29 December 2011

Congressional medals to honor those who were killed on 9/11

President Barack Obama signed a bill on December 23 which directs the Treasury Department to create three Congressional Gold Medals in honor of those who were killed on September 11, 2001 in Manhattan, Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon, in Arlington, Virginia.

According to an article in The Washington Post:
The medal is the highest civilian honor bestowed by Congress. The awards are to be displayed at each of the three memorials planned and built in lower Manhattan, Northern Virginia and Pennsylvania as tangible recognition of the victims.

24 December 2011

'Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close': a 9/11 film that follows the novel, but not the day itself according to NYT review

This is just a quick note about a 9/11 film to show two things. First, that 9/11 will for many years inspire creators of popular culture, as it has up till now. And second, that these artists will continue to struggle, often unsuccessfully, to create a work that captures something authentic and essential about the events of that day and their aftermath.

What struck me about the Manohla Dargis review in the New York Times of the film Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close was that I now had no desire to see the film or read the book upon which it was based. (Even though it stars Sandra Bullock and Tom Hanks, two actors I love to watch.) I was drawn in, however, by a scene that echoed Beverly Eckert's very real 9/11 experience of speaking with her husband, Sean Rooney, as he struggled to escape from the burning floors above the impact zone in the South Tower of the World Trade Center.

The images from Sept. 11 of course remain profound triggers for many of us. Some of that day’s most vivid imagery appears in the movie: there are snippets from real television news reports, but there’s also an aestheticized re-creation of a falling man that’s mirrored, with stunning imbecility, by a shot of Oskar joyfully soaring into the air on a swing. There’s also a scene in which Linda, after receiving a call from Thomas, who’s trapped in one of the towers, gazes in horror out her office window at the burning buildings. The shot is obviously composited, but it’s nonetheless a jolt because the buildings reverberate so intensely. It’s this intensity — and our deep emotional responses — that the movie tries to appropriate for itself.
But according to Dargis, the film suffers from the same shallowness and sentimentality that crippled the novel. The result is kitsch.
In truth, “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” isn’t about Sept. 11. It’s about the impulse to drain that day of its specificity and turn it into yet another wellspring of generic emotions: sadness, loneliness, happiness. This is how kitsch works. It exploits familiar images, be they puppies or babies — or, as in the case of this movie, the twin towers — and tries to make us feel good, even virtuous, simply about feeling. And, yes, you may cry, but when tears are milked as they are here, the truer response should be rage.


22 December 2011

A victory for Flight 3407 families: New rules to fight pilot fatigue

Flight 3407 families and friends light candles in memory of those they lost. 
Thanks in large part to the hard work and persistence of the family members of the victims of Flight 3407, new rules will go into effect to ensure that cockpit crews on regional airlines will be better rested to promote a safer flying environment. Beverly Eckert's sisters Karen Eckert and Susan Bourque were among these citizen-advocates, who made frequent trips to Washington in order to push for airline safety.

The crash of Continental Flight 3407 and its aftermath is a significant local story in Buffalo and has received extensive coverage in the Buffalo News. In the paper's account of the latest episode, Bourque is quoted as saying that the new rules "are much more rigorous than the current rules." She added that the rules would contribute to the efforts on the part of family members to ensure that regional airlines are held to the same safety standards as are the national carriers.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood praised the work of the family members, saying they turned their "unimaginable heartbreak... into a powerful commitment to save the lives of others." He added: "They pushed us to make progress, the progress we're making today. This rule really should be named in honor of the families" and the Flight 3407 victims.

While this measure is very significant, safety advocates note there is more to be done. Here's a quote from the coverage on the "Frontline" program's portion of the Public Broadcasting Service web site, which has done in-depth reporting on the crash of Flight 3407 and the struggle for safer regional airlines.

“Today marks a very important day in pilot safety,” said Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), whose district includes Buffalo and who has been pushing the FAA to implement the new rules. “Finally, guidance has been provided by the FAA that will help assure the American public that when they step into a plane, their pilot is well-rested. … While I’m pleased we have a final rule on pilot fatigue, we know from the findings of the National Transportation Safety Board, that it was not the only factor contributing to the tragic crash in Clarence two years ago. There must be more done to address pilot training, especially on techniques as basic as how to fly in ice when landing in Buffalo.”

