Early this week, Charlotte said perhaps the most endearing thing she could ever say to me. In the midst of some post-bath silly conversation about mothers and daughters, she looked me squarely in the eye and said, “I hope you last forever.”
I was taken aback because I know that I won’t “last forever.”
Today, September, 11, I am reminded how quickly that “forever” can evaporate. Seven years ago I was driving to work in Buffalo Grove, IL. I was listening to WXRT and suddenly at 7:48 a.m. CST or so, Mary Dixon (my friend and the newscaster) broke into to the music broadcast to announce that a plane had just flown into one of the World Trade Center buildings in New York City. At that time, that was all she knew. They thought perhaps it was a little personal plane., an accident, a stunt.
I remember the crystal clear blue sky as I followed the highway past the Chicago Botanical Gardens and Mary and Lyn speculated about what might have happened.
A little while later, I stepped out of my car and a colleague who has worked for “a small office in Virginia,” if you know what I mean, called across the parking lot to me: “A second plane hit the other Tower. It’s terrorism. Get inside.”
We spent the rest of the morning in a conference room watching the news. Were people really jumping off the World Trade Center Towers? Had more planes been hijacked? Where was my husband? (Safe in Minnesota where he and his colleagues were able to rent the last car in town to drive home.) Where was my brother? (Also on a business trip. He too was able to rent a car and drive home.) Where was my mother? (At a dog-related meeting in Newark, NJ, unable to leave for quite some time because the highways were clogged.)
In the blink of an eye, at 8:59 a.m. CST, the unbelievable happened, the South Tower collapsed. We truly couldn’t believe what we were watching. As if to confirm what we saw, the North Tower collapsed less than 30 minutes later. Its 9 second crumbling into dust is etched into my mind. Nothing, not even buildings built to withstand the impact of a 707 airliner, lasts forever.
What I didn’t know at the time was that my high school friend Jeffrey Gardner was in one of those towers. Today, as I drove home from dropping Charlotte at pre-school, I wondered about his last moments. Was he injured in the initial impact? If not, then I know with all the certainty in my heart that Jeffrey stayed in that tower to help other people and he sacrificed himself to do so. That’s just the man he was.
For the past two years, I’ve posted a sort of memorial essay about Jeffrey. Last year, in response to my post, I was contacted by my best friend from elementary school. Even in death, Jeffrey unites people and reminds them of the light that he brought to our lives.
So, again, here’s my essay. Please take the time to read it and remember that while “America [was] under attack,” as Andrew Card famously told President Bush 7 years ago, very real people were being injured and murdered. The ripple effect of their loss cannot ever be forgotten.
(Originally written on 9/11/2006)
Jeffrey B. Gardner
years ago today when the World Trade Towers collapsed. I had known Jeffrey for as long as I can remember, growing up in the same town (Livingston, NJ) and attending religious school at B’nai Jeshurun together.
More than a boy I grew up with, Jeffrey was a dear friend throughout my high school and college years. We were both socially conscious teenagers and active in our temple youth group and in JFTY, the Jersey Federation of Temple Youth.
Like all of the people who have signed his guestbook, I can attest to Jeffrey’s special qualities–his goodness, kindness, wisdom, and sense of fun. I can also recall his pride as he listened to his father sing in the temple choir on the high holy days, his clear affection for his siblings, and his love for his mother.
Jeffrey and I, along with 20 other Jewish teens, spent a special summer together in 1982. As part of the JFTY Urban Mitzvah Corps, we lived in a fraternity house at Rutgers (later Jeffrey’s alma mater) and volunteered for various organizations in the New Brunswick area. We worked with the elderly, disadvantaged children, and the disabled. In the evenings we studied and played, enriching our Judaism and bonding as a group in a way that is immeasurable. Jeffrey lived his Jewish values and he taught us how much fun (and mischief) we could have within the limits of a moral, thoughtful life.
My father had a special place in his heart for Jeffrey. Not just because they were in the same business, but because Jeffrey was respectful, forthcoming, and friendly. In business, my father could count on Jeffrey, just as I could count on him as a friend.
Since Jeffrey’s death, I’ve learned that he continued to live those values for the rest of his far-too-short life. He read the Christian Bible and the Koran in order to understand other people’s belief systems. He volunteered with Habitat for Humanity throughout the hemisphere. He worked hard at his career and prospered.
In his obituary, his sister Amy noted that he had a sun tatooed on his ankle because “a good day was as bad as it got. ” Jeffrey shone like that sun. Even when we weren’t in touch for a long time (we hadn’t spoken for about 3 years before his death), I felt his presence and the mark that he made on my life.
On that perfect sunny September morning, a day eerily like today in Chicago, hatred hilled Jeffrey. The irony that intolerance killed a soul who embodied tolerance is not lost on me.
I dedicate today to Jeffrey–as sad as I am for his loss, I strive to live a life of which he would have been proud, to be tolerant and kind and strong as a tribute to his memory.
Rest in peace, dear friend. You are indeed Z”L (Zichrono Livracha), of blessed memory.