I wasn’t too little to remember 9/11. Having just turned six years old and starting kindergarten, I walked into school that morning to have my friend ask if I heard about the planes that crashed into the buildings in New York. I went home that day to my somber parents who gently explained to me what happened. I wasn’t allowed to watch TV that night because of the news, which meant an earlier bedtime for me. Vexed by my parents’ decision to send me off to bed, I couldn’t help but think about how many kids’ parents wouldn’t be coming home that night. It was my first memory of compassion, and that feeling sticks with me today and every year since that fateful Tuesday.
Nearly thirteen years later, I set foot on the Heights (technically Newton campus) for the first time as a student. Determined to reinvent myself as the cool BC bro that every freshman guy seems to want to be, I expressed all my knowledge about sports, beer, girls, you name it. It was exhausting, but I was bonding with friends over handles of Rubi and trolling the Mods with new friends who only saw the person I wanted to be, but not me. The pretending and stress of starting college knowing no one from my hometown, let alone my home state, led to a very lonely first two weeks of classes at BC.
On the thirteenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, a Thursday, I clicked on a link from CNN. A number of my new friends had shared it on Facebook, as well as the Boston College and BC Athletics pages, and I learned about Welles Remy Crowther, the Man in the Red Bandanna, for the first time. My brief time at BC had been awash with phrases like “cura personalis,” “daily examen,” and of course “men and women for others.” The latter of which never seemed to carry any weight for me, especially at a university where students applied to service clubs from which they could possibly be rejected. I struggled with the phrase, just continuing to use it ironically as I poured a friend another.
Welles gave those words meaning, though. Not only did he apply them to his life until his death in the World Trade Center, but he also embodied them. The Man in the Red Bandanna, who had expressed his desire to become a firefighter prior to 9/11, saved as many as eighteen people from the South Tower and climbed back up the stairs after evacuating the building to help firefighters put out the blaze. Welles died when the tower collapsed, and his body was found six months later in the rubble with other New York firefighters.
Welles’ story immediately struck a chord with me, and after meeting new friends at BC who lost friends and family members on 9/11, I decided to walk the Memorial Labyrinth that afternoon, praying and reflecting as I did so. The names of the BC alumni who lost their lives surrounded the winding maze, and each one had some sort of marker next to it. Welles’ had a red bandanna and a bouquet of yellow flowers.
I spent my time at the Labyrinth that day going back and forth between praying the rosary and reflecting on the stress of coming to BC and this failing attempt to reinvent myself. Much of my time in high school was spent suppressing any rumors that I could have been gay, and going to BC allowed for me to escape those accusations. But two years ago, I thought about the names around the Labyrinth. I reflected more upon Welles Remy Crowther’s heroism. I was inspired by his story and wanted to be a man for others like he was, and I came to this realization that being gay would not hinder me from embodying that same spirit. The only way for me to truly be a man for others, like Welles and so many other courageous students, faculty, and alumni at BC, would be to be honest with myself first and foremost, which also came with loving my genuine self.
Walking away from the Labyrinth that afternoon and riding the bus back to Newton, I felt comfortable for the first time BC. This isn’t to say that I walked up to everyone in my dorm and told them I was gay. Instead, I felt comfortable knowing I didn’t have to do that. That Labyrinth walk marked a turning point in my life where I could finally admit something that had been eating away at me for years to myself and no one else because it didn’t matter. I could still be like Welles, this man for others, and be gay because that trait hopefully would not define who I was a person. I didn’t want anyone to think less of me for being gay, but I also didn’t want anyone to like me more just for being gay. I want people to like me for being Eddie, and I want Eddie to be a good friend and man for others above all else.
The extent of Welles’ sacrifice and heroism went beyond the four walls of the South Tower. Welles inspired me to be true and loving to myself so that I can be just as true and loving to others. Fifteen years is a long time, but the wounds of 9/11 will never heal for some. As someone who cannot fathom how deeply heart wrenching today is for so many families and friends of those who died, I cannot help but feel so thankful for Welles’ and so many others’ sacrifices and the continued hope his courage gives people as every year goes by.
Featured Photo . Photo One courtesy of the author