What Would You Do In The Last Hour Of Your Life?
Monday, September 12, 2011

I am lying in bed, sick. I mean, sick sick.

Two word sick.

It's really a bummer to be sick on your birthday. 

It came on me suddenly this weekend while I was away for parents' weekend at my daughter's college. 

And it really sucks to be sick sick when you're not at home. 

As the fever and chills and congestion came over me, my first thought as always was, "What assbag gave me this?"

But I couldn't think of anyone with these symptoms, which are primarily lying on your bed groaning while gasping, "I think I'm dyyyyying."

And then it came to me, I've been going to the movies a lot, lately. 

And I keep seeing the previews for that new movie, Contagion. Which by the way, my girlfriend Jane said to me, when we were watching everyone succumb to the bad chicken virus in the preview, "You do not need to see that movie."

She didn't have to tell me that because I was already gasping for air and feeling the virus invade my body as I watched Gwyneth Paltrow seizing up and dying. 

I think that's what I have. The disease from that movie. 

I know it doesn't seem plausible that these things can be contracted through a movie preview, but trust me, if anyone's going to be the first person to get a major virus from a movie screen, that person will be me. 

And there's one more thing I'd like to tell you before we get to the sad part of the post. 

My darling friend Erin of Tesori Trovati makes the most fabulous jewelry. 

I've given her beautiful pieces as gifts and I also gave one away here on my blog. 

But I'd never bought anything for myself. 

Until now. 

One of Erin's lines is called Simple Truths, where she combines her gorgeous jewelry with inspiring words. 

Like Erin, I love words and I love jewelry. 

So, I asked Erin to create something for me. Something that involved the word, "Believe" because believing in myself has been a big part of this writing journey. It took me a long time to learn to believe in myself and once I did, everything fell into place. 

Erin made me the most beautiful necklace, ever. And on my pendant, she wrote, "Dream, Believe & Live It."

I haven't taken this piece off since I got it.
Please excuse these pictures. They involved a lot of yelling on my part about not getting too close on my wrinkly, sun damaged chest. I think I traumatized the photographer, my daughter.

Anyway, on top of making me this to-die-for-necklace, Erin wrote a post about me. 

And not just a post. The time and effort that went into this post took my breath away. I was sobbing when I finished her post. I'm talking, the big ugly cry. 

Here's Erin's post with much better pictures of my necklace. And while you're over there, check out her whole line of Simple Truths and her entire collection. She creates such sparkling beauty and there's a whole lot of Erin's love in each piece. 

You can't get that in any ole' jewelry store. Go, check her out. You will fall in love. I promise. 

So now, I want to talk about September 11th. About red bandanas and the privilege I had this weekend of being a part of something rather sacred.

There are certain images that will always remain engrained in my psyche and my permanently ravaged heart after that horrific day. 

The families wandering the streets, thousands of them, weeping profusely with their hand lettered signs and photos of their loved ones, begging for help, searching for signs of life amongst the chaotic rubble. 

I remember news anchors handing over their microphone to the families. I remember these poor people sobbing as they held up their photos, beseeching the viewing audience for the things they would never get back. 

And then, there were the firemen. 

I have always loved firemen. I see them as mighty warriors, fighting one of the natural world's fiercest enemies. 

If I'm anywhere near a firetruck, I'm a waving fool. 

And when I'm in New York City, I don't hesitate to march up to the firefighters if they're standing in front of their firehouses for hugs and my heartfelt words of gratitude, even though my girls cringe in mortification as they pretend not to know me. 

I was astounded that day, at the bravery of these firefighters who saw the planes hit and chose to climb those fiery stairs up and up and up.

And I'll never forget seeing this iconic picture of the firemen carrying out their beloved chaplain Father Mychal Judge who was instantly killed by flying debris. It was only fitting, that they eventually carried him to St. Peter's Church and laid him out in front of the altar until his fellow Franciscan priests could come for him, hours later.

I watched a lot of coverage yesterday, remembering and weeping. Weeping just as I did on that day. And one of the things that struck me was a firefighter, recounting that day. His captain was giving this fireman orders to stay on the ground and help as the captain took most of his crew up into the tower. His last words to this fireman, before he entered the tower, were, "I'm going to die today."

They had to know. And yet, still they marched up those stairs, 100 lbs of equipment on their back, trying to save as many people as they could. 

And I'll never, ever forget the heartbreaking chirping chorus of the firemen's locators in the rubble of the Twin Towers. Hundreds of them, chirping out the sad songs of bravery, of firemen who willingly trudged up the stairs to their death. 

For me, the biggest symbol of courage, of strength, of heroism, of America and our innate resilient spirit was there in those firefighters.

