Joy and Sorrow

It’s been 17 years and as with all traumatic experiences, time defies the sense of it all. 9/11/2001 is a part of our country’s fabric and each year we remember not to forget all those who suffered and still suffer. In my family story, I remember the day and how young the boys were, ages one and five. I remember the sky– crystal blue and eerily quiet…

I wrote this over 10 years ago, yet the memory seems like yesternight—a word both boys said around the age of three. Yesternight…

Meet Me At…

Music is a key ingredient in our family and whenever we are a bit stagnant, I pop in a tune and the music stirs thing up. When we need a lift, just the right song will get things brewing. Sometimes it’s classical music and after the initial shock wanes (the boys and my wife would never make such a selection!) we are all playing instruments like an air band, or waving imaginary batons. Sometimes it’s a foot-stomping country tune or a head-banging rock song. Whatever the situation, there is a song that can lift and accent the moment.

twin towers light

Growing up as a boy in New York City, I often felt it was the center of the earth. Many New Yorkers will have you believe this and if you talk with anyone who has not visited the Empire State, there is a strong arrow that points right to the island of Manhattan. Those from other states and countries forget or simply don’t know how big, beautiful, and diverse the state of New York is. As someone who lived in the city as well as the suburbs, I can understand this perspective. The city pounds at your senses. It is simply big in every way. As a child I took the ferry past the Statue of Liberty; I gazed down from the Empire State building’s one-hundred-and-second-floor observatory; I stared up over a thousand feet at the peaks of The Twin Towers— and the sensations are still burned in my memory. My jaw still hangs as I consider what is possible when we put our minds to a task so monumental, such as building the world’s tallest structures.

Most of my memories have some sort of musical backdrop and the artist present for many of these is Bruce Springsteen. It’s as if “The Boss” slipped the soundtracks in while I was dreaming. He was there when I felt born to run as a teen. He was there when I packed up my bags and moved from my hometown…

When the Twin Towers fell in 2001, a part of my insides went with it. I did not lose a friend or loved one on 9/11. But when you have children you empathize with the ache of loss so much deeper—but I still can’t imagine having to bury my children. And for a long time, I had trouble imagining the home of my youth without those landmarks. I couldn’t imagine flying back for a visit without those peaks against the blue sky or lighting up the evening skyline.

One thing I’ve learned as a father is that joy and sorrow exist side-by-side, sometimes separated by no more than a breath. Sometimes you sense this driving down the road with your kids in the back seat and Bruce Springsteen’s The Rising playing loud and clear. Bruce sings “Meet me at Mary’s Place” and Justin and Evan join the chorus, smiling and singing at the top of their lungs…

I wanted to take my boys to visit the city where their father grew up… and their father’s father, and his father. I wanted to them to crane their heads to the sky, to be in awe of those Twin Towers and to see what our imagination and will is capable of.

Evan and Justin smiling and singing, the Towers falling.

Tell me how do you get this thing started?

Joy and sorrow side-by-side. I think that was what Springsteen was getting at when he dreamed of The Rising. When I imagine if it were me in those Towers and my family had to carry on, I would want them to remember the joy of my life. Yet, if I had lost my family— my sons, my wife— I would be drowning in sorrow.

Let it rain, let it rain…

Having to raise Justin and Evan has made me so aware of the breath between sorrow and joy, how precious the role of a father is….




Panepinto, J. C. (2007) Seems Like Yesternight: More Reflections on Fatherhood. Bradenton, FL: Booklocker.

Springsteen, B. (2002) Meet Me at Mary’s Place. On The Rising (CD) Columbia Records.

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About Dr. John Panepinto

Direction. Execution. Evolution. Each day can be an expression of living with purpose and focusing on what matters most. My sites share this theme of vision, living in our most important roles and responsibilities from imagination and creativity in a simple, practical way. I am committed to educating and serving, founded in principles of development, that people can use and practice in their every day lives.