In tidying the house for Christmas, I decided to tackle the mountain of artwork that has collected in a huge basket for months. I needed to decide which pieces would be laminated, and which pieces would meet the recycle bin.
I couldn't help but get emotional when I found a "book" Jack created on this day last year. For those unfamiliar with the story, two Chicago firemen were killed in a southside collapse days before Christmas 2010. The call for the fire came during a shift change.
Many firemen had already been relieved and left for home, unaware of the impending disaster. If you watched the live broadcast that morning, you saw dozens of firemen frantically digging around in the rubble. Nobody knew for sure who was accounted for and who was still missing due to the natural confusion of the shift change.
Tragically, two firefighters were killed: a 12-year veteran named Edward Stringer and a former Chicago policeman turned firefighter named Corey Ankum.
Our phone rang off the hook that morning. Joe was part of that shift change for that fire, but he had already been relieved before the call even came in. Unaware of the collapse, Joe stopped by a repair shop on his way home because somebody had attempted to burglar his car by smashing a window. While he was cleaning up broken glass and getting repair estimates, he remained oblivious to the tragedy unfolding on television that morning.
By the time he arrived home, I was glued to the news coverage. I didn't even notice Jack sitting rapt in front of the television for hours, not saying a word.
In flipping through Jack's drawings of that event, it is evident he understood the significance of what he had witnessed. Page after page captures the chaos, the fear, and the tragedy of the day. One picture shows a colorful, smiling fireman about to go into the fire, and within a few pages, the mood is darkened:
Joe and I have never really shielded our kids from tragedy or death. We both figure it's a part of life, and our job is to counsel and help them find ways to cope. Perhaps it was a mistake to have the kids participate in the funeral procession a few days later. But if this neighborhood has taught me one thing, it is a respect for ritual and tradition.
We stood out in the cold and acknowledged the heroism of these men who gave their lives in an attempt to save potential homeless people from the fire. Hundreds and hundreds of cars and fire engines from all around the country slowly processed down Western Avenue, blocks from my home. It was a sight to behold. My boys still remember it vividly.
It was in that moment, watching a neighborhood of countless Irish firemen and police, that I remembered an old line from William Butler Yeats:
Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.
Many people would disagree with such a generalization. But for me, it feels spot-on.