By Arnie Mascali ’88
Nearly 10 years ago, I published an essay in Bucknell World, titled “Basking Ridge 2011,” trying to explain the events of September 11 to my daughter, Alexandra. I imagined the conversation we would have at the 10th anniversary of the death of her uncle, my brother, Joe Mascali, FDNY Rescue 5. I tried to capture some of the emotions and anguish of the time to remind my daughter of what she endured, even as a 6-year-old girl. Of course, over the last decade my wife and I have discussed the events of that terrible day with Alex, and our son, Jack, as well as our unending love and admiration for my hero brother.
At the time I wrote the piece, however, I never thought we would need to be reminded of the shock and horror of the terrorists’ attacks, the agony of waiting hopefully that Joe somehow survived, or the sympathy in seeing his wife and children and my parents so helpless once we learned his fate. The damage was so real and the scars too deep to ever forget. In fact, I recall being confused in the short months following the attacks at seeing signs and bumper stickers that read, “We will never forget.” Forget? That was impossible.
Yet one anniversary after another implored with increasing vigor — “Never Forget.” I admit I could not understand exactly what should we “never forget.” Who planned the attacks? How the attacks were carried out? The governmental lapses that could have prevented this devastation? These possible alternatives seemed to me to focus too much attention on vengeance, retribution or blame, and could not possibly be the enduring memory of 9/11.
No, for me, the everlasting images would be of my brother, and others like him, running quickly but purposefully and professionally into the towers, and then guiding innocent people to safety even as the buildings began to collapse around them. It would be the comforting glances he exchanged with other firefighters as they hurried along, without acknowledging their doomed destiny. And it would be the dignity he displayed when God called his name, picking himself up and dusting off his gear, and proudly but humbly presenting himself.
Each year, I am asked to speak to our town’s second-graders on the topic of heroes. To accentuate my presentation, I distinguish between an “idol” and a “hero” by first flashing photos of athletes and celebrities, whom all the students quickly recognize, and then stump the students by displaying pictures of my brother and his Rescue 5 colleagues. While idols may be famous for special athletic, musical or theatrical talents, I explain, a hero bravely and most often anonymously puts the safety of others before his own. They then listen attentively to the story of how Joe Mascali risked his life to save others, and they promise to share his story with their friends and family.
And they promise to remember someone they never knew.
Arnie Mascali ’88, and his wife, Elizabeth Adams Mascali ’89, live in Basking Ridge, N.J., with their children Alexandra, 16, and Jack, 12. He can be reached on Facebook under Arnold Mascali.