Editor’s Note: The letter below was written in 2001 and appears in the self-published book, Through Our Eyes: A Tapestry of Words and Images in Response to September 11. Printed and distributed in 2002, the book was the result of an independent, volunteer documentary project organized by a journalist and several friends. The author’s bio was written in 2002 and has not been updated.
A college professor once told Richard K. Hardesty to take the road less traveled, and that’s exactly what he did. The 34-year-old self-employed singer/songwriter was born in LaPorte, Indiana, and today lives in Fishers, Indiana, with his two beloved dogs, Kapo and Tasha. His passions include swimming, writing, animals, islands and traveling. He’s explored Europe and Puerto Rico – and has made 30 trips to his favorite country, Jamaica. As he describes, “If I could be anywhere right now, I would be sitting on a chair in the sun next to the ocean. There’s nothing better than listening to the waves and the sounds of the foreign tongue, preferably Jamaican ‘Patois’ Broken English.”
From the cornfields to the tropics, Rich always tries to keep his eyes open. “My observation of the world is a little bit different than most, I’m sure, but I like to share my view. It may have a rose-colored tint at times or even a touch of gray, but it’s the way I see it. I try to be ‘real’ in this world where you can sometimes get further by being someone else. If you pretend you are sugar cane, you may end up in a sweet field. But you will walk around feeling sour. Maybe that is why the divorce rate is so high, as well as job turnover. Be yourself going into it and there are no surprises. You have to feel it. That is what passion is.” Rich was at home Sept. 11 and watched the horror unfold on television. He wrote his essay Dec. 1 after a trip to New York City.
Saturday at about 12 p.m., I was walking down West Broadway and heading toward ground zero. The studio that we were recording at was only a couple of blocks away from the rubble. The streets were clean and most of the businesses had a fresh coat of paint. As I moved closer to the site, I had a strange rush going through my body that I had never felt before. Things became very celestine, and it was very apparent that I was approaching a very sacred ground.
There were people crying and people smiling. There were people who didn’t know how to act. One of the guards was arguing with a woman and finally grabbed her camera and tore the film from it. This surprised me, as I had just taken a picture of another hero who had warned me to get down from a cement block that I was standing on. At one point, I noticed a gap in the tarped fence that kept people from the site, so I peeked through it to see the base of the biggest orange crane I had ever seen in my life. I had heard stories that you could not only smell ground zero, but you could taste it. It was true. There was a residue at the back of my throat and I can tell you it twisted me up for about 20 minutes. There was something that kept me near ground zero like a magnet. I was very surprised at how close you could actually get. The visions from the TV screen that had kept me awake many nights now had turned into an aftermath reality of taste and smell.
It was 70 degrees and sunny in Manhattan on Saturday. New York was such a sacred place for me to be that day. There were times at ground zero when I would feel very at peace and other times I felt overwhelmed. Just seeing all of the flowers and pictures of firemen and policemen and notes that people had written on large sheets and flags. Standing there was huge at the time. It was like nothing I have ever felt before. It felt amazing to be in a city full of heroes. Now life goes on, and I need to keep creating and recording even in the face of something so tragic. All around the board, I think it was probably one of my life’s most memorable and touching experiences.
There was a moment when I felt like I had completed something. Then I saw a young girl walking slowly from ground zero with tears in her eyes. Her eyes of the world were so much different than mine. The look she had said it all but yet left so much unanswered. Was one of her family members still missing in there? I took my cell phone out and called home. I will always remember the day I stood at ground zero talking with my mom. She said, “Make sure you visit Strawberry Fields in Central Park. George Harrison has passed away.” I walked back toward the studio feeling lucky to be alive and part of a new American spirit. I was proud to be standing in the City of Heroes. God Bless America and nuff respects.