As we checked into our hotel for parents' weekend, our bellman asked me if I had a red bandana for the game. 

When I told him I had no idea what he was talking about, he told me the story of the man with the red bandana—Welles Crowther,
the Boston College graduate who always had a red bandana on him, ever since his father gave him one as a little boy. The red bandana stayed with him as the years unfolded. 

Welles had always wanted to be a firefighter, but he wound up at the World Trade Center as a trader.  

Right before September 11th, he had told his father he couldn't handle sitting behind his desk for the rest of his days. He'd decided he wanted to be a firefighter. 

And then September 11th happened. 

Welles didn't make it out. 

His body was found six months later amongst firefighters. 

No one knew what happened to him.

Until a piece ran in the New York Times. A tale of survivors telling their stories, stories of heroes who had come to their rescue. 

Over and over again, people told about the mysterious man in the red bandana who escorted them out only to turn around and go back up. 

Bringing people to safety. A man in a red bandana. 

Welles died a hero. He was indeed the very heart of a fireman's soul. 

ESPN produced a 13 minute tribute to Wells. If you have 13 minutes, please watch this. To me, it is the essence of who we were on that day, who I will always aspire to be.

Garrett Weiss and Neal Surrena, students at UCF, saw this video and were so moved, they decided to create their own tribute. They made a Facebook page asking all students to wear a red bandana to the football game on Saturday night. 

The Saturday night game where we were playing Boston College. 

The red bandana movement went viral almost immediately. 

And on Saturday night, the stadium was a sea of red. I wore my red bandana proudly, along with just about every other person there. 

And when Welles' sisters were escorted out on the field, (his parents were unable to make it since they were going to the Ground Zero ceremony the next morning) his sisters, waving their red bandanas, we were on our feet, twirling our bandanas in the air, waving and applauding and crying for Welles Crowther, a 9/11 hero.  

I will never forget Welles' story. I will never forget the firefighters, the police officers, the first responders, the lost souls, the innocent, who all lost their lives on that unfathomable day. 

I will never, ever forget. 

Today's Definite Download: Nothing is more appropriate than Bruce Springsteen's "Into The Fire."
I found this little tribute video to the firefighters accompanied by Bruce's prayer of a song. 

The sky was falling and streaked with blood
I heard you calling me, then you disappeared into the dust
Up the stairs, into the fire
Up the stairs, into the fire
I need your kiss, but love and duty called you someplace higher
Somewhere up the stairs
Into the fire

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love bring us love

God Bless the firefighters. God Bless the first responders. God Bless the heroes and the victims. And may God always Bless America. 



MMAR said...

What a lovely tribute post!!

twelvedaysold said...

Jeez, Joann! Wasn't expecting to be fighting so many tears this morning with this post. I thought this was a great tribute to Welles and all those wonderful, wonderful fireman. I can't imagine running into those buildings like those men did, and I am so grateful and proud of what they did in there. My husband and I were talking about our 9/11 stories this weekend and we both talked about how much humanity and hope came out of that incident. It's easy to say that people don't care, that we're heartless, but the aftermath of 9/11 goes against that. There is massive good in this world and even though we are all scarred from what happened and will always remember what happened that day, and also remember how we were all connected.

Erin wrote a wonderful post about you. You deserve every word.

I hope even with being sick you are appreciated by everyone around you. You deserve all the love!

Lisa said...

Oh my goodness. Now I'm sobbing like a crazy woman. What a beautiful post, Joann.

And I'm so sorry about being sick on your birthday. That sucks.

Happy Birthday, girl and hope you feel better soon!

TesoriTrovati said...

I am overwhelmed with emotion from this post. First, to the Contagion that you caught at the movies...gross! Why would anyone want to make a movie like that? Oh. Gwyneth Paltrow. Such a shame really.
And thank you for being such a dear and posting pictures of you in that brilliant blue-sky dress with your necklace. I rarely get to see where they get to live and I see that you are so happy and beautiful in this piece. That does my heart good.
But my soul is a little heavier from your story of Welles. A true hero. And even though he may not have been a 'real' firefighter he surely had the spirit of one in him. I work in an industry for public safety and I think we need to thank God that there are men and women who are so brave and selfless to give their all for all of us. That day is a horrible one and one that I want to forget but always remember. Such is the paradox of that tragedy.

Thank you for giving me things to think about and also celebrate today.
I hope you feel better soon!
Enjoy the day.

Judie said...

I sent you one birthday message, but here's another: HBD & GWQ.

