Once you’ve seen certain things they can’t be unseen, or unremembered. I remember all of it. It sits in me. It sits in me every day I wake up. I don’t count on sleep much. I’m more cautious in many ways. Trauma changes you. You’re still you, but fundamentally, almost molecularly, rearranged. It’s like when you have children for the first time (if you’ve ever had children). There’s just a whole new standard for what’s important to you. 9/11 did that to me.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Michael Benfante was in a meeting on the 81st floor the World Trade Center’s North Tower when American Airlines 77 struck the building four floors above him. As he descended the stairwell, he encountered 41-year-old Tina Hansen, stranded in her wheelchair. With help from a colleague, it took nearly an hour to carry her to safety.
On that day, I learned that for whatever measure of human cruelty that exists in the world there is a hundredfold measure of human decency ready to respond to it. My hope is that we can remember that higher calling so many heard and acted upon when the fire came, and let it be the call we answer every morning, fire or no fire.
A 1987 Brown University graduate, Benfante currently lives with his wife and son in Bloomfield, New Jersey. He is the author of “Reluctant Hero.”