A Life Lesson from a 9/11 survivor. If you listen to his singing voice, you understand the power of a beautiful instrument. But if you listen to his story, you understand the fragility of life and how he survived – not one – but two hardships.
Daniel Rodriguez, the “9/11 Singing Policeman,” has a voice that helped “heal a nation” after September 11, 2001. A New York police officer, at the time, he stoked our national pride.
His stirring performances of “God Bless America” at several memorial events and on television touched millions of people. So in the wake of that horror, he proved that patriotism was not buried beneath the ashes of the World Trade Center.
A LIFE LESSON FROM A TWO-TIME SURVIVOR
Daniel Rodriguez was at Ground Zero on 9/11. He was on “the brink of death” when the second building collapsed at the World Trade Center, shortly after terrorists deliberately steered and crashed a plane into it.
As he was preparing to rescue others, the billowing clouds of dust and debris raced through the New York City streets toward him.
But Rodriguez survived and returned to the heroic work of helping the wounded and searching for other survivors. It is a tragedy forever etched into his soul. However, he did not let that tragedy define him or impact his life purpose.
He found hope. It is a lesson for us all. Instead of giving up, Rodriguez harnessed hope and searched for what mattered most in that moment. And, he wanted to serve others. So, he used his singing talents to lift his spirit and the spirit of others after that traumatic day and ever since.
But many people don’t know that Daniel Rodriguez is a two-time survivor. 9/11 was not his first brush with death, nor even the first time he survived a disaster.
HIS FIRST LESSON IN SURVIVAL
The devastation of addiction threatened Rodriguez’s life before the devastating attack on our nation. It was his first survival story. He was abusing alcohol, cocaine and crack and recalls one of the lowest moments in his life during that time. It stared him right in the face after a three-day bender. He says he looked in the mirror and saw — “a dead man.”
Rodriguez shared his story of drug and alcohol addiction as the keynote speaker at the Circle of Hope, a dinner fundraiser for Fairbanks in Indianapolis. It’s a treatment and recovery center that is changing and saving lives. I was honored to be the event emcee, a role for which I often volunteer, as a former television news broadcaster.
Rodriguez told the audience that, in the midst of abusing drugs one night in a room with other addicts, the sad cries of a baby jarred him out of his high. Someone there, afflicted with the disease of addiction, had their child with them – a child ignored in the haze of their drug use. And that stark moment of reality struck him deeply.
Rodriguez says that, even when abusing drugs, he never lost his sense of what mattered most – his humanity. That led him to reach out and cradle the baby and help take care of it. Perhaps Rodriguez understood the futility ahead for this infant with parents caught in the clutches of addiction. And, perhaps he understood the futility of his own children’s lives and the trauma his parents’ felt, knowing that their adult child was spinning out of control.
WHAT SHAPED HIS LIFE STORY
As a result, right after holding that baby, Rodriguez reached out to his parents and told them that he was ready. He was ready to give up the years of addiction which had been propelled, in part, by depression.
He was once a promising young vocal sensation, singing at Carnegie Hall at age 17. But he unexpectedly started a family, with his childhood sweetheart, not long after. That halted his career trajectory and the dreams he and his family had for him to be a successful performer.
So, he followed the path of addiction set forth by other family members. His parents were recovering alcoholics. The disease of addiction is often a genetic predisposition, running in families. Rodriguez halfheartedly joked, “We always felt we invented MMA (mixed martial arts) because a fight would always break out at family gatherings,” fueled by the family’s propensity to abuse alcohol. He states, soberly, that it was his “normal.”
It was easy for Rodriguez to drown his sorrows in substance abuse, especially when he felt the hopes for his future dashed.
A LIFE LESSON IN EVERY STORY
But here is that life lesson again, a familiar lesson that guided Rodriguez throughout his life.
Hope is just around the corner. If you seek it, you can find it. You can always begin again.Click to tweet
Rodriguez found hope. He discovered it in the plaintive cries and innocence of a baby. It was a reminder of how precious life really is. It was a reminder of how his hopelessness impacted everyone who knew him. And he may have known that, when he discovered the hope that catapulted him out of addiction, he wasn’t just saving himself. He was saving everyone who loved him.
FINDING HOPE DURING DIFFICULT TIMES
Rodriguez harnessed hope at tragic times in his life. So when he finished his speech at the “Circle of Hope” Dinner, the symbolism of his appearance stood out to me.
And in that moment, as Rodriguez walked off of the stage, he embodied that word so clearly that I reminded everyone…. “He is the hope of recovery.” A two-time survivor – recovering from the devastation of addiction and the most horrific attack, ever, on our nation.
Today, Rodriguez has completely risen from the ashes of both events. He is focusing on what matters most, his life purpose. He performs as part of the New York Tenors in concerts around the country and in classical crossover concerts around the world.
He inspires people on stages everywhere with his singing and his story. And he still gets many requests to sing “God Bless America” at sporting events, including several World Series.
HOW YOU CAN FIND HOPE IN LIFE
If Daniel Rodriguez can survive such devastation, what can you survive? Where can you find hope in the midst of some of the storms and trials of your life? It is there. You just have to reach for it. You have to believe in it and you have to believe in yourself.
You may find it in your faith. You may find it in the people you love. Or you may find it in one simple fact – a fact that led me into a new chapter, striking out to form a business focusing on “what matters most.”
And here is that fact. We get this one beautiful life, at least on this earth. And while we are here, with this precious gift, we must remember to honor it. To focus on what matters most. To live it fully. And, to have hope in all of our possibilities.
Just like Daniel Rodriguez, you were created to be great, to leave your mark, to share your gifts with the world. So, shake off the shackles stealing your hope and holding you back from your purpose.
If it’s fear of the judgment of others, don’t let that define you. Don’t give anyone the power to diminish your journey and your life story. If it’s fear of failure, just dust yourself and try, try again as many great leaders and inventors have done before succeeding. If it’s a health issue such as addiction, seek help in a recovery center and in your family’s love and support.
Yes, there will be trials that test us and knock us down in life but never forget to rise again. THERE IS ALWAYS HOPE. You can always BEGIN AGAIN. So, why not start – today?
WHAT IS YOUR LIFE LESSON, YOUR STORY?
If you have a story of overcoming obstacles and finding hope and purpose, please share it with me. You could inspire others. And, I would love to help spread your story so that we can all remember to focus on what matters most while we are here.