected a few presents and, predictably, didn’t make it out without buying something for myself.

The all-girls high school graduate showing through, I bought a calendar  – featuring one firefighter per month. I threw it in with my other purchases, went home and promptly forgot about it for over a year.

I rediscovered the calendar over the summer while rummaging through the disaster piled atop my desk. Removing the plastic wrapping, I leafed through the pages. Each firefighter was pictured at a different location in New York City, and they were quoted about their futures, the fire department and the calendar.

It was only on my second look that I noticed the purple ribbons.

Along the perimeters of several photographs were small purple ribbon graphics, somewhat blended into the background. Reading the blurbs more carefully, I realized that, on these pages, many quotes were from mothers or relatives. The firefighters had posed for the calendar before Sept. 11, and some died that day trying to save others.

Looking at those men – who had no knowledge, smiling for the camera, of the fatal disaster to come – made all the horror of Sept. 11 rush back to me. I hadn’t thought about it in a while. I’d avoided remembering the needless deaths and the terrifying nightmare into which a normal day had turned. I’m from New York. I work in the city. That could have been me. The firefighters‚ smiles and the contrasting ribbons reminded me of how many ordinary people were taken that day – how many lives were abruptly and violently ended.

I closed the calendar and knew that the shock will always be there. Every time I see a picture of a victim and then think of the gaping hole downtown, I’ll get a jolt. Now, when I pass the FDNY store, I pay silent respects, not just to the firefighters lost but to policemen, civilians . . . everyone. It may not be pleasant – the inability to forget – but it’s necessary. Two years have passed, but we cannot remove ourselves from what happened to our country, our neighbors and our world in general. The jolt is good; we need to remember, be vigilant and do all we can do eliminate the global circumstances that made such atrocities possible.