Patrick Anderson: 'Others Need to Know About These Simple Acts of Kindness'
Patrick Anderson on his journey to thank one of 9/11's unsung heroes.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this blog post are solely those of the interviewee. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
PBS: What were you feeling in the days leading up to meeting Emily?
Patrick Anderson: The anniversary of 9/11 each year awakens strong memories for me, as it does for many survivors with whom I have spoken. For families of victims, of course, the event is more traumatic.
During these times, I like to think about people that are "little heroes," meaning those that reached out and helped Americans in need, but for whom no parades are held and no movies are made. There are many little heroes, including those that helped survivors and their families in other states. Emily Maroney is one. I was looking forward to meeting and thanking her after losing touch for almost 15 years.
PBS: During your story, Emily reveals that she’s had trouble returning to New York City after 9/11. We see you visiting One World Trade Center – what was it like for you visiting the memorial for the first time?
"There was mourning, and there was anger in the air."
Patrick: I first returned to the World Trade Center site in September 2004 with my wife and oldest son Neal. We laid three wreaths of flowers at the site of a makeshift memorial to the many victims, remembering the three firemen that helped me and others escape, all of whom died that day. The area was still being excavated at that time, no formal memorial had been built, and it felt raw. I recall people continuously looking up in the air in an attempt to conjure up the images of the buildings that had been destroyed. There was mourning, and there was anger in the air.
In the show, filmed over a decade later, I retrace my steps at the WTC site, including where the buildings stood, where we gathered when we were escaping, and how I ran across the West Highway as the second plane hit the tower above me. There now is a memorial with beautiful reflecting pools, as well as a museum. It is definitely a place where people gather and remember, many privately mourning. There are many more people there, but fewer look up in the air.
In the aboveground area of the memorial site, the rawness of the first time I visited has been largely replaced with reflection. I understand the museum itself, which is largely below ground, provokes much emotion in visitors. I haven't gone into the museum yet, and may not do so for a while. I hope this show will make these events more real to those watching the show, and especially to those too young to remember that day.
PBS: You explain how a small gesture can leave a lifelong impact on someone. What do you hope others can take away from your story and Emily’s simple act of kindness toward you, a stranger at the time?
"In the aboveground area of the memorial site, the rawness of the first time I visited has been largely replaced with reflection."
Patrick: The small story told in the “We'll Meet Again” episode is unique, but the kindness of Americans toward those in crisis is something demonstrated time and time again. After I left Emily's care, I found my friend Paul Knudsvig, whose wife and family put me and my coworker in their house for days until we could start our journey home. Back in Michigan, my friend Brooks Patterson held a rally a week later demonstrating American resolve, while another friend, Mike Bouchard, led a group of law enforcement volunteers to Ground Zero to help those dealing with the awful devastation and thousands of victims.
None of these men and women asked for thanks, and they couldn't have known whether their efforts were remembered nearly two decades later. I certainly remember them. I was gratified to join Brooks and Mike when the new Fallen Heroes memorial was erected in Pontiac Michigan just over a year ago, recalling the many acts of heroism and sacrifice of Americans at the time of 9/11. Others need to know about these simple acts of kindness and little acts of bravery add up to protect a great nation.
For many people watching this show, there will be moments in their lives where they can help someone in need, not knowing whether their gestures will ever be remembered. Certainly my friend Emily didn't know I would look for her for over a decade, just to say thanks again. My two bits of advice: Don't wait for another tragedy to help someone, and don't be afraid to say thanks when someone helps you.
"My two bits of advice: Don't wait for another tragedy to help someone, and don't be afraid to say thanks when someone helps you."
PBS: You started the Michigan Remembers 9-11 Fund to remember the victims and heroes of 9/11. Can you tell us more about this organization?
Patrick: Together with two of my coworkers, Ilhan Geckil and Scott Watkins, we started the Michigan Remembers 9-11 Fund five years after 9/11. We hold an annual "Run to Remember" event in mid-Michigan, and use the proceeds to fund an essay contest for high school students, a website remembering every 9-11 victim from Michigan, of which there are at least 19, and the participation of two Michigan first responders in the annual Tunnel to Towers event in New York City, remembering fallen firefighters and policemen that day.
It is important that we preserve these memories, including both the victims and the heroes, for future generations.
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