By Harvey Jacobs
Ten years! The family is getting ready to hold a ten-year memorial gathering on 9/11/11. Gabe, your son, born just five days after you died in the south tower of the World Trade Center, trapped at Windows on the World, is about to celebrate his tenth birthday. Incredible as that seems.
Time is an accomplished trickster — a blink can send the mind reeling back and forth by decades, even millennia. The horror of that September morning has never abated.
The whole idea of closure is euphemistic nonsense. The wound is as raw now as it was that day when we slowly realized what passed for reality — that you were gone from this world forever. You were too young, too vital, too full of hope and optimism to have transformed into a memory, much less a ghost. You were in your twenties. Rhapsodizing about bouncing your boy on your chest. Deeply in love with your wife. At the starting line, not the edge of a cliff.
On the verge of giving birth, your lady, very beautiful, determined to survive, fighting off the emotional assault on her pregnancy, managed to hold together. Being a symbol for the loss suffered by so many by themselves, their kids, their families, the city, the nation, she attracted the attention of the media. The sympathy of reporters, the flattery of cameras, seemed intrusive to some of us but now I think that dark celebrity helped to get her through the incomprehensible trauma she was feeling. Having been an aspiring actress, I suspect the outpouring of grief from those closest to you, and from total strangers sending letters, baby clothes, stuffed toys, conferred a surreal limelight on the moment, turned it into a drama that would end leaving the audience stunned.
Then the curtain would fall and everything would go back to being as it was before: The images of smoke and ruin pouring from the stumps of the broken towers would be erased. It would be the same sunny fall morning it had been before Windows on the World looked out at a world gone insane.
It took a long time before a DNA match confirmed your death. A small grave now holds what was recovered of what they called your “remains.” Those blackened bones had nothing much to mark what remains of you, kiddo.
By the time of your funeral, your son was old enough to send a white balloon flying to eternity to honor you and those who fell with you. Now, Gabe is about to reach the age when awareness and questioning begins. His young mind will have to flesh out an image of the dad he never had the chance to meet. That will never be easy, no matter how much time flows like a waterfall over rock.
All right then. Maybe you know that your beloved has moved ahead with her life.
She met a very nice and understanding man and they married. Now your son has two brothers and a step sister in a tight knit family. Thank heaven your widow has made splendid efforts to keep Gabe in touch with his grandfather, your family and friends. Her new husband has supported those efforts. Recently, Gabe had his last name changed to conform to his new family’s name. As hard as that was for us to accept, we can see how it might be easier for the boy to feel a sense of shared identity. He knows about you, Ari, and how much you were loved. He knows that we all stand close and ready to be there for him in any situation.
As the years pass, he will know so many things more clearly — your warmth, humor, promise, brilliance. He will also know how many friends and strangers wish you well, how people came through for you, prayed for you, cried for you, reached out to Gabe’s mom.
A few months ago we learned that a team of navy Seals found and dispensed with Osama Bin Laden who planned and financed the senseless suicide mission that murdered so many good people. They put a bullet between his eyes, and then threw his body into the ocean to prevent any gravesite from becoming a shrine to the gods of terror and hatred.
When we first heard that Bin Laden was killed there was a huge rush of satisfaction. Revenge had finally been earned, payback for your loss, Ari. Oddly, the feeling of elation after Bin Laden’s execution dissipated quickly for me. I don’t know if I should apologize to you, but the feeling that replaced the sense of justice done was a kind of blank sadness, not for the sinking corpse but because all the bloodshed seemed so futile. I felt the memories that never were realized, the hugs never given, the emptiness of ground zero cut into the soul.
Speaking of ground zero, they are still arguing over what should replace the World Trade Center — without too much impact on real estate values. New York is not famous for mourning.
Like it or not, Ari, the city goes on, blooming the way a garden keeps flowering long after the gardeners are gone and their tombstones battered invisible by angry weather. Two wars still rage. Sag Harbor has lost two of its finest. Shadows move silently through the night hunting and blotting out other shadows. Around the globe, economies are in shambles, famine and disease plague millions; the planet itself simmers like the hearts and minds of Zealots who sleepwalk, dreaming of apocalypse. In short, not much has changed.
But Gabe has grown into a beautiful young man. Life happens.
Ten years! So, Ari, we will gather for a memorial. For my part, the memorial is for Gabe’s sake. We have never gotten over the scene of black smoke corrupting a beautiful September morning, never stop wishing you had decided on breakfast someplace other than Windows on the World.
I appreciate that memorials have their place in the scheme of things but a memorial for you? Why? Is there anything we don’t remember, kiddo? Is there a single smile we can ever forget?