As the names of the fallen who left us on that crisp blue September morning are read aloud by family members, the true impact of a decade is seen, not in the building of the Freedom Tower, the rebirth of Ground Zero, or the beautiful fountains that are surrounded by the names of the loved ones lost, but in the faces, the breaking words, the strength through tears of all the survivors. But mostly, in the Children.
Watching these young children read names, ending with a tribute to their lost parent, grasps at the innermost of all of us. These children are, like the rest f us, 10 years older. They were infants, toddlers, youngsters. Those who were grade schoolers have now graduated, Those who were in middle school or high school have begun their careers and their own families. The loss to all of these children has been great, and we know that a great deal of their childhood was taken from them that day.
Two boys, 12 or 13, read names off together, and then both thanked their Dad’s, and told them how much they and their Mom’s and siblings missed them. What they lost, what they missed with their Dad, albeit a void filled by other family members, is best summed up in this story about Peter Negron, now 21, who captured the hearts of the nation at the 2nd 9/11 anniversary, and today hopes he has made his father proud:
When Peter Negron’s father, a Port Authority project manager, died in his office at the World Trade Center, the boy was only 11.
Immediately after the attacks, he was one of more than a thousand children left suddenly without a parent. His dad, Pete Negron, 34, worked on the 88th floor of WTC 1 on environmental issues. Living in Bergenfield, N.J., with his mother Leila, and 2-year-old brother, he spent that first Father’s Day of 2002 angry.
“I don’t want to talk to nobody, see nobody, do nothing,” he told a news reporter then. “I just want to go to the cemetery and say that I love him…”
Two years later, the thin 13-year-old stood in a dark suit, steeped with grief, to shakily read a poem in front of the whole nation. It was “Stars,” written by children’s author Deborah Chandra:
“I like the way they looked down from the sky / And didn’t seem to mind the way I cried / And didn’t say, ‘Now wipe away those tears,’ / Or, ‘Tell us, tell us what’s the matter here!’ / But shining through the dark they calmly stayed / And gently held me in their quiet way. / I felt them watching over me, each one / And let me cry and cry till I was done.”
Today the 21-year-old appeared again in front of the nation, and this time shared a message of strength, growth and reflection.
He spoke about how he’s tried to fill his father’s shoes for his brother Austin, who turned 12 on September 1.
“I try to teach him all the things my father taught me. How to catch a baseball, how to ride a bike,” and to work hard in school, he said.
He never stops missing his father in the important moments of life.
“I wish my dad had been there to teach me how to drive, ask a girl on a date, and see me graduate from high school,” he said, choking up. “And a hundred other things I can’t even begin to name.”
He said he’s learned more about his father since his death. “He cared about the earth, and our future. I know he wanted to make a difference,” he said. He wants to do the same.
“I have decided to become a forensic scientist,” he said. “I hope I can make my father proud of the young men me and my brother have become. I miss you so much, Dad.”
This is the real legacy, and the lasting memorial to what happened, to each of us on that Sepetmeber 11th. The legacy that from moments of terror, great sacrifice, and enduring pain, we forged ahead. We built a new day. The families have grown up, are growing up, and are called to their role in our future by the forces that have surrounded their lives. They will build their lives to be the true testament to their loved one….. their father or mother, their brother or sister, aunt, uncle or grandparent. For Peter Negron and his brother Austin, their father is gone but is a constant in their lives.