I heard Welles' parents talk about their son yesterday on NPR. I had to just sit in the parking lot at Safeway until my tears stopped. What a great loss so many families had that day. I thought at the time that this country would never be the same, and I was right. So sad!!

The Zadge said...

Okay, I thought I had weeped all the tears I had in me this past weekend. But nope, I still have some more and they are rolling down my face right now. Beautiful post!

Debbie said...

I was going to comment on the necklace - but then after reading the 9-11 part, I will just say God bless those people who were brave and did all they could. True heroes in every sense of the word.

Unknown said...

What a beautiful, beautiful post. I say a video last week about the red bandanna. He was indeed a hero.

Oh, and happy birthday, lady!

Liz said...

I did not know of this story before. It brings me to tears, even though there are so many like it.

And so many near misses, too.

My cousin was working in Midtown Manhattan and literally ran from her office, through soot and papers flying everywhere, in a frenzy.

Craig's grandparents were boarding a plane on the 11th to fly to NYC. They had a tour scheduled for the World Trade Center on the 12th.

For my cousin? It was a matter of blocks. For Craig's grandparents? It was just one day.

Unknown said...

First, you look beautiful! Second, I knew you were going to mention Contagion. I saw this weekend. AHHHHHH!!! Third, thanks for the pictures. What an awful day. :(

Kelly said...

What The Zadge said.

Just when I think I'm okay, another 9/11 tribute and story brings on the waterworks. And the photo of Father Mychal? Bawling like a baby all over again.

Despite my tears, I have to say that color blue looks fabulous on you.

Happy Birthday, Typhoid Mary!

McKenzie said...

Your necklace is beautiful, does she want to make me one also?!

I loved your post, I had many tears in my eyes.

Unknown said...

I didn't know these stories. Thank you Joann.

Anita @ GoingALittleCoastal said...

I saw the video when you posted it on the face. I was a sobbing mess. The pain in the face of both the father and mother was just heartbreaking.

I'm sorry you are ill with the bird flu movie virus. Hope you feel better soon.

The necklace is gorgeous! I will go check out her post now. Hope it doesn't make me cry more!

Unknown said...

Before I get all serious let me just say that,
a)Being sick sucks. Being sick sick on your birthday AND not at home is just plain misery. I hope you feel better soon.
b)That necklace is so pretty

Now onto the 9/11 stuff.
That story about the red bandana is so moving. I'd never heard of it until now.
I worked for a summer in NYC in 2003 and visiting Ground Zero was such an overwhelming and emotional experience. I knew going there would be hard, but I wasn't prepared for the sadness that overcame me. The area was still in ruins, even 2 years later. You could still see notes written on the barricades. Notes from loved ones saying how much they missed their dearly departed. Stories. Song lyrics. People's hearts and emotions scribbled on fences and cement blocks.
I was something I will never forget.

Alison said...

I'm sorry you're not well, get better soon! And love the necklace, it suits you.

Also? Thanks for bringing me to tears. I read many 9/11 posts that brought a lump to my throat, but your words, the story you shared about Welles. I'm just bawling here. Beautiful tribute.

Julie said...

I'm so sorry you're not only NOT WELL, but sick sick sick.

I wish Gwyneth Paltrow were sick, instead. (After all, it's not her birthday. I don't think.)

I watched the 13 minute ESPN video about Welles yesterday. Then and now I am infinitely humbled by the bravery and selflessness of others.

I don't think I'd find such courage in me. For my children, yes. My loved ones. Husband. But strangers?

It leaves me breathless, such generosity. And they knew. They knew the sacrifice.

Incredible. Unbelievable.

And yet true.

So now, dear friend, in the wake of remembrance, I hope you feel better; I hope your days grow brighter and that this year brings you all the spectacular gifts you so richly deserve.

Much love to you...

Tammy said...

Stopping by to say hi from Shell's. I loved your story about "tampons" and hubby material. I about spit my water out when I thought about the discussion in the aisle whether it should be long or wings...too funny!

I just watched this story about the Red Bandana on Friday. What a touching tribute you shared. It gives me goosebumps!

I am going to have to stop by more often!...oh and I love your new necklace! :)

beautifullybrokenme said...

Hi Joann - I found your blog through Erin's and love your writing!

Thank you for the post about Welles. Wow - there is much hope to be found behind the tears this story brings; that we will be encouraged and inspired to emulate the selflessness he displayed on that day.

Thanks again for sharing this. I'm following you now, and am really looking forward to reading more of your posts!

:) Molly

P.S. Happy Birthday!

Tracie Nall said...

I'm crying so hard right now, reading this. What a brave, precious man.

I'm so sorry to hear you are sick like that on your birthday. Clearly the people who made Contagion need to send you on vacation to make up for infecting you through their preview.

