Every so often we are blessed with an opportunity that not only touches our hearts, but our souls as well. I have been blessed with such a moment. On Saturday, October 20, 2001, on a beautiful fall day, I gathered with over a thousand people at the Church of St. Louis de Montfort. We gathered to remember and to celebrate the life of a real hero, Lt. Peter Charles Martin of Rescue Company #2 in New York City.
Lt. Martin is a real hero, not because he gave his life in the service of others, not because he was cited many times for bravery and courage throughout his twenty-two years in the fire service, but rather because of how he lived his life. Peter was a firefighter through and through. He truly loved his career, so much so that he taught others about fire fighting with passion and zeal.
However, he was a husband to his soul mate, Alice and a father to his three boys, Daniel, James and John. This is an extraordinary family. They share a bond that is inspirational. They were and are an enfleshment of what family life is supposed to be. Even with all the rigors of fire service, Peter made Alice and his boys his top priority. He played ball with them and was involved in scouting. He loved his wife's cranberry bread. (He would eat at least two loaves of that bread a week. He used to call it "cranberry love.") They did everything together as a family.
Peter Martin was the enfleshment of what real heroism is supposed to be about. He was selfless at his job and in his personal life. People always came first and his own interests last.
His family was the center of his universe. Alice, his wife, was his best friend. They truly had a heartwarming relationship. They laughed every day. Their whole life was centered around each other, their boys and their God. Peter worked two jobs so that Alice could be a stay at home Mom. He loved to get home early to put the boys to bed and tell them stories and sing them songs. Their life together up until September 11, 2001 was near perfect.
Now Alice must continue the journey alone. She must raise her boys without the physical presence and support of her husband Peter. What is amazing about this family is their profound faith. Alice is confident that although it will be difficult, Peter's help from up above will see them through. Her courage these past weeks has been more than heroic. She has been an exceptional pillar of strength for so many. This strength was further evidenced by her presence at Peter's memorial service.
At the end of the service, after representatives from the Mayor and Governor's offices had spoken, Alice was introduced to thunderous applause and a standing ovation. This little woman stood very tall among the thousand plus who had gathered in her husband's name.
As she stood before us, she spoke with an eloquence and peace that few good public speakers can muster. She began her very brief but powerful remarks with words of gratitude to all who had gathered. Then she shared a little story about she and Peter that opened our hearts to better understand the man we had gathered to remember.
Alice shared a story that occurred shortly after they were married of a Christmas gathering where nice gifts were exchanged, especially nice clothes. The next morning Alice got up and went about her Sunday tasks. Later that morning, Peter got up and was dressed up in one of the new sweaters he had received the night before. Alice asked him why he was so dressed up, when this Sunday was nothing special. He suggested that Alice should go upstairs and change into one of her new sweaters. She smiled and went up to change. When she came down, Peter acknowledged how great she looked and said that every day is a special occasion and that we should live life in that way.
Alice shared that, said thank you and went to sit down to a thunderous standing ovation.
The real heroes among us are those countless men and women who are mothers and fathers who must courageously continue the journey without a spouse. They must try to lead their children by example to go beyond all the violence and sadness. These men and women are very prophetic in the way they are choosing to live. They are calling us to the truth. They are living heroic courage.
As I sat among those thousand mourners on that beautiful fall Saturday in late October, I realized how really fragile life is, how we are mortal and vulnerable, how temporary life really is and how we really need each other.
Hopefully this renewed sense of compassion and concern for others is not temporary, but rather long lasting. The events of September 11th have forever changed us.
Thanks to ordinary men and women like Lt. Peter Martin, the world is a little richer and brighter. Their extraordinary courage and compassion have made our world a better place. They should empower us to look at life differently.
Alice Martin shared so eloquently on that fall Saturday afternoon the words of her husband Peter, "every day should be lived as a special occasion."
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