My dad, a journalist, had left for his daily jog in the wee hours of the morning. As he finished running and stood, stretching, on the sidewalk outside our one-story house, Stu, a neighbor, shouted out to him.
“You missed a big news story!”
My dad, tired from his run and hardly in the mood to talk, wiped the sweat from his brow and he gave Stu a courteous wave. He meandered inside to turn on the television.
When JFK was killed, my grandfather was in the basement of the business his family owned. When FDR died, my grandmother was at a ballet, and a man at the theater had stopped the show to make the announcement to the crowd. When Saddam Hussein began launching scud missiles into Israel during the Gulf War, my mom was in a bomb-shelter in Jerusalem. I woke up on 9/11 when I heard the television turn on in the den, and I watched.
Few remember where they were the night before. Few forget where they were that morning.
I wrote a lot in anticipation of the 10th anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001. I wrote more than four pages over the past three days, just sort of verbally meandering, jotting down whatever I could think of. I wrote about fear, about a different kind of darkness, and about waning faith. I thought about posting some of the transcripts of “last calls” made from the planes.
When I woke up this morning, though, I changed my mind.
We can be bogged down by fear. We can lose our faith. We can be enveloped by darkness – and that’s fine.
But we can also extol what the towers stood for, even in their vanished shadow; we can believe in the tenacity of the American spirit, even in its instability; we can celebrate life, especially in the wake of death.
I decided to research a few of their lives. The following are the profiles of four 9/11 victims.
Antonio Javier Alvarez immigrated to the United States from Mexico in the late 90s. He met his wife, Filiberta, while working at a garment factory in Queens. They worked together to collect pieces of cloth and repackage them, and were eventually married and had a son.
Antonio believed in working hard for the American dream. His wife described him as “very serious, but always in a happy mood.” When he lost his job at the factory, a friend helped him find work as a grill chef at the Windows on the World restaurant.
On September 11, he went to work at 6:30 am – earlier than usual – to cater a special event. He loved playing soccer, pickup basketball, and his young son. Antonio was 23.
Judy Larocque founded a market research firm in Framingham, Massachusetts called Market Perspectives. She was said to have had two children, in addition to her two daughters: her company and her golden retriever, Naboo.
In the months that preceded the attacks, Judy had been revisiting her youthful side; she began doing yoga – something she had loved in her adolescence – and walked a sixty-mile fundraiser for breast cancer.
On September 11, 2001, Judy’s daughter Carie drove to the Farmingham office to tell her the employees that her mothers’ plane, American Flight 11, had crashed into the World Trade Center. Judy was 50.
Tommy Gardner grew up in New York City. He worked in the FDNY’s Engine Co. 59 for twelve years. Five years before the attacks on Manhattan, he joined a specialized Haz-mat squad in the FDNY, specializing in toxic operation under extreme conditions.
He loved hockey, and – according to his friends – was hilarious. Before joining the fire department, he briefly worked at NBC where he wrote jokes for Phyllis Diler, Henny Youngman, and Joan Rivers, among others.
On September 11th, his unit (whose station had a clear view of the World Trade Center) was dispatched to deal with the fuel leakage into the South Tower. All eighteen people in his unit died. Tommy was 39.
Helen Crossin-Kittle knew her future husband as a kid. While she had always liked him, he never picked up on those feelings until she asked him out on a date.
Her husband notes that he was “just dumb” and would still be single if she hadn’t made the first move. They were married on April, 7, 2001, and went on their honeymoon in St. Lucia shorty afterward.
Helen specialized in computers and was working on the 103rd floor of the North Tower on September 11, 2001. She was five months pregnant, and had gone in for amniocentesis nine days earlier and expected the test results the next Monday. Helen was 34.
There were –
343 firefighters and paramedics killed,
23 NYPD officers killed,
37 Port Authority officers killed,
1,402 employees who were killed in the North Tower,
614 employees who were killed in the South Tower,
289 bodies found intact,
and 1,717 families who received no remains.
Two days after 9/11, my dad brought me to a flag and banner shop on a main street in West Los Angeles. The store was on our route to my elementary school, so until then, we had driven past the store at least twice every day. Neither of us had never been inside, nor had we even seen anyone going into the store or, leaving it.
He parked his minivan and we started walking toward the store. But it wasn’t like the other days that we had driven past. Flowing out of the store and snaking around the block were a crowd of probably thirty or forty people; they all wanted a flag.
It is the most advantageous of ironies. The brightest light, the most palpable warmth, comes out of cavernous darkness.
When our fixations abate, when the world goes dark, we are forced to move our eyes – to look up, at each other. When the world goes dark, the blur of perpetual commotion around us and inside us suddenly stops. Out of silence, out of standing still, comes a lens of ephemeral clarity.
Let our response after 9/11 influence us now. When night falls before the sun sets – when tragedy strikes, or when we’re blanketed by premature darkness – human nature compels us to realize our commonalities.
Let us relinquish competition and hostility; let us embrace each other.