Monday   September 11, 2006

By Kevin Boyle

Photo © 2006 Ken MacKay
The Twin Towers Under Construction
Photo © 2006, Ken MacKay. All Rights Reserved

In this newest EvenHand journal entry I am pleased to feature the writing of Kevin Boyle. Kevin is the author of BRAVING THE WAVES, a moving account of the ordinary people of Rockaway who became heroes on September 11th.

Photo © 2006 Kevin Boyle

Photo © 2006 Kevin Boyle

By Kevin Boyle

In early July of this summer, 2006, nearly three dozen soldiers injured in Afghanistan and Iraq -- amputees, most of them--- came to Rockaway Beach for an adaptive sports weekend. What that means is, they came to learn to water ski, scuba dive, or sail. There was also time for fishing, barbecues, and a dinner cruise past the Statue of Liberty. The soldiers, some of whom came with spouses and small children, stayed in the homes of Rockaway residents.

Photo © 2006 Kevin Boyle  Photo © 2006 Kevin Boyle

Photo © 2006 Kevin Boyle

While learning to do the water sports and developing a sense of "if I can do this, I can do anything" were the stated and lofty objectives of the visit, something underneath, the subtext, made the weekend all the more profound.

You see, the soldiers and the community felt an immediate, undeniable bond. The soldiers were, in effect, missing those limbs because of what happened in New York on September 11, 2001. They had been sent to far off places, to be in harm's way because three thousand innocent Americans were killed on a beautiful late summer day. †And, surely, any place in New York wouldíve been a good place for the soldiers to connect.† But Rockaway had its own particular resonance.

For those who donít know, Rockaway is a spit of land, a barrier island eleven miles long, just off Brooklyn and Queens. Itís part of New York City but with the ocean breezes comes the air and atmosphere of a small town. †Itís part of New York but can seem a million miles away sometimes. †Sometimes.

It so happens that Rockaway is home to an inordinate number of firefighters and cops, though plenty of locals choose finance over fire and head to Wall Street. Such a mix made September 11th particularly devastating for this usually insulated community.† Counting those who rented summer places out here, some ninety people from Rockaway were killed the day the towers fell.

The constant sound of bagpipes and Amazing Grace eventually faded as life, sure enough, moved on. †Although memorials were built, and streets renamed in honor of those who died, and American flags still fly, Rockaway is a place of the stiff upper lip.† You grieve and then move on as best you can.† And thatís probably a good thing.

But sometimes weíre forced to pause, to contemplate.† Sometimes the reminders are stark and weíre reminded how terribly real September 11th was.† This time, the stark reminders came in the form of young severely injured soldiers.

We saw the soldiers come and meet families who'd lost fathers, mothers, sons and daughters. And we watched the soldiers salute the cops and firefighters who lost so many of their brethren. And we could see the instant admiration on the soldiers' faces when they met some of New York's Bravest. We saw the firefighters wave off the praise. We heard one guy say -- We just picked up the baton but you guys ran with it.

From Rockaway, the soldiers could see the Manhattan skyline.† The altered skyline.† The Twin Towers and the Empire State building once gave a hammock effect to the lower half of Manhattan. †Back then, the skyscrapers were like bookends for all the smaller buildings in between. †Not anymore.

Unspoken mostly, but acknowledged by a few, was a painful but hopeful comparison. The soldiers had lost limbs and the city had lost its towers. †But now each were drawing strength from the other.† So although itís human nature to want to move on, to get on with life, itís a damn good thing to pause. To remember.† To never forget.

Copyright © 2006 Kevin Boyle, All Rights Reserved.

Photo © 2006 Kevin Boyle

Photo © 2006 Kevin Boyle

What kind of neighborhood produces heroes? Rockaway does. Kevin Boyle takes us inside the lives, the homes and the culture of a wonderful slice of America. These are the people the media ignores--until we need them. A captivation book. - David Brooks, The New York Times

Reading Braving the Waves is like shaking hands with the people that form the heart, soul and spine of the kind of place you've always wanted to call home. - Mike Barnicle, The New York Daily News

This is the story of a tough town that has suffered twice. Rockaway is home to heroes. After reading Braving the Waves, it's easy to understand why. - Brian Williams, NBC News

Joseph Pierson


Adapted by Joseph Pierson from a street poster. Original artist unknown.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Copyright © 2006 Cypress Films, Inc. (except as noted above) Some rights reserved.

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