Remembrance

“Asleep, not dead, a good man never dies”, Saon Acanthus

Click Here

It Gets Harder…

Manhattan in those early post-Sept.11th days was one giant memorial. Sometimes, every spare inch of vertical public space seemed plastered with fliers displaying a never-ending array of heartbreakingly radiant, smiling faces. Each photo a cry from a loved one, hoping in vain.

The display of the missing’s photos started within hours after the second tower collapsed when a distraught father with a missing daughter and ties to a marketing firm put together a missing person biography and photo of his daughter. They made hundreds of copies, and soon a group of family members and friends hit the streets, plastering the fliers everywhere, hoping maybe someone had seen her in a local hospital or even wandering around the streets in shock. The media picked up on the story, and other families seeing the report, followed suit and soon the fliers were everywhere. The families, desperate in their anguish, also figured out quickly that with TV coverage, they could gain immediate access to millions of NYC viewers.

The families’ televised pleas for help were gut-wrenching. Wherever there were camera crews (and they were everywhere), there were groups of family members fervently, sometimes almost manically holding pictures of their missing loved ones, trying to catch the lens’s most advantageous angle. It was emotionally draining seeing these people, knowing the hard facts of reality that they couldn’t acknowledge yet.

Each story was more heartbreaking than the next, and New Yorkers, instead of getting immune to the onslaught of tragic story after story, got drawn in deeper and deeper. The city wasn’t even close yet to the depths of pain we were all to feel, but that didn’t mean we weren’t making good progress in our whirlpool plunge to the bottom.

Many of the stories remain with me, but I keep thinking about one poor father in particular and wonder how he’s coping now. He was a burly well-organized corporate type with a rich baritone voice that grabbed and held a listener’s attention. It soon became apparent that he was one of those driven types who believe you can accomplish anything if you work hard, efficiently, and intelligently. He put the same can-do attitude into his search for his daughter. It was an operational-logistical problem to solve, and he would solve it. He was working two phones at once, recording information into his Palm Pilot, doing one TV interview after the next, and organizing his team comprised of family and friends.

You could hear in his words and see in his face his conviction that if they stayed focused, organized, and banded together, they would find and have their loved one home in no time. I saw him on TV many times, and as the days passed, you could see the cumulative erosion of life from his being from that of the previous day. By the end of the second week, he was a broken man, his richly modulated voice now a subdued monotone, his body void of animation, going through the motions of a search that his mind knew was hopeless. I found his transformation, from an optimistic searcher to a reluctant acceptor of the unacceptable, one of the sadder stories in a city awash in sad stories.

…And Harder…

Noreen and I made our way to Union Park in the second week after the attacks. The park had the largest and most elaborate of the various memorial sites, partly because it was here at 14th street where the original cut-off access barrier to downtown was established. As we worked through the vast crowd, I could smell the melting wax from the hundreds, if not thousands of burning candles mingled with the scent of fresh-cut flowers well before we had worked our way close enough to see the memorials at the front of the park. The amount of flowers was unbelievable. Some rainforest had given its all and the bounty ranged the spectrum from simple single daisies to giant bouquets of red roses with splashes of elegant orchids thrown liberally in the mix.

There were groups leading sing-a longs throughout the crowd, but that whole scene was a bit too peacenik for my frame of mind at the time (and now also). I had come to grieve and to show respect, not to sing kumbaya with the Seattle World Forum protester types. As we moved further into the park, leaving behind those who “just didn’t get it,” the mood became much more subdued, indeed almost funeral(ish). There was a wire fence snaking its way throughout the park covered with thousands of fliers, prayers, and messages of condolence and support from throughout the country and throughout the world. Except for the faint singing behind us and the muffled sound of sobbing, there was almost complete silence here. Any conversations were whispered, but frankly, there wasn’t much to say. It was a scene that went beyond the spoken word. A gentle touch on the back or someone’s arm speaks volumes in situations like this.

It was here that I first saw the flier/photo of the Egan sisters. The picture had the two sisters posed back-to-back, grinning impishly ear-to-ear. The resemblance between the two sisters was striking, but it was clear they were not twins. One was 31, the other 24 years old. They were very attractive, but not the types of good looks which would be called beautiful. They had more of the fun-loving girl-next-door California beach girl look to them. It was that they were sisters that first drew my extra scrutiny of their picture, but it was their two beaming smiles that broke into my psyche. How could their family bear this doubly cruel loss? The older sister Lisa had worked at Cantor for about four years and had gotten her sister Samantha’s foot in the Cantor door just seven months earlier. [Cantor encouraged nepotism as a recruitment tool, leading to multiple tragic intra-family losses] As the weeks went by, I would see their pictures everywhere, sometimes separately, sometimes together, but always smiling. I never failed, not even once, to stop to pay at least a moment of respect and to reflect once again of the wrongness of a world that could snuff these bright smiles out.