Here is some more the press coverage:












21 December 2011

Working on the working title..

I love the visual arts as well as the literary ones. So I cannot resist dabbling in the craft of book jacket design for the first time in my career. Here's my latest version of the book jacket for No  Truer Hearts, which incorporates one of my favorite photos of Beverly (by Associate Press photographer Douglas Healey, taken in Beverly's Stamford home on May 24, 2002). There is a universe of emotion in those sky-blue eyes. Her face is slightly drawn and thin, from months of mourning, pain, anger and stress. But I still love her complex expression, at once loving, mournful, hopeful and strong. And she is hugging Sean, as she did so often when he was alive. If a photo is all that remains of a loved one, or a watch, a shirt, or a lock of hair, we will hold on to the precious relic in a tender way, hoping to receive through our fingertips some of the living presence that once had contact with the same object.

In addition to the work I've done on these visual elements, I have also changed the working sub-title of the book, removing the "story of love, loss and 9/11 reform," because it seemed redundant in the context of the photo, and sleep-inducing (for most people) with the word "reform." It was indeed a journey that Beverly took during the too-brief and dramatic course of her life. She passed through the hell of 9/11, accomplished great things with the help of her colleagues and allies, and now she is in the "beyond"...

19 December 2011

'Rubble': A New Book About the 9/11 Families

When I first learned last year that journalist Bob Kemper was writing a book about 9/11 family members, I was slightly apprehensive. After all, in the world of book publishing, what new author wants competition? But after reading Rubble: How the 9/11 Families Rebuilt Their Lives and Inspired America, my apprehension evaporated. Kemper's book and mine are quite different. One difference is that No Truer Hearts is a biography of one 9/11 family member, while Rubble deals mainly with the work of the Family Steering Committee of the 9/11 Commission. Another thing that sets our books apart is the viewpoint and sources. I'll be presenting Beverly's work (along with that of her colleagues on the FSC) from the inside, often through her own eyes, using her own words. Rubble is based mainly on published sources, with the occasional interview with a handful of family members. There is not much information in this book that cannot be gleaned from other sources, so there are none of the illuminating and dramatic revelations that my book will have. But the utility of Kemper's book is in the way it has pulled together various strands of the family member story in a brief and readable form. For a quick overview of the 9/11 attacks, the creation of the 9/11 Commission, and the political wrangling that resulted, with the family members coming out victorious, this is the book for you.

For a 9/11 family member book that takes the reader on a more personal, detailed and emotional journey, readers will just have to wait a little bit longer.


14 December 2011

After the terror of 9/11, "Peace on Earth" was a calling for Beverly Eckert, not just a greeting card phrase

Peace does not just happen. It takes hard work. Whether it is the calm and contentment within each human soul, or the state of good relations among the countries of the world, peace does not just happen.

After 9/11, Beverly Eckert thought deeply about what kind of person she wanted to be, and what kind of world she wanted to live in. And despite the horrific violence and hate that touched her life in the deepest and most painful way, taking from her the man she loved, Beverly took the path of peace, of forgiveness, of tolerance. True, she worked tirelessly on the political arena to make sure the terrible losses of 9/11 would never be visited upon Americans again. But she also decided that in the long term we must all find a way to solve our larger problems without the use of force. So she joined September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows.

I'll discuss her work with this group in my book, of course, but I thought it appropriate that I mention Beverly's calling as peacemaker during this season in which peace is especially celebrated. On a regular basis I look online to see if there's anything new to be found about Beverly, whether an article, an anecdote, or a photo. This morning I spent some time on the Peaceful Tomorrow's web site because I discovered a page devoted to Beverly's participation in the organization. There was no information there that was new to me, but there were some wonderful photos I had not seen before. Beverly is smiling in each one, happy in the company of other 9/11 family members who decided that the only answer to hatred and violence is peace, justice and love.

30 November 2011

PBS's Frontline program on the crash of Flight 3407 re-broadcast

"Flying Cheap" aired on PBS stations in February 2010, a year after the crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407, in which Beverly Eckert and 50 others perished. The program illustrated why changes were needed in the way the pilots and crew of regional airlines were trained, paid and scheduled for work to ensure proper rest. Members of Congress and family members of those lost, including Karen Eckert and Susan Bourque, two of Beverly Eckert's sisters, pushed hard to pass legislation that would make flying safer, but opposition from the airlines, based on their bottom lines, has stalled some reforms.

