The true measure of the soul can best be seen when it is alone in the Darkness, without a candle, and no one is looking.
In November 2005, I was in the throws of what had been eleven months of drunken depression. Just over 4 years had passed since September 11th, and I was in the full throws of alcoholism; my job had been eliminated the previous year and my severance was about to run out; and the acute Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and bi-polar disorder were on full display. I was falling into the Dark Abyss with no way out, nor (quite frankly) did I care. As much as I tried to get assistance through therapy, and having friends and family support me, it just wasn’t doing the trick. There was absolutely no connection with anyone, because quite simply, they did not understand what it was to survive that catastrophic event. The only Survivors I knew were my former co-workers, but even though you may think you know your co-workers well or be very close with a few; the shared experience is somehow dissipated because for the most part, you shared most of the same one. I needed to talk with other Survivors, others who had been there on that day and whose lives were forever changed…complete strangers would not be a problem.
Voices of September 11th was an organization I found by chance on the Internet. One of the founders of the organization was Beverly Eckert, whose husband was killed in the South Tower. It was dedicated to helping the public understand exactly what happened on that day to the victims and their families; the first responders; the crews who worked over the course of the weeks that followed; and the survivors who were just going to work that day. There were various outreach programs, and a few of them were separate teleconferences for these groups; and the minute I saw that one was available for survivors, I called the organization. Someone called me back a few hours later and interviewed me, and told me they had one more spot available in the upcoming teleconference later that afternoon. Would I like to participate? Undoubtedly, my answer was an unequivocal “yes”.
At 4 PM, I dialed in to a number, where there were several other survivors who had been in the group for the few months that it was in existence. I had a large bottle of wine in front of me (as was my usual custom at that time of the afternoon) and I began to tell my story; and I began to feel something I hadn’t felt through all the therapy and the booze and the haze: an understanding that came from complete strangers. Similar experiences shared about that day, reactions that still haunted us, and the small little fears of such things as low flying jets that most of the rest of the world wouldn’t even dream of understanding. From that day onward, I became a member of that group and for a few years (while our funding lasted) had a regular weekly teleconference. We began to get to know each other and open up more about our lives. Through the others’ stories, we were better able to understand our own. We were able to express our fear, doubts, hopes, and dreams without anyone thinking we were nuts when we spoke of them. I got sober a few months after I joined the group, and they provided an invaluable support system for me as I started my long and (still) difficult journey in combating my alcoholism. I cannot even begin to express how much this group has helped get me through the darkest period of my life.
Voices of September 11th was only a part of the work Beverly Eckert did after September 11th “for him”, as she would often say about her husband. She was instrumental in being a voice and a forceful figure in getting Congress to establish the 9/11 Commission which looked into Government failure leading up to the attacks. She also worked for more transparency in government, imploring Congress to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, and improvement of building safety and fire codes that might have perhaps saved more on that awful day, and ensure that perhaps someone else in a disastrous situation would be able to return home safely to their loved ones. She worked tirelessly for the other spouses and families of survivors, most recently meeting President Obama and other families to discuss changes in handling terror suspects after his decision to close Guantanamo Bay’s detention facility. She worked for ALL who were involved on that day, not just one particular group of people. She did the most remarkable work of her life after the most devastating day of her life.
On Thursday, Februray 12th 2009; the aircraft she was flying in crashed into a home just outside her native Buffalo, New York. She passed from this Earth along with 48 others on that cold winter evening. When I saw the crash on the news, I reacted the same way as I always do since September 11th: extreme sorrow and grief and empathy for the loved ones. It was hours later when I found out Ms. Eckert was on the plane, and the tragic irony of it struck me like the proverbial freight train. While her passing is a great loss, the work she accomplished in just over seven years cannot even begin to be described.
While I never knew nor met Ms. Eckert, I am living proof of her kindness and humanity. The Survivor’s Group I belong to was instrumental in getting me from that dark place on a desolate November day to a place where I am now; not a perfect one mind you (what is?), but a period of my life which I am starting to have new beginnings. On March 27th (with some help from The Universe) I will be sober 3 years. I’ve started to work on the novel about the past seven years of my life, and I write this blog several times a week. I’m working on repairing relationships with my wife and kids, and other family and friends. I am still trying to make some sort of sense as to just why I survived and turn the rest of my life into a meaningful one. I am meeting other Survivors, and I am finding out that we may have different stories of just where we were on that awful day, but we have the same feelings and a connection to other Survivors that is only now starting to come to the surface. Much of that was all made possible by Beverly Eckert’s work on our behalf. No, I did not know Beverly Eckert…but she passed on to me something that I desperately needed…
A candle for the darkness.
“What does the candle represent?”
“All life, every life. We’re all born as molecules in the hearts of a billion stars, molecules that do not understand politics, policies and differences. In a billion years we, foolish molecules forget who we are and where we came from. Desperate acts of ego. We give ourselves names, fight over lines on maps. And pretend our light is better than everyone else’s. The flame reminds us of the piece of those stars that live inside us. A spark that tells us: you should know better. The flame also reminds us that life is precious, as each flame is unique. When it goes out, it’s gone forever. And there will never be another quite like it.”
– J. Michael Straczynski (taken from the Babylon 5 Episode, “And All My Dreams, Torn Asunder”)