A long time ago last week is when it happened. Evil, masquerading as terrorists, slammed two airplanes into the Twin Towers, changing our lives forever. Some more than others were profoundly altered that day. You can count me in that group of those profoundly changed.
Working at our local fire department on September 11, 2001, I will never forget what happened and how it changed me and the other nineteen firefighters in a small training room. Stories about 9/11 should’ve been written last week, but there is a reason why this one wasn’t. It had to be written a week later, and the reason is below. Have I written about this topic before? Yes, but no.
Twenty firefighters from three firehouses across the county had all converged at the central station for what we called “In Service.” The training consisted of a make-believe tabletop exercise, followed by staged outdoor drills.
Our day had just started when the fire chief walked into the room and, without a word, cut on the TV. Such things had never happened before: the Chief attending in service training and the TV being cut on during the daytime.
As he sat down, my attention was drawn to the rapidly changing news coverage; a plane had just hit one of the Twin Towers. Our make-believe tabletop exercise quickly turned into a real-life scenario of how to rescue survivors and how to fight a fire when a plane crashes into the 93rd floor of a skyscraper. It was the impossible unfolding right in front of us.
Quickly the discussion grew louder and louder, that is until the second plane hit. Then, all twenty firefighters and the chief were silenced. That’s when I started to cry, and as I looked around the room, most of the other fire fighters were also.
We knew what the public didn’t know yet. Both buildings were going to fail under the tremendous heat load, and they would soon crumble to the ground. There was going to be massive loss of life. To be honest, I don’t really remember all the stories from the rest of that day.
Sure, I continued watching the news coverage, but I was all tangled up in blue — trying, somehow, to deal with what had just happened. True evil, masquerading as terrorists, had and was, going to affect those in the Twin Towers, their families, and everyone who was watching for the rest of their lives. It was simply too much for me to take in. I felt myself being pulled down into a deep, dark well of despair with no way out.
Last week twenty years ago, I saw pure evil on display. But for me, it was just yesterday. There are certain events in people’s lives that change them. The death of a family member or close friend, marriage, divorce, or the birth of a child. Like for so many, the ground moved under my feet that day. On the day the buildings came tumbling down, something was awakened inside of me — changing me forever.
Eventually making it home that afternoon, I sat down in a chair and started to write about how it felt being a firefighter and working when the planes hit the Twin Towers.
At first it was a coping mechanism — trying to deal with the horrific events of the day. But after that first story was finished, I didn’t get up from my desk. I wrote another. Suddenly writing had turned into something much more than a psychological strategy to cope with stress.
I realized I could express myself like I had never been able to before. From that deep well of sadness, a bucket was slowly lowered as I continued to strike the keys. I thought back on the time when I was the happiest. When I wasn’t yet aware of the evil in the world.
I thought about those seven magical years growing up on Flamingo Street with my three brothers, The Sister, and my mom and dad. The sadness went away. My bucket was now overflowing with happy thoughts as it, and I, were pulled back up out of that darkness, back up into the light.
Once I wrote about Evil, masquerading as terrorists, slamming two airplanes into the Twin Towers, but only once. I was able to climb out of that deep well of sadness by way of writing. I will always be thankful of that and the opportunity the editor of this paper gave me to express myself on that day. Today marks the twentieth anniversary of this weekly column. It was one week after 9/11 that my first story was published. That’s why I waited until today to write this story.
I know there is evil in the world, but there’s no room in my bucket to think about it. My bucket is still full of happy thoughts of being a kid growing up back on Flamingo Street, family, and all the good still in the world around us. And those are the topics I write about each week.
Hopefully, if you find yourself in a dark place, one of them will help pull you back into the light. There is still enough happiness in this world to fill everybody’s bucket.
[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001. And it has been the privilege of The Citizen to share Rick’s stories with our readers.]