The program aired again yesterday, and provides an opportunity to reflect with sadness on this failure of businesses and government to do the right thing. Too often, the ways of commerce and politics in the United States prevent this. Corporations with deep pockets and well-connected lobbyists in this case thwarted the will of the people and treated their safety, their very lives, as just a line on their ledger sheets.

The story of Beverly's last flight home will be a thread running through No Truer Hearts. It was a flight that had a tragic end, and should have taught those in positions of power that changes were needed to make flying on regional airlines safer. Let's hope it does not take another year to learn those costly lessons.

16 June 2011

Graham promises thinly veiled new info on Saudi involvement in 9/11 in his new novel

Former Sen. Bob Graham was a keen observer of intelligence and national security matters during and after his tenure on the Hill. (He was the powerful and influential chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.) After leaving the Senate, Graham chaired the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism. Beverly Eckert and other 9/11 family members, in fact, were working with Graham to support the commission's work, which was concluded in February 2010, a year after Beverly's death.

Today comes news of Graham's new novel, Keys to the Kingdom on the gossip page of the Washington Post, with a titillating tease from the author. Graham told the Post that he decided to write the book because in a novel he could talk about the politically sensitive issue of Saudi Arabia's role in the Sept. 11 attacks. “There was some things I wanted to say that I didn’t think I could do in nonfiction,” he told the Post. He added that the report on the congressional inquiry into the 9/11 attacks was “heavily censored," and that his book provides “some slightly closeted real information that I think will be educational.”

The congressional report's title is "Join Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities before and after the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001," and represents the work of the House and Senate intelligence committees. It was the first official examination of 9/11, and the report was released in December 2002, with a section dealing with possible foreign financing of the hijackers heavily redacted. There was a controversy at the time over releasing this censored portion, which was widely acknowledge to deal with Saudi Arabia. It will be interesting to see what tidbits Graham has chosen to reveal, and whether these revelations will make a splash.

03 June 2011

Voices of September 11th holds gala in NYC

One of the first things that Beverly Eckert did after 9/11 was to establish a group to share information with other family members, and to provide them with support. She was joined in the endeavor by Mary Fetchet, of New Canaan, Connecticut, who had lost her son, Brad, in the World Trade Center. Thus was born Voices of September 11th. On June 1, the group held a gala reception and silent auction to raise money for its 9/11 Living Memorial Project.

Held at Pier Sixty, the event was emceed by NBC's Brian Williams, who is a neighbor of Fetchet's. The keynote speaker was Rudolph Guiliani, the city's mayor on that horrific day ten years ago. Some details of the evening appear in an article by Kate King of the Stamford Advocate.

31 May 2011

9/11 defendents held at Guantanamo to be tried by military tribunal

Five men accused of planning and supporting the 9/11 attacks may at long last get their day in court. But instead of facing a criminal trial in the United States, they would be put in front of a military tribunal on Guantanamo, according to the New York Times.

The Department of Defense's Office of Military Commissions last night sent letters to the family members of 9/11 victims explaining the decision to refer charges against the defendents, the first step in a process that is expected to lead to a military tribunal proceeding. And this morning, the office issued a press release.

One of the last things Beverly Eckert did before her death was to join with other family members who lost loved ones in terrorist attacks who were meeting with President Obama. She wrote a letter to the president expressing her belief that the one way to ensure swift justice under the rule of law for the 9/11 defendents was to bring them to trial in the United States. She was never able to take part in the debate which arose around the issue, because she died a few days later. A partisan outcry by Republicans was instrumental in stopping President Obama's plan to bring the alleged plotters to trial in the United States.

27 May 2011

Beverly's many ways of remembering Sean

This is a weekend dedicated to remembering. A major part of Beverly’s life after 9/11 involved remembering Sean. Her efforts to support various measures to make the country safer were one way of leaving behind a lasting and positive legacy for Sean. But she also established a number of physical reminders of her husband’s life and loss. In January 2009, just a few weeks before she died, Beverly wrote a detailed description of the various memorials she had created in memory of Sean. On this solemn weekend, here is her account.


