Oprah: I was in no way prepared for what I just saw at Ground Zero—and I can't imagine that you've been there every day.
Rudy: Sometimes when I go, the construction workers say, "Look how much debris we've cleared away." But in all its different forms, it has been horrid. When I look at the exposed walls and the vastness of it all and I remember what was there before, I still can't believe that this happened in the modern world, in America—in New York City.
Oprah: And then you see the workers pulling the firefighters' bodies out. Haven't you been to most of the firefighters' funerals?
Rudy: I've been to more funerals than I can count. I realize that if I go, it helps most of the families. So I've tried to stretch myself to go to as many as I can—the fire commissioner and I try to split them. We both feel horrible that we can't go to all of them and let the families know how important their father, husband, child was to the city. No matter how many times you say the total number of lives lost, for each family it's an individual dramatic, horrible loss. There are the four children who lost their father, the wife who no longer has her husband, and the parents who have to live with the nightmare of their child being dead.
Oprah: Many are lauding your compassion, composure, and courage during this crisis. Does your interior self reflect what we see on the exterior?
Rudy: Most of the time, yes—but sometimes it doesn't. There are moments when you just want to break down and cry, but you say, I can't do it right now, I've got to do it later. I remember at times feeling so exhausted that I didn't know if I could walk into another funeral home. But most of the families are so remarkably strong and wonderful that they lift me up.
Oprah: When was the first time you did break down and cry?
Rudy: The first night I went home. I also maybe cried a little during the day, after I found out that Father [Mychal] Judge [New York City Fire Department chaplain] and Pete Ganci [FDNY chief], who I'd just seen, were lost. Then I found out that [political commentator] Barbara Olson, the wife of my very good friend Ted [the U.S. solicitor general], had been on one of the planes. I've known Ted for 19 years—and he and Barbara had been sitting right here in my office a couple of weeks before the attacks. They were an enormously happy couple. When I called Ted on the phone, I just cried. Then when I went home and turned on the TV, I saw shots of the buildings coming down. I just sat there and cried. I said to myself, "Thank God no one is around." You feel like you can't do that—cry—because you're supposed to be in charge. But I remember telling myself at one point that I would give myself room to cry, because crying is a sign of strength. I wasn't sure that was right, but that's what I told myself. It was such a terrible day, but I had to stay focused on how to get through it: "Does the city have air cover? Are we being protected by the air force? Where will the other attacks be?"