Thursday, January 20, 2011

January 19th a day I will never forget

It seems like only yesterday that a phone call woke my roommate and I up at 5am.  The question from her mother of "there's a fire on campus, are you ok?" made us jump out of our beds after responding, yeah we're fine, to look out our window and there I saw a sight that I will never forget.  I saw outside of Boland Hall firetrucks, ambulances, and other emergency vehicles and wrongly assumed everything was ok.  I guess at that point everything was under control, but it certainly wasn't ok as I would find out.  My roommate and I did the best college thing you could think of, we went back to bed as everything seemed under control.  We got another phone call at 7am asking "what the hell is going on up there, I hear 3 people are dead."  Well that was it, we were awake, we had no idea what was going on and immediately turned on the tv.  My roommate like to watch Good Day NY, and I still remember how somber Jim Ryan was reporting the news of the Seton Hall Fire.  For anything on Good Day NY to be somber was odd as they were usual a "fun" news set, so it stayed with me.

Now that we were awake we did again what any normal college kid would do, we went for breakfast, but not after a few calls were made and some information was found out.  We managed to find out the fire was on the 3rd floor, the floor we used to live on. The third floor also happened to be where a friend from high school lived.  This friend's brother was killed accidentally two years before, so my thoughts where "Oh God, no, not again, You're not going to do this me again."  Thankfully that friend was one of the first people I saw when we out to walk to the cafeteria for breakfast.    We weren't out of our dorm for 2 minutes before we  heard "Pete can't find his brother."  I knew right away that "Pete's brother" was one of the three who had died, but I held out every last bit of hope that he wasn't one of them.

We continued on to breakfast, because you had to eat.  Everything on campus was cancelled.  The day was spent going from the cafe to the Main Lounge for updates to the Chapel for Mass and prayer. Eventually we were told go home, go home and be with your families.  So my friend Kelly, who lived in Albany and I decided that since I was on the way home for her, that I would drive to my house and then she would drive herself the rest of the way. Before we did any of that, we went to visit our friend Bridget who wasn't on campus that morning as she was a commuter.  I don't remember much of that small trip to Bridget's. I do remember one of her oldest sister's kids was having a birthday party that evening, so she went over there and Kelly and I started on our way home.  We made it onto the Garden State Parkway and around 7pm the names of the three young men who had died were released.  All I heard was "John Gu..." and my fears from the morning came true, Pete's brother was one of the three. We turned around at the next exit and found Bridget at her sister's house, which is why I remember that someone had a birthday. We didn't go in as they knew why we were there.  We went to Bridget's house, which was a block away from her sister's house, and somehow managed to find out the details about John's wake and funeral.  Kelly and I then continued on our way home.

While I can never change the events of that day, I can think of how well the Seton Hall Community came and still comes together.  Over facebook a good portion of my fellow Seton Hall Alumni, most of us there that day, and a newly minted alumn, changed our profile pictures to Blue Ribbons.  Those ribbons were handed out 11 years ago for the prayer services that followed that eventful day, and the message of "Never Forget: you are always a pirate" still rings true.

John, Frank, and Aaron's,well John's wake and funeral brought back all the memories of just two years before when Gary died.  I asked a very smart priest "why, why would God let this happen?" and he responded with, "Don't ask why, ask how, what can come from this."   Little did I know that I would be the rock, the one who had been through something like this already, the one who knew the memories would never go away.

I remember returning to campus, and then going to John's wake and funeral Mass, and how crowded both were.  I remember the media trying to get reactions out of us, the media crashing funeral Masses. I remember Seton Hall offering buses so that students could go to their fellow students' funerals.  I remember returning back to campus the Sunday night after John's wake, and being at the 10pm Mass, as I had yet to go, and having Fr. Jim asking for someone to read, and somehow I was volunteered.  I remember asking him, how do I pronounce Frank's last name, as I knew the other two.  Somehow I made it through reading the readings, and petitions including the names of my fellow students who had died.

11 years ago seems so far away, yet the memories come rushing back every January 19th.  I think of complaining about the snow, ice, and rain on the 18th and then laughing, because it always seems to snow around the 19th, but never on it.  I remember someone once telling me that John loved snow, and I can't help but take the snow or winter weather as a sign, that John is up there with Frank, Aaron, Gary and all the other saints in Heaven watching over us and praying for us.

Gary's 13th anniversary is fast approaching, and I remember being on that 3 floor of Boland Hall, being a lost freshman, not knowing what to think or do.  God's love is amazing when you think about it.  He allows us to know what He felt by allowing His Son to come down to Earth and grow like us, and die like we will.  What we forget is that God must have suffered watching His Son on that cross, all the while knowing it was what His people needed.  There is great solace in the idea that Jesus' parents suffer pain and sorrow the way we do.

Réquiem ætérnam dona eis,  Dómine; et lux perpétua lúceat eis, Requiéscant in pace. Amen. Rest in Peace John, Frank and Aaron.

My prayers go out to the Giunta, Caltibilota, and Karol families and to the extended Seton Hall family, that has not forgotten, nor have we forgotten the actions of those injured that day, my prayers as with them as well.  

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