The first memorial was the grove of trees at Cove Island Park in Stamford. I started out with ten trees in October 2001. I was certain I would never get any of Sean's remains, so in the absence of having a traditional cemetery plot to visit, I decided a grove of birch trees (Sean's favorite) at a place we frequented would be the best alternative. I nurtured those trees (pruning, mulching, weeding, even watering) for five years. They grew rapidly, filling up the space along each side of the rollerblade path that Sean and I had once skated along hand-in-hand. I had a temporary brass plaque there that said:

To everything there is a season:

A time to plant, a time to reap;

A time to laugh, a time to weep;

A time to be born; a time to die.


February 15, 1951-September 11, 2001

I also planted four cherry trees at Daskam Park in Stamford in October of 2001. I wanted something I could see every day (I passed the park on the way to work), and I wanted something that would bloom. I also scraped and painted the three old park benches there because they were very dilapidated. They need painting again, but the Parks Department keeps telling me they are going to put new benches, there but they haven't done so to date.

My neighbors indicated they wanted to plant a tree in memory of
Sean, too, and so I selected the green spruce that is also in Daskam Park. That was dedicated in the summer of 2002.

I added ten more trees to the grove at Cove Island Park in August of 2006, but those trees, plus the original ten that I had planted, were all killed when Hurricane Ernesto came up the East Coast and caused a big tidal surge that flooded the park with salt water from Long Island Sound. The trees all turned brown within a few days. I had just added the permanent brass plaque, imbedded on a big stone. The inscription was a variation of the original, I left off Sean's birthdate this time and added "This Grove Was Planted In Memory of...”

The following spring, when it was clear the trees weren't going to sprout, I brought a dolly to the park, rolled the stone with the plaque imbedded on it onto the dolly and wheeled it up a hill over to the edge of the cliff and dropped it over the edge into the ocean. I couldn't think of what else to do with it – the plaque mentioned a grove of trees and I knew that I would never plant another one. Right after that I gave permission to the Parks Department to take down the dead grove. It is now a bare stretch of grass.

Also in 2006, I planted two more cherry trees in Daskam Park and had a permanent brass plaque installed there on a rock as well. It says:






SEPTEMBER 11th, 2001

The four original cherry trees, and the green spruce, are all doing well and the 2 new trees have survived and are doing OK, although this winter someone has broken 3 lower branches off one of the new cherry trees.

In the summer of 2002, I commissioned a mural at the train station. It's a stylized version of Sterling Farms Golf Course, the public course in Stamford where
Sean loved to golf. In the summer of 2006, I painted a rock on the wall and had an imitation brass plaque affixed to it. It says:

Mural of Sterling Farms Golf Course

Commissioned in Memory of

Sean Rooney (Died 9.11.01)

Artist Jesse Mann

In 2003 the City of Stamford and the Keep America Beautiful Foundation's Stamford office decided to create a memorial for
Sean at the train station. It is a tree, a bench, a short brick path, some low evergreens and a flagpole. This past summer, in 2008, I planted two cherry tree saplings there. There is a rock with a brass plaque on it. I was there today, brushing the ice and snow off the plaque. It says:

Sean Rooney

Died September 11, 2001

Neighbor, Commuter, Friend.

There are three trees at the Amherst Memorial Grove in Amherst, NY that are dedicated to Sean, with plaques – one from me, one from my family and one from Sean's family. They were planted during the summer of 2002. My plaque reads something like:

The beauty of nature quiets the soul
And lessens the pain that man's inhumanity
Inflicts upon man.
In Memory of
Sean Rooney
2/2/15/51- 9/11/01

The original tree I bought for Sean died and was replaced. All three trees, plus most of the other trees in the park there, were all damaged in an ice storm in October in 2007. My tree now looks more like an umbrella than a Crimson King maple.

Last summer an engraved paving stone was installed along the walkway of the Roycroft Campus' "Appian Way."
Sean hand I were married in my sister's backyard, within walking distance of the Roycroft Inn, and we stayed there on our wedding night. Sean had also worked there as the restaurant manager at one time in the 1970s. The plaque doesn't mention September 11th. It says:



There is a small paving brick with Sean's name and date of death on it at Hope Park in Stamford, which is a large traffic circle with trees on it. The Glenbrook Neighborhood Association sponsored the laying of memorial bricks for anyone who wanted one there.

