Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Working Toward a Miracle Finish

The final hours and days of the journey came not so much like a long-awaited summer afternoon but rather like the perfect storm.

Throughout the country Jon had the pleasure of showing his cross to thousands of admiring, appreciative people – and the luxury of telling them that ‘when it’s finished it will be polished to a mirror finish.’ That luxury was now a distant memory, as the next time Jon would show off his memorial – at a date and time coming fast – that promised mirror finish had to be there.

Probably not for the first time, Jon had his doubts.

A couple of weeks ago, at the Firemen’s Festival in Lincolon Park, New Jersey, Jon met Robert Sola of the Smoke & Iron Firemen’s Motorcycle Club. Robert, like so many firemen we’d met, found Jon’s cross to be something truly special, a memorial deserving of contribution, a project to be supported in whatever capacity imaginable. ‘We’re installing it in New York City the night before the dedication,’ Jon told him. Robert pulled out his Blackberry and began thumbing away as he spoke.

‘Okay, I’m going to get the guys from our motorcycle club to give you an escort into the city.’ Robert put his phone to his ear, the line on the other end ringing. ‘There are a bunch of other clubs around, all over Jersey, I’ll get them too. What time you think you’ll be leaving?’

Robert contacted us in the following days, and kept contacting us, a fire of excitement in his gut for the contribution he and fifty of his friends were about to make. On Monday night Jon picked up the phone to say the words he didn’t want to have to say.

‘Robert, I’m sorry, we have to call it off. It’s not going to be ready.’

Robert would say later his heart just sank. Fortunately for him, his fellow riders, for Jon and for all of us, Jon’s family sat him down and told him he was wrong. The cross would be ready. Jon would just have to make a huge push in these last two days – a push fueled by faith, sweat and loads of pizza.

Jon and Anthony were up early Tuesday morning, cranking up the generator and firing up the tools of their trade. In the blessed shade of the barn they cut and welded and grinded and polished the steel that had survived 5,000 miles on the back of a pickup. The two pieces of the thirteen-foot steel base needed to be tamed as well, not buffed to a mirror finish but smoothed to the color and texture of an overcast winter sky.

As the sun rolled across the sky each piece of the cross, one by one, took on a supernatural shine. Welded together, the cross began to show signs of completion. Anthony raised it up with the forklift, lashed it in place with a black rope and brought it out into the afternoon. Out here Jon would ease it into the top of the base, in the hole Anthony had cut from a rough template he’d made from the asymmetrical contours of the foot of the cross. After some maneuvering and an hour of welding we all stood back. The cross, shining in the setting sun, appeared as something bigger than Jon was prepared to admit.

The anticipation of completing the job, of seeing the cross standing tall on top of its main base, drifted in the air among us, unspoken and palatable. The waning light of day, however, would put our plans on hold. ‘We don’t have lights for out here,’ Jon said. ‘And we can’t do it in the barn, it’s too big, we’ll hit the roof.’

Anthony drove the cross inside and laid it down. We would have to wait until morning.