23 August 2010

Beverly and the book and me: The birth of a collaboration

This somewhat improbable endeavor – a book about a 9/11 citizen activist by a Middle East scholar – came about because Beverly and I had so much in common. Our collaboration was born of shared interests, goals and even personalities. It makes sense, after all, that kindred spirits would work together well.

Had it not been for 9/11, our paths never would have crossed. But once I decided to write about the 9/11 Commission, our meeting was inevitable, because without the efforts of Beverly and other family members, the commission would never have been established. I interviewed Beverly for an article I wrote for the History News Network on the testimony of Richard Clarke before the commission. I had not known of her before then, but once I read about her life with Sean, her horrific ordeal with him on the telephone as he tried to escape from Tower Two, and eventually perished, I knew I wanted to tell her story, to make the whole experience of 9/11 personal and immediate to readers through her eyes.

After reading my HNN article, Beverly wrote in June 2004 that it had offered a perspective that was “really different” than those presented in the many other articles on the commission that she’d read. “You captured the drama and content of the testimony,” she said. Others had approached Beverly about doing a book, but they suggested that she do most of the writing. She turned them down, explaining that “I have too little time and energy right now for looking back, when there is so much to be dealt with in the present.”

As with many matters, when it came to deciding whether to get involved with producing a book, Beverly was deliberate and thoughtful. After I had broached the idea to her, she suggested I contact her again after a few months. During this time, she informed other members of the Family Steering Committee of my proposed book, and that I would be interested in getting in touch with them. None of them balked at the idea, but some told Beverly that the large number of media requests for interviews necessitated much greater selectivity on their part. She noted that “although the FSC members have been accessible before, I can't promise the same access now” since it was a very bust time. As for Beverly’s relatives and friends, she told me they were interested in the project and willing to contribute their recollections.

During the summer of 2004, we continued to be in touch, and during the course of our discussions, I had suggested that Beverly begin to keep a journal, to record her thoughts and actions for future reference. On July 4, 2004, she visited the memorial grove she had planted in Sean’s memory in the ocean side park where the couple had spent many a leisurely weekend, strolling, roller-blading, reading the Sunday New York Times. She placed a couple of American flags next to the plaque by the trees, she said, because “I felt it was something that I needed to do, given that Sean was killed because he was an American.” Beverly’s first journal entry described that gesture of love and remembrance.

Later in July, Beverly agreed participate in the book project. Her prime concern was accuracy. On a number of occasions she illustrated this sentiment by quoting Voltaire: “To the living, we owe respect. To the dead we owe only the truth.” She had no desire to dictate the content of the book, which she left to me. She trusted me to write an honest and accurate account of the people and events of 9/11 and afterward. She only wanted the opportunity to offer her version of events when the version of others differed, and to let me decide which was closer to the truth.

Beverly’s search for truth was what she owed to her beloved Sean. Mine is driven by the historian’s duty to present the past as it actually was. I’m confident that the people who matter the most – the readers of No Truer Hearts – will agree our shared quest will be yield something valuable and enduring.

03 August 2010

Flight 3401 family members celebrate hard-won airline safety reforms

Like their sister Beverly before them, Karen Eckert and Susan Bourque celebrated a legislative victory after many months of hard work in Washington's halls of political power. Karen, Susan and other family members and friends of the Continental Flight 3407 victims, as well as others supporting airline safety reforms, had been lobbying for for many months to press their cause. Yesterday President Obama signed legislation that would improve pilot training, address flight crew fatigue and other issues related to the crash of Flight 3407.

An article by Jerry Zremski of the Buffalo News summarized the reaction:

"At last it is official!" said Susan Bourque of East Aurora, who lost her sister, 9/11 activist Beverly Eckert, in the crash. "Today is my granddaughter Adriana's birthday. What a present -- not just for her but everyone who flies."