Driving home the other day I heard Bruce Springsteen‘s song “The Rising.” I hadn’t heard it in years, so as I felt the goosebumps rise on my arms, I turned up the volume and tuned in my mind to listen.
As the song played, I was transported back in time not only to September 11, 2001, but also to the time I spent as in-house counsel at a small, privately-held company in Boston. I was the first in-house attorney for the growing company, and I came on board just as they were finishing construction on their world headquarters. The owner of the company is a megalomanic (I’ll call him Mr. Mega), and although notoriously difficult and demanding of his employees, Mr. Mega insisted that his employees have a pleasing environment in which to toil in accordance with his fervor. If we were going to drink his Kool-Aid, he wanted us to be comfortable doing it.
The entire floor of the building therefore had a built in stereo-system. Nothing unusual, you think, but this was not a run-of-the- mill system. We didn’t get Muzak or satellite radio. No, we got to choose our music. Every employee was encouraged to submit their own suggestions to the Music Czar (yes, Mr. Mega actually designated someone as such), and then the owner picked from the suggestions to have the music on a continuous loop. Being the company’s lawyer, I had to answer questions about possible copyright infringement, but as I explained to Mr. Mega, since the music was not being publicly disseminated for profit and was being played in much the same way that he doubtless played music in his own home, there were no concerns. Mr. Mega tried to have me put together a plan involving selling a compilation of the music under the company’s brand name, but when I started talking about licensing agreements and the amounts of money necessary to obtain permission to use some of the music, he opined that perhaps it wasn’t worth the effort. Well, duh.
Getting back to the music, one of the discs that made it into permanent rotation was The Rising. The September 11 attacks were still raw for many at this point in time, and each time I heard the eerie strains beginning, I had the same reaction. I saw Bruce Springsteen live in Boston in October 2002, and no matter how many times I heard the song, I still felt a chill as if I was standing on the floor in front of the stage watching Bruce and the E Street Band open the show with it. Goosebumps rose on my arms and shoulders, and a wave of emotion rolled from my core out and down my arms and legs. It felt vaguely religious. I would stop my work and lean over my desk on folded arms, head bowed until the feeling passed.
As I listened to the song in my car the other day, I was struck for the first time by the building of the song from recounting the desperate and ultimately fatal journey of a firefighter ascending into the hell of the World Trade Center towers, to a crescendo of transcendence. I could feel the longing for the family he left behind and his recognition of that being a human condition. Instead of focusing on the horrifying details of his ascendance to his death, and presumably to heaven, the afterlife, whatever you believe, I heard the longing. I felt his hope, because ultimately, all he has left in his longing is hope: hope grounded in the reality of everyday life. For the first time I listened to the song as not just celebrating a hero, but all of the heroes and the joy, the nobility, that comes from being what some might call a “regular” person: people who go to work every day, come home, eat dinner and the get up the next day to do it all over again. I call those people heroes because they simply live their lives and their greatness arises out of their very humanity.
On March 26, 2014, there was a fire in Boston that claimed the lives of two local firefighters. It was ultimately determined that sparks from welding at an adjacent building ignited the blaze. One of the firefighters was a husband and father of three, the other a former Marine who saw combat in Iraq and was a first responder who rushed to help when the bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon last year. Both heroes because they did their jobs: they rushed into a burning building to save the lives of others. It terrifies me and makes me cry to think of the children left fatherless, the widow, and the parents left behind, for both were young enough perhaps to have their parents still. I cannot imagine the grief, the consumption of their lives by fear and sadness in the wake of their deaths. Lieutenant Edward J. Walsh Jr. and Michael R. Kennedy were heroes, and I wish for their families to find some solace in that, despite knowing that will never be enough.
As we approach the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing, I worry about what this year will bring and I am angry. As a Boston native, I have always been along the marathon route somewhere on that day: at an uncle’s house in Hopkinton at the start of the race, standing on Commonwealth Avenue as the runners wind through Newton and struggle up Heartbreak Hill, standing along Route 135 as the runners fly through the straightway in Natick Center, and at the finish line on Boylston Street. I am angry that our way of watching the marathon has forever been changed, that the way of running the marathon has been forever changed. I am angry because even though I have never run the marathon, I was born in Boston and have lived here my entire life; this is MY city.
Last year on Marathon Monday I was safely home in my kitchen drinking coffee with a friend, having returned from our sojourn to Natick Center, but my older step-daughter was running and was less than a half-mile from the finish line when the bombs went off. Fortunately, by the time my younger step-daughter reached her mother via cell phone, the #1 daughter had been found and was safe. She never got to make the turn onto Hereford Street. She was safe.
I wish for all first responders and their families safety and peace. I wish for faster and better technological advances in firefighting equipment and safety processes so that no more lives need be lost. I wish for peace and tolerance of our human differences so that there are no more days like September 11, 2001 or April 15, 2013. Most of all, I wish for the frailty of the human body to be eclipsed by the strength and resilience of the human spirit.