This was published earlier on my other blog under the title:
Remember Love is Worth the Scars
I have been asked to post it here as well.
I don’t cry very often, but I did today. Right there at our kitchen table. How we got on the topic I will never know, but we talked about those moments in your life that you can never leave.
My wife (Aunt SuperTam to some @supertam87 to others) talked about Sandy Hook, and how they asked the parents of those sweet babies, “what was your child wearing?” to help identify their little broken bodies. Now Aunt @supertam87 can’t let anyone leave the house without knowing what they are wearing.
Then she talked about 9/11. When the passengers of flight 93 had determined that they would sacrifice their own lives to save other people, people they did not know, their last act was to call their loved ones and leave messages to say goodbye. Aunt @Supertam87 cannot erase voice messages from any of us.
This makes me think of the first lines of the movie Love, Actually.
Hugh Grant, as the Prime Minister, says: “Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.”
As for me and my moments I can’t leave, well, some of you know others don’t, but, July 30, 2002.
I was on a train from West Natick, to Boston MA, when a man named James Allen, who was sitting in the seat in front of me, suffered a massive heart attack.
Almost instantly, five other passengers, an assistant conductor, and I began to switch off performing CPR on Mr. Allen, while the train made its regularly scheduled stops to pick up commuters.
The MBTA knew what was going on, the head conductor just made a decision not to make commuters mad while Mr. Allen, a second at a time, faded away in front of us.
I remember feeling the whole time that it was just so hot. I was so hot and so tired. By about the 15 minute mark, as we passed by the stop in front of Brigham and Women’s hospital (because it wasn’t on the schedule), I remember feeling more tired and more hot than I had ever felt in my life.
But most of all I remember the taste of Mr. Allen’s mouth.
He had thrown up as he slumped over. To this day no matter how sick I am I will fight and take medication and do everything I can to prevent throwing up, even though I know at some level it is what stands between me an feeling physically better, because I know I will also see the face of James Allen as he drifted out of our reach despite all our efforts to hold on to him.
James Allen was a professor at the same university where I attended law school, but we never crossed paths before that day. He was specialist in beach erosion, a father and a husband. He should be here. But he died there.
The one shining light is that James Allen died surrounded by friends, who he did not know, but they were true friends. Friends who fought and sweated and would gladly have bled to introduce themselves properly.
We took turns breathing for him, compressing his chest and talking quietly in his ear so he would know he was with friends.
When I eventually had the opportunity to meet his wife, the lovely Marlene Allen, the one comfort I could offer was to tell her that when James left he was in the company of friends.
Everyone has their own 9/11 stories. Mine comes back any time I am in a stuffy, crowed place, with the smell of people closer than shoulder to shoulder, it takes me to a train leaving Boston on 9/11.
There was so much controlled confusion and self imposed calm and so many people. More than I have ever seen in one train car. And the same in every train car. When my professor turned on the tv that morning we watched the second plane hit. And then they said Boston. The planes had come from Boston. They said terrorism and Boston in the same sentence. All I could think was “my little Maxi-Moose is in Boston. He can’t be in Boston.” I stood up and walked out, crossed the street to his day-care and put his little three-year-old self on my shoulders and walked to the train.
The trains could go no more than fifteen miles per hour by federal order. Maxi wiggled away in the train and was just out of my reach. I could see him but could not move to grab him and hold him; there were too many people in the way. Each stop in the city more people squeezed on and pushed him just a little further from me. I was already beginning to panic and then I heard his scared little voice clearly through the murmur of people trying to stay calm themselves,
“Daddy, I can’t breathe.”
I was entering full blown Poppa Bear mode when a giant of a man (well over 6’5”) in a hard hat and tool belt “parted the sea” around my crying little guy (no one was going to argue or even grumble as this walking mountain imposed his physical will). He reached down and plucked Maxi up by his overalls and got his head above the crowd, then the giant looked at me.
“This ok?” He said.
I just nodded as he tucked my tiny man onto the luggage rack and stood with his head blocking any chance of him rolling off.
“Well, there then,” he said and stood his watch until I motioned that we were approaching our stop.
He plucked my baby up by his overall straps, handed him over everyone’s heads and deposited him in my arms.
I never saw that man again.
In a crowded room, when I am pressed in on all sides I hear the words “Daddy, I can’t breathe,” but I also see the face of an everyday saint who plucked my baby up out of the depths and set him safely in the sweet air above the crushing crowds.
Whenever I get gloomy at the state of the world I think about 6 people, whose faces I can’t remember, whispering love in the ear of a man whose face I will never forget, so he knew he was not alone as he died.
I see the face of a gentle giant as he handed me the precious gift of my Max (now twenty-years old) and wish I could let him know everything that moment did to make me want to be the person who helps without hesitation.
I realized today how deeply intertwined these two events actually are.
I rarely cry. Today, at dinner, I did.