I’d trade all my tomorrows for one single yesterday
–Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster, “Me and Bobby McGee”
This haunting lyric, made famous by the legendary Janis Joplin, has been stuck in my brain as the 20th anniversary of 9/11 approaches.
As a survivor of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, I often wonder how it would feel to experience a single day without the trauma – and the guilt – of living through September 11.
I know that’s not possible. I expect to suffer from the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and survivor guilt for the rest of my life. I also know that, no matter how painful, I have an obligation to serve as a living witness to the horror and heroism of 9/11.
Here in Athens, Georgia, where our family has lived for nearly five years, most of our friends and colleagues have never met another World Trade Center survivor. That includes a whole generation of young men and women who were not even born 20 years ago.
They have never been taught that the heroes of September 11 – both uniformed personnel and civilians – enabled an estimated 25,000 people to escape the World Trade Center complex that day, one of the most successful evacuations in human history.
That’s why I try to make time every semester to meet with University of Georgia Professor Yan Jin’s Crisis Communication class. Her students always appreciate learning about these heroic men and women.
Heroes like David Lim, a police officer with The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey who rescued countless people – including me – from a blocked stairwell in Tower One minutes before the building collapsed. David – a K-9 officer whose partner, Sirius, was killed in the attacks – was later trapped in the rubble for nearly five hours. He retired as a Port Authority Police lieutenant in 2014. We remain friends to this day.
And heroes like Port Authority Police Captain Kathy Mazza, the first woman Commandant of the department’s Police Academy. Kathy led a group of academy instructors into the Trade Center a few minutes after the first attack. Most of them didn’t make it out. Kathy was the first female Port Authority Police officer killed in the line of duty. I keep her photo on the bulletin board in my office.
I think about Kathy and the others who made the ultimate sacrifice on 9/11 every time I walk into the gym at Oconee Veterans Park a few miles from our home – and I see the Flag of Honor that displays their names.
When our family is in church, I say a special prayer for them: “May their bodies find eternal rest, their souls find eternal joy and salvation, and their families find eternal comfort.”
I am grateful for their heroism, and for everything that I have been fortunate to experience – both good and bad – over the past two decades:
- Celebrating 28 years of marriage with my wife, best friend and love of my life, Allison Salerno.
- Watching our two sons, Gabe and Lucas, grow up to be happy, healthy, hard-working and caring young men.
- Support from family and friends across the country for our idea to make September 11 a National Day of Discussion – where we honor the sacrifices of the heroes of 9/11 by finding common ground across political, religious and cultural divides.
- Coaching hundreds of boys and girls on baseball and basketball teams in New Jersey and Georgia – then staying in touch with them as they become successful adults.
- My fellow staff at the Port Authority. We share a bond that can never be broken.
- The past 17 years working with outstanding colleagues at Rutgers University and the University of Georgia, promoting the value of public higher education as a powerful engine of economic opportunity and social mobility.
Above all, I am grateful to be alive.
On difficult days, the painful memories of September 11 can still be overwhelming. When that happens, I take a deep breath and remember these two truths:
Every day is a gift. Every breath is a blessing.
Greg Trevor is the associate vice president for marketing and communications at the University of Georgia. He worked for The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey from 1998 to 2004 and was in his office on the 68th floor of One World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001.