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I don’t know if this is a good idea to write, or whether it’s insensitive and inappropriate. It’s not meant to be, but maybe only New Yorkers or US Citizens or people who were there that day can talk about this. 

Usually the specifics of a single day become less clear as time goes on, but this one is still crystal. I’d walked home from school, using a slightly different route than the regular one. At home, breaking news had taken over the channels. The first one had hit the tower a short time ago. And then the second one. That was thirteen years ago, but it doesn’t seem that long.

Just over one year ago, in July last year, as those childhood television memories had long since faded, there was a bus that pulled up into the gravelly and dusty Fairbanks parking lot. Step by step, forty or so tourists stepped off. I think they all lived in Florida now and were touring the North West. They were retired couples mostly. Despite being bleary eyed after a long journey of sitting up and trying to sleep in cramped seats, and despite the yawns and the stretches, everyone was happy, and they seemed to be enjoying the start of a long summer on their bus tour vacation. Their smiles were contagious.

As everyone got their suitcases from the metal pop-out underbelly of the bus, a man from the group came over and he looked at the bike, and then the lack of sleep on my face, and he laughed as he was feeling that tiredness too. Obvious fatigue and the bike was always a solid and reliable conversation starter, and it was always surprising how such moments, no matter how brief or fleeting, often lead to extreme openness and ultimately, feeling like a new bond had been formed. Maybe that’s weird but it’s true. 

We talked about Alaska. He was excited about being here. Excited about seeing the wildlife and the bears and the hills and getting away from it all for a bit. Just regular Alaska small talk. As small talk turned to specifics, that age old question of what we do came up and the man told me that he used to be a firefighter but had retired. He said that his entire family had been firefighters. It was in their blood. Generations upon generations. It was what they were all born to do, it was what they lived for. 

He told me that his dad had died firefighting. He said that it’s one of the saddest things to have happened to him but it’s something that any firefighter knows is a possibility when they start. During this, the man’s voice started to quiver, and his eyes began to well up. His whole family had been firefighters – he was a firefighter, his dad was, and his son had been too. The man had a thick New York accent. It’s one I love. One that can be intimidating. One that makes me laugh as it can be so blunt and unintentionally witty. Except this wasn’t funny, it was heartbreaking, and just like the laughter moments earlier was contagious, so now was the sadness.

Thirteen years ago, his son went to work in New York. He had gone into one of the towers shortly after it was hit, to try and help and do his duty. He didn’t come out again. 

We never know what’s going to happen in a minute, or an hour, or tomorrow, or next week. Sometimes we all need reminding about today.

Today is a good day to remember that people who are smiling may be in pain.

Today is a good day to remember that none of us can ever truly know what’s around the corner. 

Today is a good day to be happy and hopeful and to smile contagiously. 

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