On the morning of September 12, 2001, having had a couple of hours sleep, I woke up and put my uniform on and went straight to a memorial service that then New York City Council Member Marty Golden and the community of Marine Park, Brooklyn, put together in the park, right at the flagpole. Like many people, the outside of my refrigerator has a number of photos of loved ones and moments of my life that are memorable. This photo of me in uniform saluting is certainly there as well, and always will be. It was taken during that service, about 24 hours after our nation was attacked and so many good people were taken from us, including my then 31 year old nephew/godson, Michael Roberts, FDNY.
I also believe we are all gifted with the incredible ability to access a perspective that helps us cope, even during an extreme hardship. For example, that first night when I got to the site I lost something that the rest of my family had – hope that Michael had survived. The destruction I saw was far too great. My first thought was, he loved me so much. But why? Why did he love me and admire me as much as he did? With this thought, I could hear his voice, saying something that he said so often to me, “Uncle Joe, that’s awesome!” So here is the next thought that came to me – I must live every moment of my life trying to be that man, the man that Michael admired so much. I decided to live the rest of my life for Michael, in honor of him, and I promised myself and him that I would always try to be the man he looked up to so much. My life has been filled with precious moments since that night, where as I am mindful of making an impact on someone, in their time of pain, usually in a funeral home, I can hear Michael saying to me, “Uncle Joe, that’s awesome!” And that is where my healing began.