Miracles and Fate on 78: A 9/11 Story of Inspiration



With some trepidation I set out to read these two firsthand accounts of personal 9/11 experiences. As a New Yorker who worked for three years on the 71st floor of Tower 1, I will forever remember the horrifying images broadcast on that tragic day. Like all Americans, I can’t see a photo, view a video clip or watch the annual 9/11 memorial service without getting very emotional. The memoirs being written today add to a growing shelf of books describing the sequence of events that transpired that morning. Firsthand testimony is critical for our collective memory, filling in information so we can understand the full impact of the 9/11 terrorist attack. Reading, reviewing, and recommending these newly published books is a small but necessary task as well.

Ari Schonbrun had been working on the 101st floor of World Trade Center’s Tower 1 since 1993 for Cantor Fitzgerald, the Wall Street firm that occupied the top five floors of that building. He commuted to work from the south shore of Long Island via subway right into the WTC complex. On that September 11 morning, Ari left home a few minutes later than usual to help his wife tend to one of their young children. That delay caused Schonbrun to get off the express elevator at the 78th floor sky lobby a bit later than usual. As he waited for the next “local” elevator to get to his desk, a huge explosion occurred  the first plane strking. As those around him were figuring out what to do next Ari encountered a coworker, Virginia, who had escaped from an elevator and was covered with agonizing burns. Ari vowed to stay with her, and together with others they made their way slowly and steadily down a stairwell and out of the building.

Schonbrun witnessed heroism and horror during his successful escape. As one of four survivors out of the 662 Cantor Fitzgerald employees in the World Trade Center that day, Ari’s viewpoint and priorities changed. This easily read, slim volume, divided into sections named “before,” “during,” and “after,” is an outgrowth of talks Schonbrun has given around the world about the lessons he learned on September 11.

Jennifer Gardner was widowed at age thirty-five and her young children, Michael and Julia, became fatherless on September 11. Her husband, Doug Gardner, was an executive at Cantor Fitzgerald, best friends with president and chairman Howard Lutnick. The two families and many of the company’s other employees were bound closely together in friendship. Cantor Fitzgerald’s loss on 9/11 was unfathomable. The roll call of honor included Lutnick’s brother, Gary.

Jennifer Gardner colorfully describes how she, a transplant from a small town in Massachusetts and a successful lawyer, was courted by Doug. Their marriage and family life in New York City were idyllic, and she was sure her life was over on 9/11. She proceeds to detail every grisly moment of her days and months after the terrorist attack, how she was fully supported by immediate family and friends but still felt alone, how her children reacted. Gardner credits Howard and Allison Lutnick with working around the clock for the families of the victims and giving her own family whatever attention they could. She explains her transition from numbness and depression, to slowly reviving. She could never imagine loving again and leaving behind being wife to Doug.

Gardner attended widows’ lunches, went out with the Lutnicks as their “third,” and kept herself busy with the children and life’s mundane tasks. She met Derek Trulson and they clicked, but she initially viewed him as a “respite from her real life.” Derek was a gentile who had moved to New York from Seattle. Over the next few years their love grew, Trulson endeared himself to the Gardners, married Jennifer and became a loving adoptive father to her children.

This book is a riveting tear jerker. It is the story of finding the courage and faith to move on, without forgetting any piece of the past. Jennifer Gardner Trulson writes about the lessons she learned about deep loss and eventual healing, the importance of remembering, and the power to move forward.

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