Wednesday, May 04, 2011


Like Americans everywhere, I was very happy to hear that that mastermind of 9/11 met his demise at the hands of U.S. special forces this week. As with most Americans, however, it also brought back some sorrow recalling the events of that most tragic day almost ten years ago. I thought it would be appropriate to reprint here a blog that I wrote involving one of those most deeply affected. The original blog ran over five years ago (wow, have I been blogging that long??) and was titled Stranger on a Train . . .

Anyone who rides AMTRAK knows it has the mechanical dependability of a very old car. Electrical malfunctions, engine breakdowns and track problems are commonplace. While we were riding back from Chicago last year, the air conditioning failed in nearly all the cars, though not in the dining car where we sat as part of an overflow of ticketed passengers. Before long, a woman about our age asked to join us at our table, wanting a respite from her warm, stuffy accommodations.

She was talkative in a motherly manner. At first she seemed a bit self-conscious at intruding but eventually she opened up. After describing her work with executives in the auto industry and the challenges of traveling alone, she began talking about her life and her family. Her husband had died some years ago, stricken by cancer in the prime of life. That left her to shepherd their two young daughters through the often tumultuous years leading to adulthood.

While she spoke, she pulled out a picture of her daughters. They were both long-haired, slender, conservatively dressed and with a scholarly demeanor. In fact, both girls were bright, though the older daughter held more of a passion for success. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a business degree. Then, she was among a few fortunate graduates to secure a position in the lucrative field of investment banking.

Eventually, she landed in New York, with a salary approaching six figures, her mother said. Pretty good for a young twenty-something. Four years ago this past Sunday, she was at her post high up in the World Trade Center towers. Then the planes hit. Her mother anticipated a phone call, knowing her daughter would want to let her know right away that she was okay. So she waited. An hour passed. Then two.

When after several hours, there was no phone call, the mother said she was overcome by a feeling of tranquillity. Whether it was mother's intuition, a spiritual sense, or something else, she knew her daughter had perished that morning. Her words brought my wife to tears. They both hugged and cried together for a moment. Then the mother went on to talk about her surviving daughter--her career as an oceanographer and her life on Cape Cod.

After we got off the train, my wife and I made sure the woman's car was still there where she left it. She thought it might have been towed after several days. The car was there and we parted ways. That was the last we saw of her. This past week I thought about that woman, whose name I don't remember. As I watched news footage of the victims of Hurricane Katrina and the memorials marking the anniversary of 9-11, I thought of how we opened our hearts as a nation to those affected. And it doesn't always take a generous donation to offer comfort. Sometimes it just takes sympathy, a few tears, and a hug.


Blogger TechnoBabe said...

What a great experience for you and Wendy. Meeting that woman and being there for her and with her was a blessing for all of you. Why can't we all be that way to each other all the time? You two are awesome.

5:06 AM  
Blogger Lynilu said...

What an experience that was. I think we pass through life, touching people, the ones we meet or even brush up against as we go, and sometimes those "brushings" are tremendously powerful, reminding us of our own blessings. You certainly had one.

6:50 AM  
Blogger Jan said...

3000 deaths is just too much for us to process with any real meaning. Stories like this bring back to heartbreak of the day. Thanks for reprinting.

8:29 AM  
Blogger Big Dave T said...

TECHNOBABE--Thanks, but Wendy handled it better than I did. I just can't handle that kind of emotion, my Y chromosome probably.

LYNILU--So very true, though it's hard for me to come up with another like experience to compare with this one. It does make me count my blessings like you say.

JAN--You're welcome. I agree, it's one of those mind-numbing experiences. Just can't process it appropriately in context.

9:17 AM  
Blogger Carine said...

this post sent shivers down my spine Dave. and yes you're so right, a hug and sympathy do mean much more than a check.

10:25 AM  
Blogger Big Dave T said...

CARINE--Not saying that a donation to those truly in need isn't a bad idea, but sometimes it's better to give with your heart. And a hug is a good way to do that.

9:04 AM  
Blogger Dust-bunny said...

"...the mother said she was overcome by a feeling of tranquility." That is amazing...just amazing. How sad this was, yet so poignant. Incredible story.

How've you been?

7:46 PM  
Blogger Big Dave T said...

DUST-BUNNY--Been doing okay, the usual ups and downs. This week's blog describes a few of the downs. Hope you're doing well; miss your blog.

6:30 PM  

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