It has been a month since the terrorist attack at the Inland Regional Center left 14 dead and 22 injured, and instead of just returning to work the County of San Bernardino closed all non-essential offices at noon yesterday encouraging staff instead to attend a private gathering for county employees to remember those lost on December 2nd, honor those who survived, thank those who assisted, and support the community in its grief.
The attack “did not tear us apart,” County Board of Supervisors Chairman James Ramos said to over 3,000 employees seated in the Citizens Business Bank Arena, “it has drawn us closer together.” This was a theme echoed by each speaker and a feeling that permeated the arena.
I expected that sentiment.
I also expected to see our local elected officials…many were there. I expected the governor’s presence. One of the perks of having a mother in state leadership is getting that kind of news early. But I really didn’t expect to see former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani addressing a healing community and comforting all of us with his wisdom, his compassion, and even his humor.
His goal was to impart some of the wisdom gained after the devastation of the 9-11 attacks in New York City almost 15 years ago. “What I learned from 9-11, he said, “is they cannot break our spirit. We know who we are. We are a free people. We are for human rights. We got it wrong a lot, but got it right more than most.” “It still haunts me,” he admitted. “But we have to learn how to laugh and cry on the same day.” A lesson he learned from Mrs. Gail Gorumba.
Mayor Giuliani met Mrs. Gorumba under solemn circumstances when he was asked to meet the family of a fallen firefighter. He arrived at the hospital right before the physicians informed the family that the young man had not survived. Giuliani was in the room when they were given the news. Mrs. Gorumba, he learned, had lost her father and husband earlier that year, and now she had to deal with the death of her only son. The family had been happily planning her daughter’s wedding, but now that ceremony was in jeopardy. Everyone in the family thought it best to cancel the wedding, except Mrs. Gorumba. That’s when she told Giuliani that we must celebrate the good and not be devastated by the bad. And that’s also when the mayor promised to give the daughter away at the ceremony.
The wedding was scheduled for September 16, 2001, what turned out to be the week after the catastrophic attacks on the World Trade Center.
Of course, the family expected the mayor to cancel. He was in the midst of an unspeakable trauma that paralyzed one of the most vibrant cities in the world. But her words stuck with him. “We have to learn how to laugh and cry on the same day.” He attended that wedding. It was front-page news. It helped the city to heal, he said. And it’s a sentiment he wanted to leave with the people of San Bernardino.
“We have to make good come out of the bad, ” he repeated. “You want people to remember San Bernardino. You want them to remember that they didn’t beat you. You want them to remember how strong a people can be when they love each other. Make something good come out of this…We did it in New York and you can do it here.”
Then he told us the story of Steven Siller. Firefighter Steve Siller had just gotten off the late shift in Brooklyn and was on his way to play golf when he heard about the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001. He gathered his gear, jumped in his truck, and when he realized Brooklyn’s Battery Tunnel was closed he ran from the tunnel to the towers and saved many lives before losing his own. In honor of his sacrifice his family started the Tunnel to Towers Foundation and hosted an annual “tunnel run” to raise money for the children of the 9-11 victims. The first year there were 850 participants. Now almost 15 years later there are over 35,000 participants in the annual run. Now the Tunnel to Towers Foundation raises money to build smart homes for the most catastrophically injured service members returning home. This is just one of many examples of the good that has come from that tragedy.
“We must emerge stronger,” that is the goal. New York did it, Mr. Giuliani reminded us, and so can we.