20 years after 9/11, ‘Chicken Soup’ author again thanks Madison police
MADISON – In retrospect of destruction by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001, Dr. Steve Gorelick also remembers the resiliency of the American spirit.
He specifically recalls the courage of eight law enforcement professionals with Madison Police Department who volunteered to work on the streets of New York City after the devastation of that sunny September morning.
The Madison law enforcers who volunteered to work in New York City were Marcus Adams, Jim Cooke, Jason Fox, Clayton Jordan, the late Wayne Kamus, Trey Street, the late Adam Vaughn and Steve Wilkerson.
Gorelick served as Distinguished Lecturer (retired) at Hunter College with City University of New York. His expertise focused on areas of specialization in criminology, research methods and statistics, genocide and human rights.
On Sept. 10, 2021, Gorelick wrote the following personal letter to Madison Mayor Paul Finley:
“I know that this is probably a distant memory, if remembered at all, but in the aftermath of 9/11, as all of us in New York struggled to make sense of the destruction, I met a team of police officers who had made their way from Madison to help our wounded city.”
“I was inspired by their selflessness and how they conducted themselves, and that is what I tried to express in a piece I wrote that appeared in many newspapers across the country and was eventually included in the anthology, ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul of America: Stories to Heal the Heart of Our Nation.’”
“Over the years, I have received a number of emails from Madison residents asking if I was the author of that essay. Each contact has meant so very much to me, and I have often heard from teachers who have shared it with their students.”
“Your wonderful mayor at the time, Jan Wells, and I became internet pals, and over the years I’ve enjoyed keeping up with the latest developments in a wonderful place I have never visited.”
“On 9/11, I was serving as the Vice President of one of the midtown campuses of the City University of New York. We were located across from the Empire State Building, and, throughout that first day, we watched thousands of stunned, ash-covered survivors make their way uptown from the ruins.”
“Those images are seared in my mind, and, as I watched from my office on 5th Avenue as they moved through the canyon of skyscrapers, I remember thinking: ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.’”
“All sorts of people from across America made their way to New York in the days after the tragedy, but the ‘rod and staff’ that I found just happened to be the officers from Madison.”
“Like many of you, my life has changed in many ways since that day. I retired in 2018 as a professor of criminology after having spent a decade immersed in teaching and research about the effect of sudden catastrophic violence on communities.”
“A confession: My message to you and your wonderful citizens comes so late because I was reluctant to remember those days. When I came home late that night, my neighbor’s house was ringed with candles. He had been lost. But with the 20th anniversary looming tomorrow, I realized that I had forgotten my own vow 20 years ago to never forget what compassion and selflessness look like.”
“Truly selfless acts are stubborn and persistent, aren’t they? The world may change, our lives may be filled with blessings and challenges that can both grace and upend our lives.”
“But even with all of the moving back and forth these days between compassion and division, no one can ever undo the truth of what happens, what we permanently create, in moments when we are guided by ‘our better angels.’”
With profound gratitude,
Steven M. Gorelick, Ph.D.
Distinguished Lecturer (retired)
Following up on the former reference to his writing, Gorelick authored the following article, “The Cops from Madison, Alabama,” for “Chicken Soup for the Soul of America: Stories to Heal the Heart of Our Nation” in October 2001:
October 3, 2001 – “I wondered when I would finally feel the sadness. I wondered why other New Yorkers I passed in the streets of Manhattan looked so pained while I felt so numb. I really began to wonder if I was human. I felt nothing at all. Nothing.”
“It started several days after the sky fell on September 11th when I looked out my living room window in Westfield, New Jersey, and saw friends and family visiting the pregnant wife of a 31-year-old man who was missing in the rubble. I tried hard to cry, but — as much I would like to say I felt courage and resolve — what I really felt was an almost paralyzing fear brought on by the sheer audacity of the acts.”
“At work in Manhattan, I found it even harder to feel pain and sadness: I work across from the Empire State Building, and that building’s new status as New York City’s tallest skyscraper gave all of us in the surrounding neighborhood a case of the jitters. It’s hard to feel sad when you keep looking up at the sky waiting for something to come crashing down.”
“Several days later, my wife and I attended an interfaith service. I passed a sign with the names of a number of those from my hometown who had been lost. So many were parents of young children. I could feel a little lump forming in my throat. But I still could not cry.”
“The pent-up emotions finally hit like a ton of bricks when I least expected it. I was out walking in front of the Empire State Building. I wanted to simply be in the presence of the New York City police officers now guarding that building. And as I got closer, I saw that the building’s entrance was being protected by police officers from Madison, Alabama. And I lost it.”
“I ran upstairs to my office and finally shed the tears that had eluded me for three weeks. You have to understand. Most New Yorkers are hopelessly provincial, still living with the illusion that they live at the center of the universe, as if this wonderful complex, diverse universe could even have a center!”
“Some are even still fighting the Civil War, with a view of the South that is as up-to-date as a Matthew Brady photograph. I know people who never even leave Manhattan, as if — having found paradise — they have no reason to go anywhere else.”
“Yet, there they were out in front of the Empire State Building, a group of wisecracking, cynical New Yorkers who had surrounded these officers and were looking at them with the reverence usually reserved for members of the clergy. And these big, strong, confident, reassuring police officers from a place that no one had ever heard of were actually calming the nerves of people who had seen things that no one should see and felt things that no one should feel.”
“I don’t know where Madison, Alabama is. I don’t know how many people live there. I don’t know what petty disputes are currently being fought out in its City Council, but I bet some group of citizens has been making a lot of noise lately about the lack of a stoplight at some especially congested corner.”
“I don’t know if there is a peaceful river that runs through town or a lake where you can fish and swim. I don’t know where in town you can taste the best barbecue, and I certainly don’t know a soul who lives there. But I do know that on a fine sunny day in my hometown, three weeks after it seemed as if the world were collapsing around us, a bunch of courageous and compassionate cops from Madison, Alabama, were just what we needed at precisely the moment we needed it.”
“To the good and decent people of Madison: Thank you for sending us your bravest and finest. Just the sight of their Madison shoulder patch and the decency and confidence they demonstrated gave me an incredible dose of hope that — whatever comes along — our almost instinctive compassion as a nation will overcome any adversary.”
“And do me a favor: Promise that someone from Madison — wherever it is — will get in touch with me the next time a river overflows (is there a river nearby?), the next time a fire leaves some people homeless, the next time — God forbid — that a place of such obvious kindness and decency has its reckoning with pain and loss. I’d love to help.”