I found a table full of those I often associate with already seated, and a conversation was already in progress about of all things: the current Popes visit to the United States. Pope Francis was going to lead an interfaith prayer at the 911 memorial, and afterwards he was scheduled to conduct a mass in a Philadelphia prison. Unlike the former Popes, Francis has made a point in including convicts into his itinerary. Most of us, myself included can’t even get a piece of mail from the outside, let alone a visit, so I can only assume Pope Francis took “I was in prison and you visited me” quite literally. Yet visits aside, I was never one to follow nor discuss religious policies let alone a Popes agenda’s. However Pope Francis is proving to be far different than any religious leader in recent memory. To be perfectly honest, there is just something about him that truly intrigues me.
As the conversation began switching gears from The Holy Fathers prison visits, to his trip to the 911 memorial, a new associate of mine seemed to wince. I can’t say I knew much about him, however I knew prior to receiving an inmate identification number, he once had a badge number attached to his chest. This alone meant he could have stories for days. He was also up front about his past profession, and even though you would think mixing cops with convicts was like mixing cats and dogs, under the present circumstances he was a welcome addition to my circle of friends.
My new associate began sharing his positive feelings regarding the Pope, before focusing the conversation on the memorial service. It was then I found out he had been at the World Trade Center as this tragedy occurred. I had never spoken to anyone directly involved with the falling towers prior. The closet I got to it was watching this saga unfold while secured in my cage at Attica. From that day on I could only imagine the nightmares it had brought out for many.
He narrated as the first plane tore through the side of the north tower, he was driving into lower Manhattan via the Belt Parkway. For those of you not familiar with it, one side of the Parkway is only feet from the Atlantic ocean with a partial view of the Manhattan skyline and Lady Liberty. His voice began to speed up as he described the ominous cloud of billowing smoke which appeared on the clear blue horizon. To make the situation even more intense, as he drove there was a brutally descriptive narrative of the attack being broadcast on the radio.
In the time it took for him to enter lower Manhattan, the second plane was piercing the south tower. I sat speechless as he described watching the fire ball and ensuing shower of once carefully drafted documents now ablaze and dispersing themselves across battery park. A horror story in the making was unfolding right before him, yet his adrenaline fueled instincts forced him to race to the buildings entrance. He paused to explain pinning his I.D. to his shirt. Then let out a nervous laugh and told us he didn’t know why it was so important. No one running out of the building was going to notice.
He only had to walk a few feet into the lobby before spotting three injured women now tattered, battered, and filthy huddled next to the bank of dead escalators. Two, still in their heels, managed to carry the third this far, yet they could go no further unaided. Their friend had a tremendous head wound and crushed legs. At the very least she would need a stretcher to prevent further injury. He managed to raise the two almost mobile women to their feet, and both of them grasped onto him for dear life. Yet instead of immediately leaving he tool precious time to kneel down and patiently explain his plan to the third.