by Tracy Smiles
The morning started out earlier than most mornings, with the alarm clock going off at around 3:30am. Rubbing the sleep out of my eyes and wondering why I’m waking up at such an early hour, I smell the perking of the coffee from the pot in the kitchen. Then I remember. This is the morning of probably one of the most sobering ride events we do all year. It’s the anniversary of the day our country was demonically violated by hating terrorists. The morning that damn near 3000 innocent victims were murdered ruthlessly in our country, 13 years ago.
Let me back up just a little, to bring a touch of personalization to this. About 6 months ago, during another bike event here in the valley, I had the opportunity to meet a few people from back east, who flew out here to support that event. I happen to mention through conversation the 9-11 Healing Field that is erected at Tempe Beach Park every year to honor those who lost their lives that day, to one of those people. He had never heard of the Healing Field and had no idea that anywhere in the country even did anything like this. Well, he booked his flight immediately and started making plans to come out and experience what the Healing Field is for himself.
Jimi Ricci had lost a dear friend that horrific day. She happened to be on American Airlines Flight 11. Paige Farley Hackel was 46 years old. Paige was not only a mentor, but a peer to many who were trying to find their spiritual path in life. She was from Newton, Massachusetts, and is thought of and remembered every day by not only Jimi, but all her friends and family.
On the eve of the anniversary, Jimi had already had a long day from traveling from Boston and was feeling a bit jet lagged. I still asked him if he wanted to go to the Healing Field, and without hesitation, he jumped up and was ready to go. Once we got down there, I could sense the magnitude of his feeling overwhelmed by the sight of almost 3000 flags, meticulously placed on the park grounds at Tempe Beach Park. He was on a mission. He wanted to find Paige’s flag and memory card. We were led in the area where the victim’s of Flight 11 were at, and within 3 minutes, he found the flag. It broke my heart to see this man obviously be taken back in time for a few minutes, as he remembered his friend, with tears rolling down his face. He was able to purchase that flag that had been flown in her memory, and take it back to Boston with him.
Back to the early morning hours of 9-11-14. This had turned into an annual ride event, with the number of people from our biker community growing in size every year. We all met in the parking lot of a local restaurant not far from the venue. This year, I would say, if there was 1 bike, there were 75. And the hour was early… Very Very early. We rolled into the parking lot at around 4:45 am. It was enough time to grab a cup of coffee, say hello to everyone there, take some pictures, then get back on the bikes and get ready to head over to the Healing Field. Even though it’s only about 5 miles, it’s quite impressive to all roll together through the early morning streets of Tempe and come thundering in as a strong representation of our biker community.
We arrived with minutes to spare of the opening ceremony at the Healing Field. The ceremony starts right at the moment the first tower was struck in New York City, 5:45 am local time. There were a couple squadrons from the Army standing at parade rest. There is the firefighter that shows up every year in full gear, who stands in respect throughout the day, near the memorial. The Tempe Police Bagpipe team who show up playing several of our patriotic American National Anthem themes. Prayer is always given. Then the podium opens up for town officials and the general public to read the names of all the first responders who perished that day. Even though this ceremony lasts all of 30 minutes, it is always a deeply reverent time. It is a time to reflect and remember the everlasting effects of that atrocious morning. It is a time to never let the memories of those who perished, fade. Then there is the bugler. The bugler, who every year plays Taps every hour, on the hour, all day long. Every year, when I hear him or her play, it sends a ripple effect through my body, and forces the tears to silently slide down my cheeks. This year was no different.
The day in general was a very memorable, sobering, heartfelt day. I am glad I was able to spend it in the great company of others who share similar feelings as myself about the tragic day that was 9-11-01.