24 May 2011

On tourists and pilgrims and worries about the country's newest sacred ground

A small, news-cycle sized, manufactured brouhaha has arisen once again in the conflict-obsessed media. A recent piece in the Wall Street Journal announces: "9/11 Outreach Effort Criticized." It seems that some (perhaps only two?) 9/11 family members had raised their voices because Joe Daniels, president of the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum was travelling to a major tourism conference to do his job: tell tour operators about the memorial/museum, and encourage them to bring visitors once the site is open to the public.

So controversial, right?

But some family members heard the word "tourism" and unreasonably assumed that the sacred ground of the memorial will turn into a commercial free-for-all, like Times Square. But these concerns seem baseless. There are many examples of similarly hallowed sites where the promotion of tourism has not done harm. I recently went with a friend to Gettysburg National Military Park, the final resting place for many more thousands than died on 9/11. After visits by millions of tourists, it continues to be a place of solemnity, quiet reflection, and peaceful respect. People come because they know this is hallowed ground. The place itself -- the rocks and fields and forests -- along with the many monuments raised in the memory of the fallen, are woven forever into the history of our country.

I live a couple miles from Arlington National Cemetery, another place preserved for the purpose of honoring the departed and reflecting on their great sacrifices. Like the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, it is the resting place for remains as well as a monument and a living lesson. People come as pilgrims, to pray, to lay a flower or plant a flag, to revel in the memory of loved ones, or shed tears in the pain of their passing. Others come, tourists, to see the Iwo Jima memorial, watch the changing of the guard by the Tomb of the Unknowns, or marvel at the monumental vistas across the Potomac. But they also learn about the battles fought by the Marines, and grasp the scale of sacrifice by our service members when they see the thousands and thousands of white headstones and crosses, stretching for too, too long on this peaceful Virginia hillside.

The same will happen at Ground Zero. People will come, as they have since September 11, 2001. To merely look and say they'd been there. To touch the sacred ground where the towers once stood and their loved ones fell. To contemplate the horrible wages of hatred. To rejoice in the love and hope that can rise like an eternal light above the darkest void.

So bring the people. Let them learn, pray, reflect and grow. And one thing is certain: many will come as tourists, but leave as pilgrims.

20 May 2011

The 9/11 fringe exposed: Jonathan Kay's new book, "Among the Truthers"

As I write No Truer Hearts, I will be dealing briefly with the conspiracy addicts who lead the 9/11 "truth" movement. Very Briefly. They have infected cyberspace especially with their unsupported and fanciful ideas like a bad strain of the flu in a daycare center. Anyone who is interested in what these deluded people peddle is welcome to learn more online. My book, is interested in the facts, just as Beverly Eckert was.

Fortunately, I do not have to spend time de-bunking the various fake scenarios imagined by the conspiracy crowd. Others have done this superbly, and I have blogged about their efforts already. But I did want to mention a new book: Among the Truthers: A Journey Through America's Growing Conspiracist Undergroung by Jonathan Kay. The author analyzes some members of the 9/11 "truth" movement, noting, rather frighteningly, that among their psychological characteristics is a detachment from large portions of reality. The internet, where anyone can say anything, has made it possible for these people to build a mental world utterly dependent on the views of other similarly deluded people.

There have been for millenia struggles between those who use reason, and those who don't. One of the great drawbacks of the digital age is that it makes it easy for people to disguise falsity as truth, and to peddle it to the innocent masses at the mere push of a button.

17 May 2011

Love, memory, history, and Beverly Eckert's video time capsule

Beverly Eckert's life after 9/11 centered on just a few core principles. First, she took great pains to keep the memory of Sean Rooney ("my beloved," she called him) alive in dozens of ways. Second, Beverly devoted years of her time, talent and treasure to making the United States safer than it was before September 11, 2001. After the lion's share of this 9/11 reform work was complete, she focused on a third area of action: serving others, by teaching, building, and promoting peace, cooperation and understanding. Finally, Beverly had a keen desire to leave behind an accurate record of her life with Sean, and her new life with only his memory. Her work with me on this book was the principle way she hoped to preserve this legacy.

