“… as we listen to the mournful strains of bag pipe’s, and proclamations of Mayor’s past and present… I watch again in rapt silence for Michael’s name to scroll across the screen with 3,000 others…” ~Jack Costantino, Pres. TFU~
Years ago I recall my knees folding as I lowered involuntarily and without regard to others engaged in their own moment of sorrow; my trembling fingers grazed the names of fallen friends carved in the eternal granite of the Vietnam War memorial; my tears joining the silent river of sorrow and loss perpetually flowing at that site.
In 2005, after 10 years of development and construction, the Holocaust History Memorial Museum opened at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem memorial. Although leaders from 40 nations attended, others maintain to this day that the loss of six million is a cleverly contrived Zionist hoax. To me, the blue tattoo on the underside of the left forearm of my Father’s wife, Eva, is indelible evidence of the reality. So is the loss of all in her family who did not leave Auschwitz with her.
To this date a favorite Cousin, living in Israel, whose soldier Husband, a victim of a Palestinian sniper, has never visited the Museum. Perhaps the fear of her own sorrow prevents her from encountering the images, already playing in the horror movie in her mind. It’s astounding to me that this loving and genuine person was harshly criticized by some when offering her Husband’s transplanted heart to save the life of a Palestinian patient at the hospital where he died.
During a recent visit to Kyoto, Japan, our good friend and host Kazuko, volunteered to accompany us on a trip to Hiroshima. As we road the smooth and respectfully silent rails of the sleek bullet train, Kazuko demonstrated her skills with Origami. She folded paper cranes, a symbol of peace, of all sizes from the paper scraps of our onboard lunch. As we entered the city, we passed the Monument of shredded remains of a building torn apart by one of two Atomic bombs dropped in August, 1945, effectively ending the 2nd World War.
Directly across from the Hiroshima Memorial Museum we passed an enclosed display of thousands origami paper cranes hung on vertical threads like stilled teardrops. The cranes were folded by young students from around the country as a tribute to those who perished. Although she has guided many to the site, to this date Kazuko has never entered the Museum. She was not born at the time of the bombing. But her Mother was. A more gentle soul than the woman we refer to as Momma-San is hard to find.
In the early 70’s a young man named Michael worked with me summers as a carpenter’s helper. He was a tall happy kid with a smile so wide it competed for space with his earlobes. He worked hard, and without complaint. Every summer day while other classmates took the summer off, he showed up on time and provided the rest of us with his special brand of relaxed good humor. When Michael was in your space, you smiled also…without effort, reason or rationale. His spirit was infectious.
Today…as we listen to the mournful strains of bag pipe’s, and proclamations of Mayor’s past and present…I watch again in rapt silence for Michael’s name to scroll across the screen with 3,000 others.
As a fireman and first responder to the World Trade Center attack, Michael rushed forward as others on the edge of sanity, prudently did their best to gain distance from this unimaginable disaster. He died in a staircase with members of his battalion; heroes all, intent on ensuring others that rescue was possible and in play.
Now, a new tower rises defiantly in the previously occupied space. The memorial pools reflect the new edifice while murmuring the omnipresent hush and whisper of all who perished, along with the commentary of a collective national spirit which can be bent but not broken.
As in all wars, the real and lasting effect is born on the shoulders and psyche of its people. The damaged innocent victims of war’s, decided on, and engaged by leaders in rooms we will never enter are routinely thrown over the shoulder of paraphrase as collateral damage. But the the survivors carry the memory and horror of these events across ever spreading generations of those who follow. Although I admit I would bear arms against any threat to my children and family, I don’t believe in war as a permanent solution to the issues they represent. After living through too many wars in my 70 years, beginning with WW2, it appears to me, that the end of wars is merely a temporary cessation of hostility, while the vanquished rearm and renew their dedication and determination to fight again another day.
In between, we will memorialize and create monumental spaces to contemplate and revisit these events. I’m not sure at this moment that I will be able to muster the strength to visit the ground zero museum. I believe I will see it all in vivid reality for the rest of my life.
Thank you Michael, for your impossibly broad smile and heroism.