Remembering Jeffrey B. Gardner on 9/11

Since 2007, I’ve taken a break from Charlotte’s story to remember my friend Jeffrey who perished in the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001.

This is the first year that President Bush will mourn the victims as a private citizen. As President Obama gets ready to lead a moment of national silence in 45 minutes, I wonder what the passing of the torch will mean in terms of our memories. 9/11 is becoming “history” as have so many excruciating (and exhilarating moments in our nation’s history. Right now, Charlotte is obsessesed with a book called Moon over Star, a picture book about a little girl’s dreams as she watched the moon landing on television. Though 9/11 cannot make a lovely bedtime tale, I believe it is equally important that our children who were too young to understand, or those born after 9/11, be taught not only the international significance of the date and how these horrible acts have changed our world forever, but also the human cost.

I think I like President Obama’s idea of a day of service. In a time of mourning, nothing seems more imporant than tikkun olam, healing the world, and what better way to do it than to help others. I can’t participate this year, but will look forward to next year.

My posts about Jeffrey have put me in contact with lost friends and elicited responses from strangers. One of those strangers is Jeannette, who will remember Jeffrey on her blog as part of the 2,996 Project. I’ll link to her post when I see it.

In the meantime here’s my essay again. 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 died [7] 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 killed 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.

Finding Bubba (sort of)

We searched, we cried, we despaired. Charlotte moved forward, comforted us, and occasionally broke our hearts by asking about Bubba.

And then…then one sleepless night I saw a comment from my choirmate Jess asking simply, “Have you checked eBay?” to find a replacement. Philippe had checked eBay, but his search turned up nothing.

My frantic, guilt-ridden, midnight search turned up:

A lot of not one, but two Bubba-twins. The eBay auctioner read my story (I emailed to ask if this really was the same bear and would she compare her picture to ours) and did not charge us for shipping.

And, now we sing (with apologies to The Chiffons): “Our Bubba’s back and he’s better than ever, hey la, hey la, Bubba’s back!”
Charlotte knows that he is Bubba’s twin brother (she has only seen one of the bears). We’ve decided, at her prompting, to pretend he’s the real Bubba and tell people that he was on a rejuvenating spa vacation. Wish I could have gone to, he looks great.
Just in the nick of time for the first day of school (yesterday).
Charlotte is happy as a lark. I still cringe occasionally when I see that he’s not spit and sand colored. But, my heart skips a beat when I see her holding him upside down, rubbing his tag, sucking her thumb, and sleeping soundly. I wonder at our daughter’s resilience and how she handled this loss far better than either of us.
Many thanks to Jess for her thoughtful comment. And to Bizziegram at eBay for her compassion.
“All is right in her little world tonight,” I think as I kiss them both good night.

Searching for Bubba

Charlotte and Bubba recovering from heart surgery, March, 2007, Children’s Memorial Hospital, Chicago

Looking for Bubba became our own version of the t.v. shows Without a Trace and CSI: Chicago. After Philippe’s early morning trip on August 17, I continued to call the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, and Adler Planetarium daily. I sent emails to the Lost & Found Department. I chose, however, not to leave a message with the answering service of the Museum Park Café Restaurant. A poor decision, it turns out.

As the week wore on, Charlotte “tried on” different best friends. From her collection of beloved stuffed animals, she napped with Nemo, Pitty Pat, Bubba’s Baby Brother, Mama Kitty, and some others. None of them quite fit the bill. She needed a certain size, a tag that is nice to rub while she sucks her thumb, and a unique ability to sniff. She finally adopted Bubba’s Baby Brother (a smaller, whiter version of the famed Bubba, also give to her by Bamma) though she continued to cuddle at least 4 other animals while sleeping, often piling them on top of each other.

About once a day she would ask me “Mama, why did I lose Bubba?” This has to have been the most heartbreaking question of all. Other questions included, “Where is Bubba?” “When will I get Bubba back?” Mostly, however, our little girl comforted us, telling us that she would be fine.

But, what did happen to Bubba? We can trace his whereabouts to Tuesday, August 19 and then the trail runs cold.

On August 20, I had a job interview on the south side of Chicago. On the way home, I passed the museum campus and decided to look once more. I stopped at the Museum Campus Café and spoke with Yvette, the manager. As I asked, “My daughter lost her lovey on Sunday morning. Has anyone given you a small brown…”, Yvette finished my sentence, “brown bear, about this big. Really dirty and smushed?”

“Yes!” I said, bursting into tears, “You have him?!”

“No,” Yvette responded sadly. “We did have him. Someone found him on the picnic table on Sunday around 3 p.m. We left him there all day, hoping his friends would come back. I could tell he was very well-loved and would be missed. So, I asked my employees to bring him in rather than throw him away. We kept him in the office on Monday [it rained all day that Monday]. On Tuesday, my workers tried to convince the groundskeeper to throw the bear out, but he remembered what I’d said. So, he put the bear back on the tables. We don’t know what happened to him after that.”

Poor Yvette. I burst into hysterical tears. I had come so close. I knew that he had been found and cared for, but then the trail stopped cold.

I tried the museum again. No luck.

Yvette called her groundskeeper to see if he had perhaps kept the bear another night or two. No luck.

I left a message for the Lakefront area Chicago Park District office. Heard back from them on August 25. No luck.

I tried not to feel horribly responsible, for losing Bubba to begin with, for not having left a message for the café earlier, and for not leaving our number with the café on Sunday. I tried not to rethink every decision and search strategy since The Loss. No luck.

I tried not to cry. No luck.

Philippe went back to the museum campus on Friday, August 21 and looked again. No luck.

We came so close. But then the trail went cold.

We ordered a new bear from the Internet. It came in and was all wrong so we kept looking.

I went to yoga class where our teacher suggested we breath in all that we wanted to add to our lives and breath out what we wanted to get rid of. I breathed out “guilt, guilt, guilt.” It worked!