““Spirits in the Sky”
Ghosts, they said. And if you listened closely, you could almost hear them, calling and crying and whispering in the night. Eye-witness accounts that were amazingly similar from any New Yorker who saw
them arrive. It happened on March 11th, 2002, the six-month anniversary of the terrorists’ attacks. After six months of sorrow, twin columns of light rose up like a spectral phoenix from the ashes
of Ground Zero. They were meant as a half-year memorial to those who either lost or gave their lives on September llth, a tribute to the dedicated workers’ crews who worked through the winter, the dark,
and the relentless heartbreak with their recovery efforts.
For anyone who saw them, the lights were as eerie as they were beautiful - filmy blue
beacons that were almost ghostlike, ascending the heavens in lines as strong and clean as the World Trade Center once was. Their effect on those who witnessed them was hypnotic. It didn’t matter
what the vantage point was, whether from Liberty Street or Broadway, from the West Side Highway at Battery Park or even further- on Chambers Street at City Hall. Like beckoning sirens, the lights
both enticed and awed a grieving city. It was tribute as art, art as symbolism. And like all good art, the columns of light were interpreted differently by whoever saw them.
Some thought the lights’ blue color symbolized the valor of those heroes on 9/11.
To others, it was a symbol of the strengthened unity of our healing country. Many concluded it was a representation of the vale of tears we as a nation passed through since that darkest day.
But whatever the personal interpretation, witnesses agreed you could almost hear the victims whispering in the dark.
For those of us who’ve worked in law enforcement, this is not an uncommon experience.
Ask any cop who’s ever carried the colors or attended the funeral of a fallen brother and the answer will be the same. While he may have gone before us, his spirit lingers to carry us forward.
During a police officer’s Academy training, we’re taught how important back-up is, how critical it is to form a cohesive bond that carries us through the battles, the gunfire, the roiling stomachs and broken
hearts that come with each vacant eyed kid we were too late to help, or the crimes we couldn’t prevent. We learn the hard way that there are no bandages for the kind of wounds our job inflicts,
only a banding together close enough to carry each other when the next step forward seems impossible. And each day or night that we go out there, there’s no guarantee that we’ll make it back, or
that the partner who’s joking with us at roll call won’t be another statistic by the end of our shift.
It’s something we learn and accept, and then file away behind granite faces meant to hide
shattered hearts, something we can’t dwell on - not while we’re working and certainly not later.
There’s no time for reflection, not out on the street where the only line between order and chaos shifts daily and is held, just barely, by these same people whose backs you’re watching, and who’ve got
yours as well. Strength in numbers? Yes. But a cop’s job puts a different spin on another platitude - the one that says you’re only as strong as your weakest link. In this case, it’s not about strength and
the comic-book versions of heroes and courage, where the good guys save the day, ride off into the sunset and live to wear those snazzy blue tights another day.
In our world, the only definition of courage is swallowing that same fear we all feel, the knowledge that, on any given night on the streets, Armageddon just arrived on the midnight express from hell, and
how do we stop it this time? There are no answers. Most times, we’re not even sure of the questions, so we do what we can in the moment we can and hope somehow it works.
Strength? That’s when you do what you need to out there, even when you’re sure you’ll never be able to make it right, or get home intact, or even make a difference in a world stacked against a happy
ending. And even while we’re out there, we know there’s legions of us who were stronger, tougher, braver...and never got to make it home. Some of their spirits were among those whispering at Ground
Zero’s columns of lights. The rest remain among us, provide the shoulders on which we stand to bolster us, to make it through another battle and another night.
This month these same spirits will be honored at the annual Law Enforcement Memorial Week
in Washington, D.C. Police officers from around the globe will attend, watching more names added to
the wall, more fallen comrades honored. And after the collective tears will come the resolve that those
of us left behind can honor their memory by remembering their honor. With that comes the recognition that our job is not about larger than life super heroes, only ordinary people taking care of
each other. Exactly what happened on 9/11. And, exactly like the columns of light, we’ll rise to the next challenge, whatever comes next, guided by those spirits in the sky.
Copyright 2001 by Gina Gallo
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