It has been nine years since the horrors of Sept. 11, 2001, nine years since the world celebrated the selflessness and heroism of the responders who stepped up in the face of fear and chaos and very real danger, who helped save so many innocent lives, who worked The Pile, helping to clean up the mess that was left behind by the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.
In that time, many of those responders have fallen ill—with respiratory and digestive ailments, with post-traumatic stress disorder, with untreatable, untraceable, fast-growing cancers. Many are dying, leaving behind families and unrelenting medical bills.
When Joel Cairo and I started this project, we had a plan to tell the stories of many through the voices of a few. As soon as we began, we were invited into the homes and lives of dozens of responders, all of whom were suffering. We were given phone numbers, e-mail addresses. According to John Feal, whose story is included here, Long Island made up 35 percent of the response to the attacks—and there are currently more than 7,000 people on Long Island being treated for illnesses related to 9/11 and its aftermath.
“Everybody,” says Feal, “knows somebody who either died or is sick on Long Island.”
What follows are snapshots of some of the Long Islanders whose lives have been forever distorted, altered and in some cases ruined because they responded, or because someone in their family responded. Each of the people to whom we spoke said, in some form or fashion, that he or she was one of the lucky ones, that so many people out there right now have it a lot worse.
That is surely true. There are many uglier, sadder, more heartbreaking stories than these. But each of these stories is a reflection of the systems and organizations that have written off, ignored and failed all these people—people who were trumpeted as heroes by politicians and media less than a decade ago. People who remain heroes today, regardless of where the spotlight is cast.
Most importantly, these people are not archetypes or statistics. They are individuals; they are our neighbors, our family. Neither their ills nor their joys should be considered symbolic. There may be others out there worse off, but these people are nonetheless remarkable.
Click to view a list of 9/11 remembrance events.