Noreen also was touched that day by the tragedy that cried out from this photo, but whether this was the photo that embodied her projection of grief or not, I do not know. Sadly, there was a multitude to choose from, each with a heartbreaking story all of its own. For example, as I was writing this, I brought up a biographical write-up on the Egan sisters to get their ages and was taken back to learn that a non-related branch of Egan siblings was lost in the attacks. Michael Egan worked for AON insurance on the 105th floor. His sister, Christine, was visiting from Canada and was invited by Michael to come up to his office to see the view. She accepted his invitation.

There were over 40 sets of siblings working or visiting in the WTC lost in the attacks. Horrific seems too weak a word, but I’m be damned if I can think of a word that’s up to measure.

…And Harder Yet.

Another type of memorial to the victims was the New York Times “Portraits of Grief” which had glimpses (averaging 200-300 words) of some part of the victim’s life as provided by family and friends and a brief biography. It ran nonstop for over three months, with a single page of coverage (about 15 write-ups) on weekdays and two on weekends. I tried and largely read most of the write-ups each day, as did many New Yorkers.

Even on the trading desk, not usually the most “heart on your sleeve” type of place, we often talked about this portrait or that portrait. One portrait in particular inspired /touched me. It was the portrait of a cop (which might surprise those who know of my numerous disagreements with the men in blue throughout the years). His name was John W. Berry. Following is the New York Times profile of this remarkable man. The loss to us all speaks for itself. Officer Perry was 38 years old.

John William Perry: A Full Life, and Then Some
John W. Perry was not your typical police officer. He spoke French, Spanish, Swedish and Russian, and was learning Albanian. He was a graduate of New York University School of Law. He ran in three marathons and took part in a swim around Manhattan. He was an extra in Woody Allen films. He volunteered one day a week for the Kings County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. He was in the New York State Guard and was a board member in the New York Civil Liberties Union. He collected bulletproof vests from retired police officers and gave them to officers in Moscow.
On the morning of Sept. 11, Mr. Perry was filing his retirement papers at 1 Police Plaza, intent on becoming a medical malpractice lawyer.
When he learned of the attacks, he ran the few blocks to the World Trade Center. Colleagues said he disappeared in the rubble when the south tower collapsed, just moments after he tried to help a woman who had fainted.
“I always wondered why John did so much,” said his mother, Patricia Perry. “As a child he was classified as having a learning disability, but he rose above it. He always felt he had something to prove.”

A cop who was a New York Civil Liberties Union board member? Now, that’s my definition of a hero.

PostScript: On the promenade at the footsteps of my building is a memorial established about ten years ago honoring and listing all NYC Police Department casualties killed in action in the city’s history. I never gave the memorial much thought before, but now in the aftermath of 9/11, it’s become a place of quiet homage to me. Freshly chiseled on this marble wall are the names of John Perry and the other 22 New York City police officers killed on 9/11. I run past this wall at least 5 times weekly, but despite the routine, the sight of this wall seldom fails to move me to reflect on the heavy losses that day. In total, 71 law enforcement officers were killed on September 11th: Port Authority – (37), NYC Police Dept. – (23), N.Y. Office of Tax Enforcement – (5), NYS Unified Court System – (3), Fire Marshall – (1), U.S. Secret Service – (1), FBI – (1).

What’s in a Face?

I didn’t know him. In fact, I never exchanged a single word with him. But I knew his face in the same way I knew many from the WTC: his face was one of the hundreds of faces I would see at least weekly, if not daily, as paths crossed in our respective routines. In the days and weeks after September 11th, I would wonder about some of these faces and their individual fates.

Yesterday I learned that the identity of one of these nameless faces was Larry Bowman. I know his name now because I saw his easily recognizable face in yesterday’s edition of Portraits of Grief. His face almost jumped off the page at me when I saw it, and I’ve been thinking about him a lot since then. He was a security guard at the South Tower whose job appeared to be checking the ID’s of tenants boarding the bank of elevators in the building’s section I often walked through. Although the area for the elevator was roped off, it was a narrow section, so you couldn’t miss seeing him or even hearing his surprisingly soft voice coming from such a big guy (he was about 6′ 5″ with a defensive end type of built). And although whenever I saw him, he always seemed to have a pleasant smile, you could also tell he took his job seriously by the way his vigilant eyes took in all around him. It turns out that in his real life, he was a minister deeply involved in his church, particularly their charitable activities. Apparently, the inner character of a certain stature stays with someone even in times of extreme emergencies. It feels odd to feel so bad about this stranger, but the fact is that whenever I thought of all the nameless faces whose fates I had pondered, it was his face that was always near the top of my mental list. His position at the Trade Center was so prominent that it was out of frequency, if nothing else, and I think that’s why it jolted me so.

Many of these guards were real unsung heroes on September 11th. Mr. Bowman worked in the South Tower on the ground floor and could have easily escaped any time he wished, but he stayed, merely risking his life at first, before ultimately and tragically giving it. His photo is on the left. To look at the normalcy of his face is to be deceived by it. What’s in a face?: Sometimes unimaginable courage and character.

 

One of my reasons for writing this section is to help me remember the above-described victims in the years ahead. They deserve remembrance, even by strangers who were only touched by them through a newspaper article, a camera lens, or intersecting routines.