The Proof In Our Existence


Firefighters Todd Heaney and Frankie DiLeo, of Engine 209, c

People are inherently good.

We’re raised to believe this concept from the time we’re old enough to get bored during liturgy and choose sides on the playground. Most kids aren’t concerned with empirical validation when the freedoms they hold most dear are threatened; yanno, stuff like playtime and dessert.

Then there was me.

I questioned everything, no matter how convincing the adults were at selling the points. I wanted to believe people were generally good, but I had myriad reasons to be skeptical. Adding to my distrust of the status quo was the fact that I read, a lot. And I observed, everything.

So it was that I questioned the cross stitched tenets of a happy life, which mandated that you go to school, score a good job and get married. Societal conventions read like a manual, and I knew that spiritual complications navigated through so much more than a simple set of instructions.

In my cross examination, I wondered how it was that Walt Disney and Henry Ford were able to strike it rich since they’d been dropouts. And I argued that Oscar Wilde wrote quite well while being mostly unemployed. And of course I had to ask why it was that marriage was such a great idea when the happiest adult I knew was our family friend George, who I pointed out, wasn’t married.

Questioning the way things had always been was usually met with censure. I was told to shut up, or to finish eating my dinner, or to go to my room. Some kids might have been deterred, but I knew I was onto something.

When I got older I began adding some patina to my simple ideas with Locke and Hobbes and liberal high school girls who wore berets and questioned everything. I struggled mightily with ghosts and found odd comfort in the idea that most people were inherently good, but also selfish. It was comforting because these qualities were intuitive and human and real. The vulnerability of these qualities guaranteed complications, which helped to explain why the best laid plans of school, work and marriage often took a hard right turn at Topeka and sometimes, they never made it back from that stretch of yellow brick road.

It was October of 2001 when I was re-introduced to the question in a pub in New York City. It was closing in on one month since the terror attacks in Washington, New York and Pennsylvania. The rubble at Ground Zero was still on fire and the inhalation of toxic smoke and ash was a much bigger issue than the news outlets were letting on. That’s what brought our small band of volunteers together. Some doctors had helped put together a free clinic for first responders at the Police Academy on East 20th Street and we were part of that effort.

When I think back on that time now, it doesn’t seem possible that seventeen years have come and gone. It feels much closer, because I can still summon that cornflower blanket of a sky that was busy going nowhere fast and taking the world along for the ride. And I can remember that juicy peach of a sun, ripe with best laid plans. And the air possessed the feeling of silk, and winter seemed likely to be canceled on account of the preponderance of this wonderful evidence.

Until the North Tower brought storm clouds and morning became night and the darkest reaches of the human heart strangled the dreams of an endless summer. After which the nation and the world had to try and put itself together again.

That’s what we talked about in the pub all the way back then. Our group weaving in and out of personal conversations, some of which spun larger before getting dismissed in accordance with the particular round of friendlies we were tossing back. And then, one of the volunteers pulled the table together when she confessed that her faith had been damn near shattered, irrevocably. She was sad, confused and downright pissed off at the thought that this hell on earth had extinguished all evidence of a higher power.

And that’s when I assured her she was looking at this horrible event in four evil acts, and forgetting the countless other selfless ones that followed. There were the first responders who rushed to the scene and gave their lives to save thousands more from getting lost inside those towers. There were the cops and firemen, EMT’s and doctors and nurses, and there were the ordinary citizens who rolled up their sleeves and got to work inside the desperate hours.

My take was simply this. God was there on that horrible day, in all those people who showed up and stayed put when we were getting our asses kicked hard from all corners with no end in sight. And when the darkness was unleashed and it felt as if we were at the doorstep to the end of the world, it was no longer a question of whether people were inherently good.

We found proof.

46 thoughts on “The Proof In Our Existence

    • Brooke,

      Thank you for that. I think writing about events such as this one are a struggle, because of the gravity. And I was always struck by the idea of God being there on this most horrible of days. Because His presence was everywhere in the aftermath, and I’ll never forget that for as long as I live.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. B,
    I read this on my phone when I woke up, made myself a coffee, got comfortable in my chair so I could re-read this beauty on the computer to savour every word.
    I can understand that in the very beginning, once the shock was faced, that a lot of anger came forth. I can understand the playing and replaying of the horrors happened as well as people attempted to come to grips with it all. Questions asked and doubt making its appearance and, like that woman, trying to grasp at her faith that she felt slipping through her fingers.
    And here you are, telling me that a mere month in, your group of volunteers managed to focus on the good. Because, like you, I believe (and have been told naively) that people are basically good. Even the evil ones once showed signs of good and if they didn’t then they are in a minority so small, we should never give them as much air time as we do.
    Only years after did all the beautiful stories of those who just felt compelled to help, no matter what, come out From the fishermen who helped bring people out of Manhattan, to the far-away province of Newfoundland who welcomed all those planes that could not land… THESE are the stories that should have been played in a loop…
    You have managed to bring a bright spot to this darkness, B. And I thank you for that.
    Beautifully done.

