After receiving it,I had opened it and had read the thirty or so hand drawn cards, carefully sketched and colored. The written words running the gamut from nearly perfect for a third grader, to the scrawl of less scholarly kids like the younger Schmoe. The messages thanked me/us for our service, told us to be brave and to fear not, God had our backs (this I believe).
When I received the envelope, I was working at the big house of pain. We had nine firefighters plus the B.C. that called thr big house home. As I had promised my kid's teacher, I shared the contents of the envelope with the crew and left the cards on the table for a few days. As a bunch of our members were in New York as part of the USAR response, we were inundated with baked goods, cards and other tokens of appreciation - largely out of remembrance of the sacrifices that our 343 brothers made on that horrific day.. I didn't want the envelope and it's contents lost in the mix, so I recovered the cards and placed them back into the envelope, closed the clasp and placing it into my locker.
I cleaned out my locker a few times over the next few years, each time finding the envelope, opening the contents, reading the cards smiling, shedding a tear - then re-clasping the envelope and returning it to the dark recesses of my locker, to the part where stuff that never gets used reside. At some point, I removed the card that my son made and one that his good friend made and I taped them to the inside of my locker door.
Two more stations, two more lockers and the routine was nearly the same. Find, open, read, sniff, close and return. Kevin and Luke's card taped up n a place of honor on my locker door. I thought about tossing the envelope, frankly I felt unworthy (still do) of the attention garnered on us, based on the tragic deaths of 343 Schmoes, heroic Schmoes, who were called upon to perform heroic acts and perished doing so. I wished there was some way that I could give those cards to those who fell, either at he WTC, the Pentagon or in the field in Shanksville. I knew that to be impossible yet could not toss the envelope into the trash.
Two weeks ago, I cleaned out my locker for the last time. The envelope was tucked safely into the bottom drawer, right where I placed it during the last spring locker cleaning session. The large green trash can, the one from the patio was right there, already full with the manuals, books and other unneeded possessions of a retired fire captain. I nearly tossed it this time, I had already packed Kevin and Luke's card into my "take home" box and could find no logical reason to haul the envelope home - yet I couldn't do it, so into the box the envelope went.
Friday, I drove down to Yorba Linda to the Richard Nixon Presidential Library. I had read where a ladder tower from the FDNY that had been used in controlling the post-collapse fires and a large piece of twisted steel that had once been a part of the WTC were to be on display. I thought that perhaps I could take the envelope and perhaps it on the ladder tower or on the beam. I figured that would be as close as I would ever get to delivering it to the people who deserved getting it.
It was my lucky day. "Friday light" traffic and a beautiful fall day.. I arrived and saw the display. Many people were slowly walking around the displays, pausing and reflecting on that day and what it meant to them. It was a somber scene, one filled with quiet reverence.
I briefly left the display and attended a presentation by Chris Kawai, a B.C. for LAFD, who had responded to the WTC disaster as part of the USAR response. His show was well done, using words, music and images to present the disaster, the response to it and his impressions and reflections.
After the presentation, I returned to the display and found even more people there, though the somber, quiet mood was still prevalent. I waited for the crowd to thin, then unclasped the envelope and read the cards, just one more time.
I picked out three of my favorites and returned the rest to the envelope. I arranged the envelope and the three cards on the beam, with all three cards visible. I took a few pictures and thought of leaving them all of them there, tokens of my appreciation and remembrance of the sacrifices made on that day. Mine and that of Miss Smith's third grade class.
I didn't know what would happen to them, whether they would be stored, whether they would travel with the rig and the steel to the next display or whether they would simply be tossed at the end of the day.
In the end, I couldn't do it. Apparently, I have too much invested to the envelope and it's contents.
Perhaps it is because the world changed on that day, not only for me but for a class of third graders who will likely not remember what the world was like before the events of 11 September 2001.
Maybe it's because the envelope is a physical link between me and 343 brothers who I never had the opportunity to meet. Brothers with whom I had a lot in common and some differences. Brothers who I would have welcomed into my station and into my home.
Maybe it's just because that envelope somehow represents the tragedy and enormity of the events that occurred on that day and that I'm just not ready to let it go.
Regardless, I still have the envelope and I realize that any thought of disposing of it is just me fooling myself.
Rest in peace my FDNY brothers and all of the other responders who were mudered for just doing your jobs. Rest in peace all of you Service Members who died at the Pentagon and all you civilians who died at the WTC, the Pentagon and on Flight 93. Finally, rest in peace to those of you hero-warriors who won the battle of Shanksville, God's grace on you all.
The envelope belongs to them, it is not mine to destroy.