With Liberty and Justice for All
We had planned months in advance our special trip to New York for the end of the summer of 2001—to attend our cousin Leslie’s wedding. She was marrying Maurice Bernstein. The event was set to take place August 26, 2001, on the grounds of an up state mansion in Rhinebeck, NY on the Hudson River. But, before we ventured up the interstate, we wanted to spend a few nights in the big city, so we found a place right in the heart of Times Square. We scheduled our trip carefully-not to tire out the seniors (Papa and his companion Rena) who both had bad knees. Therefore, we did not do any of the usual hustle and bustle tourist things. However, it was Justin who kept asking me:“ Mom, when are we going to see ___? “ No descriptive words followed his unfinished question. He only described where he wanted to go by lifting up his arm to make a fist—with his usual animated and joyful way of expression. Then it dawned on me that he was making the gesture similar to the Statue of Liberty raising the torch. I quickly responded:“ Oh, the Statue of Liberty you mean?” He delightfully smiled and said: “ Yes Mom!”
So, on the dawn of the next morning, I made good on my promise and told Justin that we would go to a park to see the statue from a distance, because time would not allow us to go over to the island. He was content. Subsequently, We hailed a cab, and headed down to Battery Park. As we passed the World Trade Center, Justin saw the banner of colorful flags flying in the air. He wanted to get out “just for a second“ he convincingly asked. I knew he wanted to feel the strength of these structures protecting him from both sides as he gazed as high as his eyes could see. I’m sure in his mind he wondered… How could these structures be?? Since we were in a rush, I encouraged him to jump back in the cab so we could be on our way. When the cab stopped at the park, I hurried Justin over to the railing to take a quick picture. Even as a 4 year old, there was No prodding necessary for Justin. He proudly stood there and extended his clinched fist up in the air…
Justin always had a strong affinity for architecture, buildings and design. He often marveled at the picture of one of the towers that Darrell took that was hanging in his office.
Justin also loved to build things and his favorite book was
Ironically, just a few days ago, my friend Emilie sent me a copy of what Justin wrote in the same book that he gave her when she was pregnant with her eldest son. She said that this book is now her son’s favorite too. I never knew what Justin wrote before he wrapped the gift!!
Honestly, the congestion that weekend in 2001 in NYC was too much to bear. I was ready to leave. The air was hot and humid, and it was hard to navigate the crowed streets with two casual seniors in tow. Something also seemed weird. I had an uneasy feeling in my stomach. I could not wait to get out of the city. As we headed away from the chaos, Justin looked out of the window and marveled at the changes in design of the buildings and the abundance of greenery and beautiful landscapes that hugged the roads. We stayed in a 4-story mansion (about 100 miles outside of the city) that was built in the late 1800’s. Justin was besides himself, when he walked in and realized how the massive entry dwarfed him. He quickly made fast friends with the innkeepers young son. They played hide and seek. He inquired about the intricate designs of the staircases and loved the fact that he could walk under the mantels into the huge ornate fireplaces without ducking or crawling.
The wedding was held at what remained of the Astor family Rokeby gilded age estate. The backdrop was the Hudson River. The views were breathtaking.
Justin especially took notice of the traditional Jewish ceremonial events. He jumped out of his seat when it was time to join in the circle dances, and he was in awe when Maurice stepped on the glass and the crowd shouted “mazel tov!” After they did the Hora dance, Justin quietly walked over and asked Maurice if he could have a “ride” on the chair—just like the newlyweds. Within seconds Justin was beaming as a group of men hoisted him up on the chair as they danced to the music. My little man was beaming from ear to ear. All of these traditions stayed in Justin’s head forever. When he attended his middle and high schools, he was able to celebrate other Jewish traditions with his classmates. I’m sure in his sophomore year, he probably told everyone (when they practiced for “Fiddler on the Roof” ) that he knew first hand all the traditions for the wedding scene, including how to stay focused when doing the “bottle dance”.
After the festivities where over, we headed south toward the city to take our respective planes home. Some of us were flying American Airlines back to Los Angeles, and Dad and Rena were on the United Airlines flight to San Francisco…. (The same ill-fated flights from 911)!!!
