MANHATTAN, New York — He moves quickly from store to store in the flower district, like a bee in search of pollen.
While much of the city is still in bed, Michael Collarone is busy shopping.
As the owner of Tribeca’s Floratech, everyone knows him as Mikey Flowers. Every day, Michael brightens the city with his colorful floral arraignments.
But Tuesdays are special.
It is on this day that Mikey picks the finest white roses in his collection for the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. The roses are later placed on the nearly 2,977 names of the Sept. 11, 2001 victims, who should instead be celebrating birthdays.
Throughout the week, the roses are distributed by volunteers like Guy Pappolla, who delicately places the flowers on the engraved names by the Memorial’s twin reflecting pools — the largest manmade waterfalls in North America.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Michael was standing outside his shop when Flight 11 struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center. As an EMT, he didn’t have to think twice about what to do.
Grabbing his medical bag, he raced downtown, intending to make it up to those in need inside the towers.
He was never able to make it inside; instead, he helped many of the injured on the streets below, eventually becoming trapped himself. Once rescued, he continued to volunteer at Ground Zero, until the very last piece of steel was removed.
Now, 18 years after those attacks, Mikey has a different mission.
“I donate the flowers to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum for the birthday program… and what that does is honor the victims on their birthday by placing a white road on their name at the fountain, “ Mikey said. “The [memorial team] had come to me and asked me how much I would charge for roses for this program and I told them that I could never imagine charging somebody to have the honor and privilege of doing that.”
The impact his gesture has made for New York is unmistakable.
“I think it’s absolutely incredible that the Memorial has found a way to do this,” said Julie Roth. On Sept. 11, 2001, Julie’s husband, Brian Sweeney, was aboard United Flight 175. The plane struck the South Tower at 9:03 a.m.
Today, Brian’s final heartbreaking voicemail to Julie is a part of the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. And every year, on his birthday, a white flower is placed onto his name.
“It’s very special. It’s just a reminder that these people have birthdays, they didn’t only die but they lived and it’s a great honor that they do this for them every day.”
No amount of time or distance will every erase the heartbreak and trauma of that terrible day, but for the survivors, there can be moments that ease the pain.
And so, Mikey meets Julie for the first time on August 10th. It is Brian’s birthday.
Together, they place a single white rose next to his name. And they share tears of sorrow, tears of gratitude.
“It give me solace knowing that I’m remembering these people not forgetting them and all of the world is doing the same,” Mikey says.
Story produced by Dave McDonald