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A time to love our country
  Irish Voice   2001-09-19 00:00:00+01

THE old Neil Diamond song America played on one of the radio stations early Monday morning, as I made my way into Manhattan after a Sunday spent at my parents' house on Long Island.

The World Trade Center was always the first visible city icon on the Long Island Expressway drive west, letting us know that Manhattan, capital of the world, our beautiful, buzzing, vibrant city, wasn't too far away.

They'll still come in their droves, on the boats, planes, and any other way they can get here. And they'll still have their dreams, and their hopes, and their goals, because that's what America was, is and always will be about.

This week, all I feel like doing is tapping words into my computer that convey my feelings of undying love for New York, my home city, and how unbelievably proud I am to be a native New Yorker.

This "gorgeous mosaic" of a town, as former Mayor David Dinkins used to term the city, is in many ways more gorgeous than it's ever been, and in the aftermath of catastrophe, a soothing spirit has settled over all of us - a spirit of community, of cooperation - that will hopefully remain forever.

The drive in from Long Island towards the big city takes in so many New York landmarks - the gigantic globe that remains from the World's Fair in Flushing in the 1960s, Shea Stadium, and, of course, a breathtaking view of the skyline that includes the Empire State, the United Nations, and a countless number of different buildings.

The closer you drive to it all, the more excited you get - at least I do. Though I've made the journey a countless number of times from Long Island, where I was born and raised, to Manhattan, my home for 10 years, I never cease to marvel when I drive over the upper deck of the 59th Street Bridge on a crystal clear night, or approach the Midtown Tunnel on a gloriously sunny day.

I love when relatives or friends come out from Ireland, all eager to experience New York for themselves.

I've always particularly looked forward to arrivals making their first trip here, because it means that they'd be looking to hit all the touristy spots like the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, St Patrick's Cathedral, the lobby of the Plaza Hotel, places like that. Oh, and shopping, let's not forget the shopping.

Being the willing tour guide that I am, I always volunteer to set aside a day to show them around my city.

Let's face it, most New Yorkers couldn't be bothered climbing up Lady Liberty's neck, or waiting on long lines to get to the Empire State's observation deck, not because we're "too cool" or don't care, but because, well, we always think these places will be there for us whenever we want them.

How wrong we can be. Our gleaming World Trade Center is with us no longer. It feels nauseating to write those words. It's gone - maybe temporarily, maybe forever - and left in its aftermath are tons of rubble and shattered lives.

But we have our memories. The pieces of garbage that plotted their "hit and run," as President Bush said, can never take those from us.

In 1999 the Irish Voice hosted our annual "Dreamers of Dreams" at Windows on the World on the 106th floor of World Trade Center Tower 2.

What a great time we had! Our 200 guests wined and dined and, more than anything, stood at the floor to ceiling windows and soaked in the views. I remember sitting on a windowsill as the party wound down and staring . . . and staring . . . I could have stayed put all night, basking in this feast before my eyes.

Our sister publication Irish America is a yearly Windows on the World customer. For the past three summers, the magazine has hosted its "Wall Street 50" party there in recognition of Irish business success.

This past July, I think we may have shut down the Windows on the World bar, where most members of the Irish Voice/Irish America staff repaired after the official event ended.

All our visits to Windows on the World have been memorable, but our last one really stands out.

Our photographer Nicola McClean must have shot two rolls of film of all of us posing happily with drinks in hand, gorging on scrumptious desserts undoubtedly created by pastry chef Heather Ho, one of the thousands who perished.

We complained about the $9 glasses of wine at the bar later on, but Nicola, Irish Voice reporter Georgina Brennan and I were thrilled with ourselves when a group of three young executives offered to buy us a drink.

Though I'm married and Nic and Georgina are spoken for, we took them up on their hospitality anyway. I hope those guys, whoever they are, made it through safely.

So we can take a little bit of comfort in remembering our great times, and our laughter, and our photos. So many people never had the good fortune to experience the World Trade Center; how lucky we were that we had the chance to visit it and enjoy it on a regular basis.

Sadly, members of the "Wall Street 50" list have been deeply affected by the World Trade Center attack.

Some lives have been lost - we don't know how many - and the various businesses represented by the members, such as Cantor Fitzgerald, have been dealt enormous blows.

It's so true what they say about not knowing what you had until it's gone. I think this atrocity has focused us on appreciating and cherishing what we still have - a wonderful city and a doubly-wonderful country, the one and only United States of America, land of the free and home to the bravest people in the world.

Like many Americans, I'm feeling totally patriotic now, inspired by the Stars and Stripes and red, white and blue bunting that's draped all over the place.

Sure, I've always loved my country, loved celebrating July 4 with all-American barbecues wearing my flag t-shirt, but instead of a one-day realization of how great this nation is, I now have a 24-7 awareness of that fact that I know I won't ever let go of.

My 2-year-old daughter Alana and I went shopping on Sunday in search of our own big flag to hang in our apartment, but our mission to K-Mart, Target and other stores was a waste of time.

Trying to find a flag for sale in New York, or any other part of the country is like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack.

I felt angry at myself for needing a national tragedy to prompt me to buy a flag. I should have had one ages ago.

Maybe it sounds silly, wanting to visibly express love and support for my country, but what else can most of us do?

I have that O-negative blood that's in short supply, but after waiting on line at a blood bank last week, myself and hundreds of others were turned away, as every bank is filled to capacity.

I walked to the Lexington Avenue Armory on Friday night to light a candle, and to just be among fellow New Yorkers, so many of whom are grieving over the premature loss of loved ones.

What we wouldn't give to take their pain away, to turn back the hands of time. Unfortunately, though, most of us can just hope and pray.

Born on July 25, 1999 in New York Hospital, my little baby Alana is far too young to comprehend the enormity of what's just happened in her world.

All she cares about is going to the park and playing on the "big slide," and watching her stacks of Barney and Elmo tapes.

I'm so happy about that, so delighted that she's being spared the grisly details of what happened in her city and her country. Will it be a better world, a safer world, when she and all of our children reach an age when they're able to understand?

Last Tuesday, September 11, started out ordinarily enough. I woke at 7 a.m. wondering what we'd put on our front page here at the Voice - an update on the vicious harassment of Catholic school girls by Loyalists in Belfast? Maybe something about the ongoing controversy about the New York City St. Patrick's Parade?

Events clearly superceded those stories, and gave us front page news that we never could have imagined.

The Irish people who were killed last week came to America on the boats and planes with their dreams, and look what happened.

They never had a chance to make the kinds of massive contributions to our country that previous generations of Irish have, people like my dad James McGoldrick, who came here from Co. Sligo more than 50 years ago and built dozens of houses all over Long Island, or my mother Peg Ryan and her sister Esther from Rathmore in Co. Kerry.

What a crying, crying shame. But their dreams will never die.

More Irish will come, and they'll be right there in the effort to make our country greater than it's ever been.

Of that we can be certain. The words "God Bless America" can never sound cliched, so . . . God Bless America. The best is yet to come.

Irish Voice

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