First thing he said was, “It’s a good day, pal.”
Louie is an extraordinary guy, and an average one at the same time. Average in that he immigrated here from Italy as a youngster, and made a life, as many have done. Extraordinary in his decency, humanity and good will. On 911 all those years ago, he took extraordinary to another level.
Trapped in a smoky stairwell, he slipped and slid down railings, past hundreds of terrified people, to reach a door leading to the lobby of the still standing tower. It was jammed. The lobby was filled with debris from the already collapsed tower. He called for some big guys to help him wedge the door open, and told people to follow his light. There’s no way to tell how many people he saved that day.
Racing against what everyone knew was about to happen, they headed towards West. St. The tower came down. Louie was engulfed in suffocating ash. He had no oxygen tank. As many firefighters did that day, he’d ditched his to get lighter. In the blinding soot and smoke, he stumbled and his hands found, as he put it, “a miracle thing.” Another oxygen tank, abandoned by a firefighter. He clapped it to his face. He estimates he had a couple minutes left.
The news wires are buzzing, of course. Reactions range from flag waiving happiness, to cautionary reminders about the future and the complex world we live in. A murdering, soulless bastard is gone, but time and history have proved there may be more in the wings. Certainly, for the armed forces, who routinely stare down the most harrowing situations, there’s a sense of a job done, and done well.
I guess I’m thinking about all this, a lot, partly because of the news, and partly because I’ve reconnected lately with many folks I photographed right after 911. There’s a wonderful sense of the positive with all concerned. There’s the healing of time, and the staying power of life ongoing, of watching kids grow, of having another dinner at the firehouse, another run, another day. I was with Danny Foley this past weekend, who continues to fight fires from the Rescue 3 company in the Bronx. His brother Tommy was also with Rescue 3 and was lost on 911. Every day on the job, he straps Tommy’s mass card to his helmet, and walks into another burning building.
Just doing some thinking this morning. Happy’s not the right word. Nor is elated, to be sure. Satisfaction? Hmmm…don’t think so. The new buildings down there are going up, but all those people are still gone. No undoing it.
Guess I’ll go with Louie. He said it, simple and direct. It was a good day. More tk….