Another way was to create historical records in other forms. I have already written about Beverly's detailed recording for StoryCorps, which provides a detailed and personal account of what she saw as the significant chapters of her life. Beverly also left behind a video record, a compilation of television footage dealing with her life with Sean, the attacks of 9/11, and her efforts along with other family members in the days, months and years that followed. She spent weeks collecting the footage and having it edited and recorded on three DVDs. I am in the midst of transcribing information from this source for use in the book.

Beverly gave copies of these DVDs to family and friends. This is the message she wrote to accompany this video compilation that meant so much to her:

January 29, 2005

I completed the enclosed compilation to commemorte Sean's birthday on February 15, 2005. Editing these stories was a difficult and time-consuming process but, as with everything I have done in my life since September 11th connected to Sean, it was a labor of love.

Although I dreaded reliving the events of that day and its aftermath, I wanted to ensure that the story of Sean's life, courageous death and the journey on which those events propelled me would be preserved.

Everything depicted by these stories, I did for Sean.


14 May 2011

Sean Rooney's place on the National 9/11 Memorial

The National 9/11 Memorial and Museum recently unveiled its digital guide to the memorial. Those who lost a loved one can see where the name will be placed on the completed bronze plaques that will surround the sunken fountains at the center of the memorial. Beverly Eckert devoted a great deal of effort, along with others in the 9/11 community, to ensuring the memorial would properly preserve the place where so many perished on that day in September 2001.

The names of those who died are grouped according to their location at the time of the attacks. (Names of the victims of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing also will appear on the plaques.) The name of Beverly's husband, Sean Paul Rooney, will be on plaque S-57, right on the corner of the South Memorial Pool. His name is grouped with colleagues at Aon Corporation.

The memorial and museum is scheduled to open in time for the tenth anniversary of the attacks. Before the public is allowed in, family and friends will be able to trace the letters that spell out the names of those they lost. They will be able to leave flowers, photos, notes, personal mementos. The will be allowed to return to the last place on this sweet earth where thousands of Sean Rooneys were taken way.

And then the site will open to the world. It will be a place for all to touch names, to hear the sound of water falling into deep square footprints where the tall towers once stood. It will be a place to reflect, to remember.

09 May 2011

Another 9/11 family member's take on the death of bin Laden

Beverly Eckert had fond memories of the time she spent working on 9/11 reform with other members of the Family Steering Committee. Kristen Breitweiser was an FSC colleague who joined Beverly during difficult lobbying battles in Washington, DC. She blogs at huffingtonpost.com, and here is her thoughtful reflection on last week's news from Abbottabad.

05 May 2011

Beverly's voice on NPR's "Morning Edition"

9/11 is on the front pages once again, thanks to the killing of Osama bin Laden, and now the visit of President Obama to the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero today. National Public Radio's "Morning Edition" news program had a segment about Beverly Eckert. I have been hearing her voice a lot lately, as I've been transcribing many hours of interviews with her. And I had heard the recording they played on "Morning Edition" before. It is a segment of a longer recording Beverly had done for StoryCorps five years after 9/11. But the emotion in her voice and the poignancy of the story still has great power. I'll be blogging excerpts. Stay tuned.

02 May 2011

Some of Beverly Eckert's thoughts on Osama bin Laden and the 9/11 terrorists

In the summer of 2005, Beverly embarked on a long sailing voyage on her tri-maran sailboat, Never Land, captained by Shawn Monks. In all, they traveled about 1,200 miles, from Florida to the Bahamas and back, and then up the Atlantic seaboard to Stamford. Along the way, Beverly kept friends and family informed of her progress, excitedly telling of whale-sightings, nautical mis-haps, and relaxing anchorages in the Caribbean sun.

On July 18th, Beverly composed a description of the final leg of the journey. It was one of the few instances she mentioned Osama bin Laden.

As we entered NY Harbor, we passed the Statue of Liberty and then the section of Manhattan where the World Trade Center towers once stood. Sean is always with me in spirit, and he felt especially near at that moment. It's always painful to be at Ground Zero, but sailing past the location of the attacks while standing on the deck of my own boat, knowing that in contrast, bin Laden was hiding in a cave, made me feel something of a sense of triumph over terrorism.