    Lotsa love,

    Liked by 1 person

    • Q,
      I was struck by how you, as I . . as every single person who remember that horrible day, recount the little things so easily. It’s like that part of our brains has this room, inside which the date resides. And it’s where everything feels as if it happened five minutes ago. Because inside that room, it feels that very way.
      And I remember you talking about those wonderful people who opened up their homes and their hearts in time of need. And I remember thinking how beautiful it was that you remember this, and why. Because it means something. Hell, it means everything. To fight back at the darkness. And you share the same sentiment as I regarding that day. We were two people in two very different places who shared the same mindset. We were knocked down hard. We were left to wonder what in the blessed fuck was going to happen next. We wondered how and why anyone would want to raise a child inside a world where this kind of horror could and does happen. And then we just said, fuck it. Fuck the idea that we’ll lose that way. Fuck the idea that hate will be met with more hate.
      We chose to find the best inside the very worst, because it’s what you do when you’re hanging on. You hold to what matters most of all.
      Peace and love to you, my wonderful and always there for me friend.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I know we cannot be alone in this type of thinking. Sometimes it sure seems that way, though.
        Don’t make no difference to me ‘coz I will still choose to take the high road, so to speak. To seek out the positive in this crazy world we live in.
        Not only do we hang on, we strive for better.
        Peace and love to you, right back.

        Liked by 1 person

        • There are so many lessons in which the existence of light can provide the necessary antidote to the darkness. Imma send you a video (with explanation in the event that you need to search for it), that always humbles me.
          The low road takes us into the valleys, but the high road is where we find those peaks. And man, I’m always gonna want to know those peaks.

          Liked by 1 person

          • You would’ve fit in perfectly in that group of volunteers. Because when we first ventured up there, we were inundated with color coded charts that were telling everyone another attack was imminent. We were just a little taken aback and wondering what in the hell we were going to do if we ended up in the middle of another horrible event. I wondered whether we’d be separated from our families if they shut down the cities.
            And then . . on the last day, we wanted to go to the Empire State Building because we were like “Fuck them!”. It was closed, because of the warnings. But that spirit, it prevailed.

            Liked by 1 person

          • I dunno that I would have been the type to join in the fray at that time of my life. Then again, had I been closer, who knows?
            It must have been terrifying as well as exhilarating, so to speak…
            And yeah to that spirit!

            Liked by 1 person

          • I can tell you I wasn’t. I was SO wrapped up in my own world, but for a health scare that really brought me down to earth. And then this horrible event. I think I needed to teach myself a lesson in perspective, and what better way than getting right into the middle of things?
            It was both of those things, yes! I don’t remember a day when I didn’t cry my eyes out several times. Hard cries. And I don’t remember a day where I didn’t hear stories that inspired me and taught me something. The city was so quiet and solemn and I likened it to the way the town feels after a big snow storm. Everything, every single thing, meant something.
            The spirit was so strong.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Not just anyone would have done so, B. Took courage and guts for you to go there.
            It must have been beyond overwhelming and for New York City to be silent… must have been awe-inspiring.
            Yes. The spirit is so very strong.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Lemme tell you, we learned courage and guts in the time we spent with those men and women in uniform. They thanked US for coming and we were like “You’re thanking US?! WE LOVE YOU GUYS!” And there were tears and hugs and stories. And wow.
            And no, you would’ve been our band leader.

            Liked by 1 person

          • They were right to thank you back. Because every single hand helped.
            And for sure if I had been there, I would have been all in 😉 Not so much as a leader, though..

            Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on A Dalectable Life and commented:
    On this 17th anniversary of a darker-than-dark day, I know that if I accidentally turn on the TV and it’s on a news channel, I will be bombarded with images of disaster, of planes hitting towers, of people running to and fro. Played in a loop. I won’t do that. Instead, I shall share this wonderful post by my friend Marc over at Sorryless because it is stories like these that I prefer to share.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I almost didn’t read this, because some events just seem to be poised to cause retributive thoughts. Not for me, but for people who choose to see others as evil and compound it with hate in return. But this is a beautifully redemptive tale and so well written that I stuck with it to the end. I don’t believe in god, but the universe is full of good; much of it can be found in human form.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. For me, the best part of this story is that you lived it. You were involved. You shared your thoughts and what you learned. Statements like “people are inherently good” or (what I say) “the majority of people in the world are good” do not mean ALL. There are exceptions – and those exceptions are easy to find. After all, that’s what you did in your younger days of questioning. Marc, a wonderful post for this occasion.

    Liked by 1 person

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