I woke up this morning at 4:55AM. I don’t remember hitting the snooze, but I did. When the alarm sounded again at 5:00AM, I shot out of the bed immediately, realizing I hadn’t left myself too much time to get dressed and out the door.
At 5:15AM, I pulled into the lot at Carter-Finley Stadium where the North Carolina State University football team plays on Saturdays. Although, they won’t play there this Saturday. They won’t play because the game has been cancelled. It’s been cancelled because there is a Category 4 hurricane named Florence barreling toward North Carolina.
As I arrived to Carter-Finley, I saw a mass of men. Way more than I had anticipated, to be honest. They were milling about, stretching their calf muscles, small-talking and cutting up. I scanned the crowd for a few familiar faces – there were plenty – and eventually made my way down toward the gates leading into the stadium. A buddy was backing his truck up to the gate and I decided to help offload the cargo. He opened the door to reveal eight large and well-coiled firehoses, each weighing around 30 pounds.
A few minutes later, the mob of men gathered inside the gates and were serenaded by a lone trumpeter playing our national anthem. After the final note sounded, we were introduced to a man who had been nicknamed “Preacher Man”, and he shared what 9/11 meant to him. He is a retired police officer who spent over 30 years in the NYPD. He was in New York city that day. And he lost men and women he loved.
Minutes later, we began. Over one hundred men climbed 110 flights of stairs over the next 45 minutes. We did so in remembrance of the brave men and women who gave their lives climbing the stairs in the Twin Towers on this day 17 years ago. It was a somber experience, but so very powerful.
The notion of climbing 110 flights of stairs is daunting enough. But after climbing 80 or 90 floors it dawned on me that I only had to worry about myself. I was tired physically, but not overwhelmed. The firefighters, police, EMTs, et al, once they got to the top, they had to carry others down. I donned a 20 lb weight vest for about 20 floors this morning and that was more than enough for me. Imagine carrying down another person.
At some point during one of my descents, a GoPro was thrust into my face and I was being asked my thoughts on what we were doing. I had heard other guys talk about remembering the fallen, or personal stories from friends or family that had been affected. But in that moment, without time to think, all I could come up with was the memory of where I was on September 11, 2001.
I butchered the TMZ-style “interview”, but here’s what I was trying to refer to. Sitting in my computer technology class, I was watching the teacher’s computer screen via projector and trying to keep up with what she was doing on my own computer. I was a freshman in high school and wanted to be asleep. The teacher’s phone rang and she immediately switched the projector feed from her screen over to CNN. We watched the second plane hit a few minutes later.
Reflecting on it this morning, the prevailing feeling about 9/11 was this: it was too distant from me. Think about it. I was in Westfield, Indiana, a small town in the middle of the country with no real significance to the world at large. New York City, even though it is in my country, it is still so far away from the cornfield I lived in. I didn’t know anyone in New York. Neither did anyone in my family or friend group. Not to mention, I was a freshman in high school. I’m not saying all freshmen in high school are like me, but at that time, I was generally only concerned with what I was having for lunch that afternoon. As aloof and detached as I was, I remember not being able to understand why someone would do this.
So I reflected on that. I stewed over it. Then I started to get angry about it. As a freshman, I wondered why this would happen. As an adult, it’s increasingly easy to be cynical about it. I now understand there are worldviews that differ from that of my own. Different people value different things. People have different beliefs, different ideas, different principles. It doesn’t make any of us right or wrong, it only makes us different. The part that stings is that those differences sometimes ultimately lead to days like September 11, 2001.
But they don’t have to.
Bottom line is this: we need each other, and the sooner we figure this out, the sooner we can learn to celebrate our differences.
This morning as we were climbing what seemed like a never-ending stairwell, I started asking guys who they were imagining was at the top. Who were they fighting for. Who were they trying to rescue. I asked these questions – one, because I’m corny like that – but two, because I wanted to motivate these guys. Now, I’m not sure they needed it, but I wanted to provide an extra push.
Remember that storm I was talking about earlier? Hurricane Florence? Well, she’s going to be a mean one. I have friends with properties along the coast and they are currently working feverishly to batten down the hatches. I went to my in-laws house last night to pick up their generator, just in case we lose power. Today at work, folks were sharing all sorts of tips and tricks for making sure you have enough water, batteries, gas, and of course, bread.
Yesterday afternoon, the same guys I climbed stairs with this morning started putting together a spreadsheet where each guy listed different tools, supplies, coolers, available rooms in their homes, etc., just in case one of us needed help clearing downed trees, or a place to sleep.
This morning at a football stadium in Raleigh, North Carolina, we had Catholics and Protestants, Muslims and Jews, Atheists and Agnostics all climbing, encouraging, helping, pushing, and loving one another. Of all the things that meant something to me this morning, that was the most important.
As this hurricane approaches and we prepare for the worst, I’m reminded of what happened in the streets of New York City that day 17 years ago. People, once again, saw each other as people. It didn’t matter the race, religion, creed, sect, or ethnicity. The only thing that mattered was survival. When this storm is finished wreaking havoc on our cities and towns over the next week, those categorizations again aren’t going to matter. Instead, once again, we will be able to see other people in the same way that we see ourselves. Human.
It’s hard to remember that we are all made the same way when life is going well. It often takes catastrophe for us to come together with those who are different from us. I hate that, but I also understand it. As sad as I am to admit it, I, too, am a part of the problem often times. However, even though the loudest voices want to point to our differences as reasons for hating each other, I personally believe that there is far more good in the world than that. Between social media and the daily news, hate is so visible. But love happens in the day-to-day, in the details of life, and we can be intentional to broadcast the good to drown out the hate.
As you remember 9/11 and as you anticipate the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, I want to share with you one of my core beliefs. Feel free to come to your own conclusions, but here’s what I believe: no matter what happens in life, when we start viewing each other as humans, we are able to come together, put aside our differences, and truly love one another. Because only then can we understand how badly we need each other.
That, to me, is real human nature. ♦
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