In late 2008 and early 2009, Beverly and I worked intensively on recording her recollections about her work as a 9/11 activist. There were many hours of interviews, and thousands of pages of documents to go through. At one point I came across a series of unusual documents Beverly had produced on her computer: several pages containing the names of the 9/11 hijackers, repeated page after page. In an email, I had asked her what was going through her mind when she created this calligraphic composition. She responded in her typically thoughtful manner:

i honestly think that i wrote out their names as a way to exert control over their essence, their beings, as if i had captured them in some way. it seemed very ritualistic when i was doing it, very primitive. i could make them large and confrontational, and then shrink them to near insignificance. i could fill a page with them and then delete them. i could make them repeat themselves over and over, monotonously and endlessly, like an eternal punishment. i played with them, and then i put them in a photo frame, and locked them under glass where i could watch them but they couldn't get out.
Each one of us has had to find a way to cope with the aftermath of 9/11, and how to view the band of thugs who planned and carried out the attacks. The response of those who lost a loved one that day was shaped not only by the pain of grieving, but also by their own background and personalities. Some became motivated by hatred; others by love. Beverly saw this range of responses among the many family members with whom she worked and came in contact.

Beverly chose love. She focused on remembering the good times with Sean Rooney, the love they shared and the warm memories they made over many years. Beverly also devoted her energies to making a positive change in the world, helping others, promoting peace, finding solutions to the many failures that led to 9/11. By the force of her brave and generous heart, she in essence placed Osama bin Laden and his minions under glass, isolating them from her new life of service and remembrance, and condemning them to an eternity of insignificance and impotence.

We all have the power to deflect the emotional harm wished by others. Love and courage are invincible.

24 April 2011

An autopsy of the president's failed effort to close Guantanamo

Beverly Eckert had more reason than most Americans to seek justice for those responsible for the 9/11 attacks. And she felt strongly that terrorism suspects should be tried on U.S. soil rather than being held indefinitely at Guantanamo or put before military tribunals. So she was a strong supporter of President Obama's call to close Guantanamo and try the suspects in U.S. courts. But his plans gradually unravelled, as shown in a lengthy analysis in the Washington Post. In short, the plan was not presented effectively to the public, and efforts to counteract strong congressional opposition failed because the White House did not have a strong, coherent, and convincing game plan. When Congress fought the closure, the White House blinked.

Beverly Eckert and her colleagues learned quickly how to win in Washington: know your subject; hone your message; build durable coalitions; and never ever back down.

14 April 2011

Arnold Korotkin's 9/11 List-Serv: A one-man news service for the community

One of the most powerful tools wielded by Beverly Eckert and the other 9/11 activists was information. They learned early on that half the battle against entrenched interests like the Congress, the Pentagon, the airlines, and the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey was mastering all the facts.

Enter Arnold Korotkin, a sociology professor from Little Falls, New Jersey. A profile of Korotkin on baristanet.com sums up his work:
Korotkin’s work with the 9/11 community began when he was Director of Community Building for the United Way. His goal was to reach out to families that had lost loved ones as a result of the terrorist attack. “I quickly realized that many 9/11 families had ceased reading, listening to and/or reading the news,” explained Korotkin. “I began the 9/11 List-serv to provide family members access to news and relevant information about services and resources.”
Beverly and other 9/11 activists subscribed to the 9/11 List-Serv, and it provided a crucial source of articles and other information about issues they were working on. In addition, Korotkin distributed announcements, press releases and other materials produced by the family members and other 9/11 groups. It was a two-way channel of crucial 9/11 information.

I recently posted a request on the list serv for information about Beverly from people who knew her. Arnie was among those who wrote back, eager to express his admiration for Beverly, whom he first met when she testified before the 9/11 Commission at its raucous and controversial New York City hearing.
In the years that followed this first meeting, Beverly and I - in conversations and over coffee - would discuss myriad topics including where we were in the 60's, and to my surprise Beverly revealed that she made pottery in her "hippie days" - perhaps this was a way for her to express her warmth and compassion!

I was always impressed by Beverly's warmth, compassion and commitment. She was a friend who was taken from us too soon and her memory and dedication to 9/11 issues lives on!

08 April 2011

anthonytoth.com goes live

I have set up a web site containing information about me, my work, and this book project. There is a brief biography of Beverly Eckert, as well as a summary of No Truer Hearts. There are also pages about my journalistic and academic experience. Thanks for visiting!