Do you know that it was one week to the day (before 911) when Justin posed for his “ Statue of Liberty “ photo? A mere 7 days later, the world changed! FOREVER! 911 hit without warning… I will always remember how helpless I felt after I answered the early morning call from my friend Yvette (who lived in a different time zone) as she screamed hysterically through the phone “turn on the TV”!!!! Then I saw the second plane hit the tower and the spot that we had literally stood between just days before. The sight brought me and Darrell to our knees… The magnitude of destruction was infinite. Being the Engineer that I was trained to be, I told Darrell in utter dismay that: “ The buildings are going to collapse”… And so they did… as the world watched in horror.
Leslie and Maurice have now been married for 14 years. And, even though it was not tradition that first brought them together, collectively they have shown us that two people who come together from completely different backgrounds and religions, can honestly, love and honor their families and commitments to each other and create two handsome boys- Isaac and Miles, and live happily ever after…
Fourteen years ago I did not personally know anyone who perished in this tragedy—but I also know that it really did not matter. The world grieved from the aftermath of this horrific event. The loss of life also had a domino effect and impacted millions. All of us.
So, here is the twist to this story. Now, I am connected to a mother who unfortunately lost her daughter in the 911 events. As fate would have it, a few months ago, I inadvertently ventured to Monarch (butterfly) Grove park (and no I did not know the name of it before) near the Pacific Grove, CA shoreline. It was a place that I had not been to in over 15 years. I was last there when my brother Greg got married to Delana. I glanced over and saw the statue that Justin (on his own) once jumped on as he again playfully mimicked the little boy statue.
Then I noted a butterfly statue (why of course) !
Then, my eyes caught sight of a note that was carefully placed on a memorial bench with the inscription: “ Suzanne Marie Calley 9/17/57-9/01/11 “ Dedicated to the victims and those touched by the events of 9-11-2001”.
The adjacent protected hand written note read:”
“Hello Dear One,
I am thinking of you on this special day as I do every day. I remember how we laughed and enjoyed life. You were so beautiful and the light of my life. You are always with me.
I love you, Mom”
Well, you know me I did a search on Suzanne. And here are a few things that were written about her: She was aboard the AA flight 77 in Washington, DC on 9/11/2001. She was from Pacific Grove, CA.
“She had a zest for life.
She was a strong swimmer in high school.
She was a loving daughter and a wife.
She held a high tech job with Cisco.
She taught scuba lessons.
She was a very giving person.
She touched many people’s lives.
Everyone remembered her smile that lit up a room.
She was a very giving person, never expecting anything in return.
She touched many lives and influence countless more…”
Some of these traits sound all to familiar to a fantastic young warrior (Justin) that we knew too.
I really can’t make this stuff up. See for yourself…
Soon after upon returning home, I found her mother, Norma Keleher’s, contact info and I wrote her a note—and she wrote me back. I told her that I saw the memorial bench in honor of her beloved daughter Suzanne. I told her that I read about her and that she seemed like a wonderful person. However, I could not tell her that I knew how she feels (even though we both lost a child)—because EVERYONE deals with his or her unique loss and grief differently. But, what I did tell her was that she and her daughter now have a special place in my heart and that I know that her love for her daughter is strong and will be embedded in her mind forever—just like Justin will be for me.
So what is the take away for my brief 911 connections??? My take away is that we do not have to wait for the next disaster to hit for people to be kind, helpful, respectful considerate, compassionate and selfless towards each other-irregardless of their background. Right???? History reveals that universal kindness is usually short lived and people soon forget about the cause and the effect of a tragedy and within a short period, they get back to business as usual. You know, we can change things if you place a value of loving at all times.
On 01/13/2014 Catherine Woodiwiss, a blogger, wrote: A New Normal: Ten Things I’ve Learned About Trauma
“Surviving trauma takes “firefighters” and “builders.” Very few people are both.This is a tough one. In times of crisis, we want our family, partner, or dearest friends to be everything for us. But surviving trauma requires at least two types of people: the crisis team — those friends who can drop everything and jump into the fray by your side, and the reconstruction crew — those whose calm, steady care will help nudge you out the door into regaining your footing in the world. In my experience, it is extremely rare for any individual to be both a firefighter and a builder. “
Hundreds of firefighters and first responders lost their lives that day while saving thousands of others lives. They did not pick and choose who they were going to save. They just did their job trying to help…
Is Justin’s wish for world peace such a daunting task??? We should not just talk about it or look at possibilities– but instead join together and do something toward building better relationships in the right direction…
What would this world be like today if there was Liberty and Justice for All??
Let’s put our hands together and do something about it..