Charlotte's Journey Home

Just a Regular Kid, Sort Of


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May His Memory Forever Be For a Blessing

world-trade-center-as-a-cloud-no.-4_custom-e91964b6e13763e1cb1d1084f94ad55ba129ee6a-s400-c85

Christopher Saucedo’s World Trade Center as a Cloud, No. 4 is part of a papier-mâché series on display at the U.S. District Court in East Brooklyn through mid-November. Learn more by clicking on the photo.

The challah is churning in the breadmaker for a neighborhood Rosh Hashanah celebration this evening and I’m about to light a yarzheidt candle. I can’t help but think of 6 meaningful Shabbats shared with my friend Jeffrey at JFTY Urban Mitzvah Corps, countless High Holidays listening to his dad in our synagogue choir, confirmation class shenanigans, and an adolescent friendship that meant so very much. Thirteen years later, all I can do is repost this and say, Jeffrey, we’ll always miss you. Not just on 9/11, but every day.

Jeffrey B. Gardner died 6 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 guest book, 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.
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On that September Day…

Alan Jackson, the country artist, has written a beautiful song entitled “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?” to commemorate all that we lost on 9/11. It brings tears to my eyes with its simplicity and honesty.

We all know where we were–I was on the Edens driving from Chicago to Buffalo Grove, listening to my friend Mary read the news on WXRT. When she and her morning deejay partner Lyn mentioned the first plane on the air, it was so unreal, “probably a single engine private plane” whose pilot hadn’t had enough coffee and took a wrong turn. Philippe was in a hotel room in Minneapolis, watching the end of a movie on HBO. My brother was in Ohio, waiting for the plane he intended to catch to go home.

Within moments so much had changed–I pulled into a parking lot and my colleague Dawn yelled to me that a second plane had hit the second tower. As a former government employee, she immediately recognized what was going on and hurried me to a television. Philippe went to the hotel bar to get a coffee and couldn’t figure out why everyone was staring at the television. My brother watched the second plane hit, left his gate, and managed to get a rental car to get home.

But, my childhood friend Jeffrey Gardner cannot tell us where he was or what he did when the plane hit the tower he worked in. All we know about that day is that he didn’t make it out. Knowing Jeffrey, we can assume much more. If he wasn’t killed on impact or severely injured, Jeffrey did all that he could to help others, either tending to the injured, trying to evacuate the building, or just leading folks in prayer.

I know this much: my generation lost its innocence on 9/11. A lot of extraordinary people were killed in the terrorist attacks and, subsequently, a lot of ordinary people chose to serve our country as we went to war. I lit a yarzheidt candle today for Jeffrey; for victims on the airplanes, the Twin Towers, and the Pentagon;, and for the members of our armed forces who have sacrificed in the past 10 years.

And I answered all of Charlotte’s questions. She’s not too young to know. It is weird to me that my students were children on 9/11, that a generation is growing up for whom 9/11 is truly history. I suppose it shouldn’t be: Philippe and I ended the day at the movies, seeing The Debt, a film which deals with the aftermath of the Holocaust. WWII is, for my generation, truly history. So, 9/11 as history shouldn’t surprise me. But, the fact of one cataclysmic day, a few short minutes, changing all we feel about our safety, security, and peacefulness seems so different.

On that September day, I was driving, enjoying the clear blue sky and the sound of my friend’s laughter on the radio. On this September day, I took a 15 mile bike ride with my family (yes, Charlotte, too!), went to a picnic, made a new acquaintance, and spent good time with my husband. And not for one minute did I forget that Jeffrey Gardner was unable to do the same. I dedicate this day to Jeffrey, for whom “good day was as bad as it gets.” He was, simply put, a joyous human and a kind soul. I’m proud that for his short time on earth I was able to call him “friend.”

For my usual Jeffrey post, click here.

Give your kids an extra hug tonight.


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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.


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Lasting Forever: Jeffrey B. Gardner

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 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 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.


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Jeffrey B. Gardner

I thought about catching ya’ll up on Charlotte’s feeding, but given the date, I think that can wait until tomorrow.

Instead, I’d like to ask you all to remember my friend Jeff Gardner who perished when the Twin Towers collapsed on 9/11/2001. I wish that Charlotte had had a chance to know Jeff. They would have giggled a lot together. At the very least, I hope she can lead a life that emulates the life he led.
I share with you this essay that I originally posted on my LiveJournal page last year:

Jeffrey B. Gardner died 6 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 guest book, 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 Chicaog, 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.