"Where Were You When?"
An earlier generation would often ask and answer the question above in relation to the Kennedy Assassination in 1963.
Now, as the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, I reflect on where I was when I was at home watching the early news and would remain there for the next four hours and more.
It truly does not seem possible that ten years have passed since arguably the most significant event in post-WW II history took place.
The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington and in the skies over Pennsylvania took the lives of more than 3,000 innocents and set the stage for the next decade and counting in international affairs, national security and anti terrorism planning.
In December of 2001, Our Lady of the Mountains Church invited two firefighters from the New York fire department (FDNY)to Whistler for some small respite from the anguish they were still experiencing every day on the job in Manhattan. Whistler Blackcomb set them up with all the pieces for their ski week. Blackcomb Aviation dropped them (and us) on top of Rainbow Mountain in three feet of powder -needless to say something they had never done in Brooklyn or the Bronx. Most importantly, the membership of "Whistler Fire" gained two new brothers - Lieutenant Doug Anderson and firefighter Jim Toelstedt.
In 2001, as the days and weeks rolled on after September 11, firefighters from around the world, including Whistler, felt an indefinable pull towards New York - some to participate in rescue efforts and others to honour the fallen and provide a shared offering of support for firefighters, police and the people of New York. Myself and two other Whistler Firefighters, felt that pull and heeded that call.
Firefighters Chris Nelson, Lance Brannigan and I did not necessarily have shared or even spoken reasons for going to New York that fall. We didn't discuss it much and we couldn't or didn't define the rationales. We just went.
The simple goal of our trips was to attend funerals of the found, memorials for the missing and to offer our individual support as well as the collective support of the Whistler community.
Firefighter funerals are always sad but stirring events, as brothers and sisters from far and wide are drawn to honour the fallen. You usually don't have to ask a firefighter for a hand up - it's already extended. In the aftermath of 9/11, these services were exponentially moving.
I remember attending the funeral for Lt. Charlie Hubbard of Engine Company # 5 up in Nanuet, N.Y. It was a Catholic service with strong, southern, spiritual offerings. There was singing and joy, tears and heartache as we remembered the father, the son, the husband, the brother and the firefighter. The family and FDNY membership were so grateful at our presence coming from so far away. It was a sign of things to come. Needless to say, for the entire five days while in New York, there were frequent unexpected, poignant moments seemingly around every corner from Central Park to Lincoln Center and up and down 5 th Avenue.