Michael made it on stage with U2: A 9-11 Memory
You could tell when he got up to the podium that he had seen something that he couldn’t leave behind, that time had stopped and he was clawing at it.
He was the last speaker for the night. He wasn’t polished. His hair was uneven, plastered on his forehead by a layer of sweat. The suit came up short at his wrists. He hung on to the corners of the stand. He bent down to talk into the microphone. His suit tugged at the folds of his waist and his shoulders pulled at the seams. There wasn’t anything elegant or polished about how he started talking to the 400 of us sitting at our seats waiting for our deserts, buzzed on beer and the heady emotion of the two hours that had passed.
He blurted out a bunch of nicknames: DJ Dusty, Mosquito, Buff.
We were at the dinner to honor his childhood friend Michael who had died September 11, 2001.
Michael was one of the first responders at the Twin Towers. He was a fireman from the Bronx.
After he died his family started a scholarship fund to help out the children of 9-11 casualties. The foundation lives on, raising money, granting scholarships, providing a living memorial for the practical heroism of one man who did what countless other men do everyday — accept the mortal risk that comes with protecting the people around them.
That wasn’t what he wanted to talk about. He wanted to make sure that before we left the room, we knew who his Michael was.
They were kids together. Scraped knees, hijinks, football in the street, chatting up girls, bound together by the music of the 80’s, the cresting energy of New Wave: Depeche Mode, U2.
They went to concerts together.
Mike couldn’t come down after they saw U2. “I can do that. That can be me up there. I could feel it. You got to believe me. I can do it.”
They were kids together and there was nothing special about the way they dreamed about stuff. You grew up, you got a job, you met a girl, you fell in love. You took your dreams and shoehorned them into the space that life gave you. You did a good job if you could keep a smile on your face. Every day stripped down your dreams a little, but you never wanted to forget what it felt like to have the big hope swelling in your chest, the blast of hot air that comes with getting a glimpse of what the future can be and how you can be in it.
That day was like any other day until the jet came up the river and plowed into the glass casing of our tallest building.
Nothing could prepare the imagination for the moment. It was an act of utter originality. That gives it its evil.
He can’t forget it.
He lost his friend. We lost our defiant innocence.
He lost the path that lets us loosen our childhood dreams, drift into the rich repose of the responsible life, unearths the deep loam that comes with love and laughter.
Mike had found a girl. He was going to get married. He was making his life work, doing the things that he loved. That was all over in a heartbeat.
Now he came to the end of what he wanted to say.
U2 played at the Super Bowl. They played Streets with No Name. It was New Orleans. Fate had played a cruel trick on America, bookending the first decade of our new century with two images that made no sense — our tallest towers leveled and our lowest city submerged. Olympus and Atlantis reduced.
An Irish band was given a moment on the largest stage in the biggest event to help us reclaim our imaginations, to mourn and to praise, to grieve and to acknowledge.
He was watching.
Names scrolled across the big screen behind the band. The heroes who gave their life.
There was Mike. He was on the stage with Bono and the Edge. He’d been right all those years ago.
He was done then.
He walked off the stage.
He hadn’t been talking to us. He’d been talking to his own heart, letting it know that even though their dreams had been ripped out of their hands, those dreams were never extinguished.
We stood and clapped loud. Tears streamed down our eyes.
What can you do when you are witness to a man’s inner voice except give him respect?