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

  • Review
By – April 20, 2012

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.

Addi­tion­al Title Fea­tured in Review

Miri­am Brad­man Abra­hams is a Cuban-born, Brook­lyn-raised, Long Island-resid­ing mom. She is Hadas­sah Nas­sau’s One Region One Book chair­la­dy, a free­lance essay­ist, and a cer­ti­fied yoga instruc­tor who has loved review­ing books for the JBC for the past ten years.

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