That necklace is amazingly beautiful (as are you!). I love it!

life in the mom lane said...

Thank you for sharing the red bandanna story- I had never heard of this. So sad but at the same time uplifting that this young man was such a hero.

My Inner Chick said...

---Heartbreaking. I shall look at the 13 min video after work.
--Great necklace.
--Hope you are not sick sick for too much longer. xx

Mom vs. the boys said...

That was a really nice post, what a great kid. I would wear that banadana with pride and tears in my eyes too

Kelli said...

Dammit, Joann. I actually put on make-up today. Thanks for ruining it. No, really, thank you.

Meg at the Members Lounge said...

Wow, I can't believe I never knew about this young man, especially with BC right down the road here. Thanks for posting the link and letting us all know about him.

Feel better, too!

karen said...

I thought I was done with the 9/11 tears, but no - I'm sitting here sobbing again. But I guess that's fitting - we should never be done with the tears over 9/11. I'd never heard the red bandana story. Absolutely amazing AND inspiring. There's a hero in each of us.
I hope you're on the mend and enjoying a belated birthday. Thanks for this post.

Kimberly said...

All the stories of 9/11 just rip me apart. I would be lying if I said that I watched memorials on that day but I can't bear to see them.
Sending you hugs (while wearing a hazmat suit and latex gloves because I had tonsillitis 2 weeks ago and I don't want to get sick again and it just so happened that it was also on my birthday...must have something to do with us September birthdays)

Ps. Happy Birthday xoxo

Just A Normal Mom said...

Tears are streaming down my face. The thing is, it wasn't just a mass tragedy. Each and every one of those people killed were and individual, with their own story, their own family. Thanks for reminding us of that. What a wonderful tribute, those red bandanas.

Hope you feel better soon! And make sure you have a late celebration of that birthday when you do!

Emmy said...

First- so sorry you are sick! I hope you can get better soon. Sounds miserable. That necklace is beautiful. And thank you for telling about one of the many 9-11 heroes.

KSK said...

What a beautiful post.

Dawn in D.C. said...

I tended to keep a distance from most of the tributes, only because I get so emotional. Too emotional. However, your story of Welles was just beautiful. It was one I hadn't heard. Now I'm glad I have. Thank you.

So sorry you have the plague on your birthday. That's just not right. One should never be sick on her birthday and one should ALWAYS get a paid day off on her birthday.

The Woven Moments said...

Holding back the tears at work. WHAT A STORY!

I'm so glad we've found each other's blogs. I am your newest, biggest fan.

Grumpy Grateful Mom said...

Thank you for this post! I love that you took part in something to commemorate such hero. And, sorry you are so sick! Hopefully you are recovering.

Jessica {Team Rasler} said...

Well, that story made me cry. What an amazing person and tribute. Hope you're feeling better soon.

Mrs. Tuna said...

I watched the live coverage and the reading of the names. It made me sad but it made me remember, because its important.

Erica said...

Whew. I started out chuckling at the virus that is killing you part, then marveling at your beautiful necklace, then crying remembering all the pics you posted. I never forget. In fact, I make sure I always thank my firemen when I see them which is often when I go to the grocery store. Thank you for posting the reminder and for everything else.

Lady Goo Goo Gaga said...

Omg, that was an amazing tribute, I had never heard the story about Welles.....so heartbreaking.

MrsBlogAlot said...

This was so beautiful! I can only imagine the joy and sadness his family must have felt standing on that field. That is the part of the story that made all those held back tears fall.

The guy next to me looks uncomfortable. Poor thing. I told him I have allergies.

...Not as glamorous as movie screen disease but if it gets him to stop staring I'm good with it.

Happy belated birthday my friend and I hope you are feeling better!!!

Anonymous said...

Hmm, okay,#1 Hypochondria can be cured with ice crea. #2 Shame on you for scaring your daughter - it is your god given right - but in this instance, maybe not, cause you're a pretty woman, and lastly, #3 for sharing the heart ... Amen sister, amen.

The Sisters' Hood said...

Are you still sick???
Just came over to show my girlfriend your post from 9/11 (she cried, i cried again) and cannot believe you are still sick ...

Cathy Olliffe-Webster said...

Hi Joann - hope you're feeling better. I just wanted to say, if you write this well when you're sick, holy moly, you must be unstoppable when you're healthy. Wonderful post.

Baby Sister said...

And how this post didn't show up in my reader I will never know. That is a beautiful necklace!! I wouldn't ever want to take it off. The tribute to the Red Bandana man made me cry. It was beautiful. He truly was a hero. Thank you for sharing.

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