12 January 2009

Family Members, Their Lost Loved Ones, and Their Mantra: ‘No More 9/11s’

Like many stories, this one begins with love.

No Truer Hearts will tell a story of  love, loss, and action. All the family members shared this tragic trio of experiences, but the book will highlight the dramatic and inspiring journey of Beverly Eckert, who was transformed from happy wife and successful executive to grieving widow and 9/11 activist.

Beverly and other family member activists had lost a loved one on 9/11, but had vowed that their searing pain and aching grief should not be visited upon other wives and husbands, sons and daughters, as a result of another terrorist attack. Not if they could help it.

This weekend I drove up to Stamford, Connecticut and spent many hours once again gathering information and recollections from Beverly in order to get a step closer to telling this story in part through her eyes. From the outset of this book project, I had decided that it was not enough to describe how the family members succeeded in their reform efforts. I also sought to combine this largely political tale with the individual instances of love and loss. In this book, it is the enduring love of Beverly for Sean Rooney, her husband of 21 years, who was killed on September 11, 2001 in the World Trade Center’s South Tower. 

The “no truer hearts” of the book title refers to the passionately committed drive of the family members as they strove to fix a broken government. But it also refers to the bond of love they had with those they lost, a bond that transcended death, and gave those left behind strength in the face of adversity, and comfort during the many dark and desperate moments of their struggle. 

In the devastating wake of the 9/11 attacks, there survived thousands of tales of love and loss. It is impossible to comprehend them all, but I felt one such story could touch the hearts of many, make the incomprehensible more real, make a massive cataclysm more personal. 

The one great love of Beverly’s life was Sean. And as she recounted to me this weekend the final political hurdles that she and her fellow family members cleared on the way to legislative victory for the 9/11 reforms in the winter of 2004, Beverly's memory of Sean was with her constantly. As she stood holding Sean's photo to her chest at White House vigils, or walked the endless, cold marble halls of congressional office buildings, or spoke at press conferences, hearings and other events, Beverly had in her heart Sean's love, the memory of his infectious laughter and the lasting reality of their shared lives. Beverly had done many things to preserve Sean's memory: plant trees, start a scholarship fund, place plaques, commission a mural. But her work on the 9/11 Commission and subsequent reform legislation would stand as her most wide-ranging tribute to his life and memory. 

Even as we sat in her house in Stamford, Sean was there. The documents and articles that Beverly was poring over were spread across the large dining room table that her husband had made in his well-equipped basement workshop. When Beverly sautéed some shrimp in garlic and butter, it was in the kitchen that Sean had remodeled almost single-handedly. And as a fire crackled in the living room fireplace, Sean’s smiling face looked down upon us from a photo on a nearby shelf. 

As I seek to reconstruct this sad but dramatic chapter in our country’s history, and to tell the story of  one of the great loves behind it, I am glad that I have a guide as wise and brave and generous as Beverly. She will help me take readers on a moving and memorable journey.

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