In honor of Sept. 11, this is a reprint of my column for Sept. 14, 2001, just days after the awful attack on America.
They are weeping in Pearl River. Weeping for New York City’s Bravest and Finest, lost in the rubble and horror and smoke of the World Trade Center disaster.
They are weeping elsewhere in Rockland County, surely, for civilians and city workers alike, but it is Pearl River and all of Orangetown where so many of the Bravest and Finest live.
Some neighborhoods are almost an extension of the city, and firefighters and police officers living there have taken the jobs of fathers, grandfathers, great-grandfathers.
This is another Rockland, set apart from the country and historic days, and distinct from the regular post-war suburbia of New City or the ethnically diverse neighborhoods of Spring Valley and Haverstraw.
In that, there is as much heritage, distinction and pride as in any section of this geographically small county so close to New York City. Indeed, it is the physical closeness that makes Pearl River, particularly, so attractive to city workers.
When the Palisades Interstate Parkway partially opened in 1955, Orangetown was the first accessible Rockland area, 16 miles from the George Washington Bridge. Firefighters and police officers, seeking a country life for their families and unable by law to live in New Jersey, which is closer to Gotham, flocked to the relatively affordable housing here.
And they formed a community. It is not the usual suburbia. Yes, there are the bi-levels; the block parties; the hustle and bustle of car pools and family activity. But there is also the “Brotherhood.” The Brotherhood of deep concern and respect for each officer, active or retired, and son or daughter or father or grandchild of that officer.
You might just as well be in the firehouse or the police precinct station house on many streets of Pearl River. These people stick together, and when one suffers, all do, fueled by the deep sense of mourning that the Irish (so many of these officers are of that heritage) instinctively carry in their souls and hearts.
Rockland, Pearl River, do not yet know how many of their New York City Bravest and Finest will be counted on the honor roll of the dead. That may take weeks, and the toll may be high. But already the darkness of grief has descended, and with that sweep of fate are also seen angels of mercy and comfort.
The mutual-aid system of the Brotherhood of firefighters and police officers has eased into the grief, separating the dark from hope and resurrection and thanks for sacrifice.
The bagpipes will be playing a long time in Pearl River and in Rockland. The Masses will be many. There will be a lifetime of sorrowful memory. But already there has begun a healing, thanks be to God, by the goodness of the Brotherhood.