Private investigation was my trade; a few in the industry call it sub Rosa. Silently and unconnected I sat in my car as I did most mornings. It had been steadily cooling for two weeks, but we were still at nearly 80 degrees in South Carolina. The humidity was an uninvited hitchhiker. The reality of the job a far cry from Magnum P.I., watching and recording people through my heavily tinted windows and doing a lot of nothing was a fairly standard Tuesday for me. I was "offline" as the radio wasn't on. Smart-phones were already a thing, but I was years from owning one.
"What will be the excitement today?" I wondered. Will the subject of my inquiry check the mail or perhaps go to the grocery store? The adrenaline will course through my veins if that pickup truck leaves the house and my non-descript sedan will pull out discreetly behind him. It is a far cry from the car chases I dreamt of as a child after watching too many episodes of the Dukes of Hazzard, but the jobs we do rarely match the wishes we had for that imaginary future when "I grow up." I always wanted to be a fireman. If I could don that jacket, those boots, that helmet and the shiny badge how exciting my life would be. How much more thrilling my days could be if I lived in a big city and battled the blazes! I didn't know what the hell I was talking about. The reality of a fireman's job is as foreign to me as that of a P.I. is to most of you. The dream doesn't match the reality, the emotions are not what we think and the inner workings of a hero are not so apparent in the movies. The daily weight of leaving one's own family in order to protect others they don't know must be crushing and only tolerable to those with the strongest sense of duty and desire to be there when and where it counts the most. Be it cliché or not, I salute them all.
I had not yet met my wife and my children were not even a twinkle in my eye. At 24, I knew little of the world but thought I knew it all. All that changed when my flip phone rang out and I learned that I didn't know much at all. My boss was on the line and asked if I was listening to the radio. I responded I had not been and he, in a tone of disbelief, told me what was going on. I don't have to tell you anything but the date. September 11th, 2001. The heroes of 9/11 weren't fantasizing about the glory they would receive and I'm sure more than a few had no misgivings about their chances of surviving as they ran up unending stairs to a hell of fuel, blood, smoke, cries and fire. I wished with all my heart that all those first responders in NYC were having a boring day. My wishes changed nothing.
I rushed home to be with my loved ones and watched in shock as the images of fire, panic and destruction were replayed ad nauseam. I sat, eyes glued to the images for the remainder of the day and spent much more time eyeing the news over the weeks to come than I had before. I reflected on my normal day prior to the news and wondered how many other times I was bored and daydreaming while someone else fought for their life or risked their own to save another. That September day changed so much in the way I think and perceive the world and others. It changed how I look at myself. I conducted a private investigation of my own heart and took stock of my life. I cried for the people suffering, the people dying, their friends and families and I cried for myself and the children I would one day raise and those many of the heroes would not. Sub Rosa in Latin means literally, "under the rose" and I think of it whenever I see a blood red bloom placed upon one of the graves or memorials from that day. I will never forget.
A great rendition of a fitting Tom Waits song.