Ordinary Items Transformed by Meaning: A Reflection on September 11th

By Matt Patella

I must admit up front that I don’t really want to write this blog. But I feel it is an important story to tell. So here it goes…

If asked what three things would you grab if your house were on fire, some people find answering to be difficult. For me, it is very easy: a coin, a cross, and a box of matches. The coin, a challenge coin from the New York Secret Service Field Office stationed in the World Trade Center; the cross, simple steel cut from the South Tower of the World Trade Center; the box of matches, from the Windows On the World restaurant that sat at the 107th floor of the North Tower.


The coin

The challenge coin was given to me by a Secret Service Officer who was stationed in the WTC buildings. He handed me the coin at my father’s wake in January of 2002. I don’t remember what he said when he handed it to me, though I am sure there was some sort of explanation.

But to me that coin represents resilience. It represented a bit of history, a moment that I did share with my father who worked across from the WTC in the World Financial Center. It represents a part of our shared history as Americans and shows that something was there and gives hope that something will return.

The cross

The cross was given to me by a NYC Firefighter at my Eagle Scout ceremony. For my Eagle project I built and dedicated a gazebo in my local town center to the victims of the 9/11 attacks in time for the first anniversary. I built a gazebo because it was a place where people could reflect, sit for a moment and have a safe place to remember. It was a big undertaking for a 13 year old to do, but with the help of family, friends, and my Boy Scout Troop, it was accomplished.

So to me that cross is not only a representation of my religion as a Catholic but that from evil – depraved, disgusting evil –  Good can and will come. People will rally and cheer and if one person can focus that energy in a positive way and try to turn the ship, then Good will come. And isn’t that what the cross should always teach us as Catholics? That even in the most evil times there is Good.

The box of matches

I actually found the box of matches in my golf bag, or more accurately, the golf bag my father used and then I used. It still sits in my golf bag because to me that is where it belongs. I know that my father enjoyed smoking a cigar on the course from time to time and I like to think that he would use that book of matches to light his cigars. So it is a tradition that I carry on. I have had to refill the box with matches but the striker works.

The match box holds potential. It is old and not much but it holds fire and a bit of joy in the lighting of a cigar. Steel has been reused from the WTC to build ships. The famous flag was taken down from the flag pole and has been used to help victims of other tragedies, I have reused this match box to help me grieve and enjoy a game shared with my father a bit more.

I know this isn’t a traditional reflection on September 11th. I could have spoken to how I felt and how I still grieve. I could have said what others say about forgiveness and it is true we must seek to forgive but I wanted to give those who read a look into the affects not thought of from 9/11. How items, otherwise ordinary transform to mean something. What I have is important to me because of what it represents and how it is reflective of me. So I ask you what do you have that you hold dear, what represents you?

And to remember the different ways people were affected, here is one of my favorite ways New Yorkers responded.


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