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Saturday, September 8, 2007

911: A Brother's Remembrance

Tears In Heaven: Eric Clapton

As I sadly reflect on the events of September 11, 2001, I recalled having saved a poignant article written in 2002 by a gentleman who had lost his brother in the fall of the Twin Towers. It had inspired me so much when I had first read it, and I have read it over and over many times since. It seemed to epitomize to me exactly the feelings of every individual who had lost a loved one during those horrific events. His words are the embodiment of every good reason why we should be so thankful for what we have in this life, especially for those whom we hold so close and dear to our hearts. Let us never forget those victims, and the families and friends who must forever live with the memory of that fateful day. May God help us all.

The article is a bit lengthy but every word worthwhile.

The River and The Creek

Translated by Chi Chung

February 20, 2002

Moments before the World Trade Center was attacked, I called my brother from my office to surprise him with a gift he had always wanted. When no one answered, I hung up the phone without leaving a message. It didn't occur to me that it would have been the last time he would have heard my voice. After I heard the news of the attack, I could not stop trembling because I knew that he always arrived at his office on the 95th floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center before 8:30 a.m. Twenty minutes later, another hijacked Boeing 767 struck the south tower of the World Trade Center. Not hearing from him, I knew that something must have happened to him. He would never let his family worry unnecessarily.
The company I work for sent all of its employees home after the second attack. Knowing that I was anxious to look for him, my colleagues persuaded me to stay away from the still dangerous southern part of Manhattan. While fleeing with the crowds to the Queens Bridge to get to New Jersey, I kept looking back to where the Twin Towers once stood. There was nothing left but dust and soot. My face was covered with tears during the six-hour ride home. I collapsed with disbelief on the front door step, grieving for my lost sibling. He was my beloved eldest brother.
We were born eight years apart. My father named him "River" and me "Creek," implying that we shared the same water. My brother left home for high school when I was in the second grade. While I have few memories of him at that age, he was already my mentor. He was an attractive individual with intelligence, compassion and leadership. He was always the one among us siblings to receive the most attention from our relatives. In return, he helped to care for his younger brothers and sister.
My sister once told me a touching story. Back in our school days in Taiwan, every student carried a lunch box that had to be sent to the school kitchen to be heated up before noon. As the oldest brother, he had the responsibility of delivering the lunch box for his sister. One day, my sister noticed that her lunch box had been switched with his. Immediately, she ran to his classroom and found him enjoying her lunch with his mouth filled with "dirty" food. With a smile on his face, he confessed to my sister that he had stumbled and spilled the contents of her lunch box while crossing the soccer field. As he picked up the soiled contents, he decided to exchange his sister's lunch with his clean one.
My brother was very protective of his siblings. In his elementary school days, he acted as a bodyguard to my second brother at school. On one occasion, he saw his brother being bullied in the playground. Although he was aware that our father would not tolerate misbehavior in school, he unhesitatingly fought the bully and saved his brother, receiving a bloody head for his efforts. Although I was too young to fully understand what happened, my respect for my brother's heroic act has never left my memory.
I finally got an opportunity to know my brother well when he came home to prepare for his college entrance examinations. We shared the same bedroom and even though he was quite busy with his exam preparations, he still found time to counsel me through my childhood years. We became best friends.
Our mother passed away when I was fourteen years old. I will never forget that day. When my brother entered the classroom with tears on his face, my teacher just happened to be telling us a story about a boy who had lost his own mother. I knew what had happened as soon as I saw his tearful face and heard him asking permission from my teacher to take me home. I immediately burst into tears and ran into his arms. He hugged me and sincerely promised me that he would look after me like our mother had. Even today, I can hardly believe that he was just a junior college student when he made that promise. True to his word, throughout my teenage years, he delivered what he had promised, teaching encouragement, enlightenment, and proper social behavior.
My brother went to America in 1980 for his graduate studies. I arrived in 1985. After that, we spoke almost daily on the phone. We continued this routine even after we both had our own families to take care of. We shared everything that was happening in our lives, just like those days when we were roommates in Taiwan. We often talked of our dream of starting our own business. Finally, in 1992, the opportunity arrived after we both lost our jobs due to the recession. We took over a retail store and hoped to use it as a base for expansion. Due to our lack of business experience, we had a very bumpy ride. Our college education and long fourteen-hour workdays did little to help smooth that journey. During those difficult times, we were both exhausted at the end of each day. Nevertheless, each of us would cheerfully work a few more hours in order to give the other person some free time. We worked well as a team and believed that there would be a light at the end of the tunnel. On those occasions when I became discouraged with our prospects for success, my brother was there to comfort me with confidence. Without him, our business venture would have quickly failed. To make a living, we struggled through this tough journey together for a long time. Our business income was significantly less than what we had earned from our previous jobs, but we never argued over how to share the profits. We never got to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We eventually went back and had successful careers at company jobs. We have had no regrets on our start-up venture. It gave us many precious memories. Our father and other relatives were all impressed by the strong kinship we demonstrated during those hard times.
Over the years, our financial situations improved considerably. My brother had two children, outstanding both academically and professionally. On September 10, I called to congratulate him since his dream of retiring to do full-time voluntary work in his church would soon come true. On September 11, it became an unfinished dream. After the attack on the Twin Towers, I visited every local hospital hoping to find my brother's name on the patient lists, knowing it would take a miracle. As I went from one hospital to another, I felt disappointment and grief. I did not want to accept that our physical bond had ended. He was still alive inside of me. It took me no time at all to fill out the lengthy ten-page application form for a lost person report. I was amazed at how much I knew about my brother, especially after the past seventeen years in America.
After work, I have been hosting a radio program on one of the Chinese community stations. On many occasions, I have discussed life and death with my audience. I thought that I could face death gracefully. However, I found it very difficult to accept the loss of my oldest brother. My father, suppressing his deep grief, reminded us to bury our brother in our hearts and to look to the future. I am father to my children; I am supposed to act like an adult. However, it is not possible for me to deal with my brother's death like an adult. I have always been a little brother who depended on his older brother's guidance throughout the years. How can I keep tears from streaming down my face whenever I think of him or when talking to my other brother and sister about him?
In high school, I read a touching memorial article, "Message To My Deceased Sister," written by Yan Mei. At that time, I was very surprised by the deep sorrow that one could have at losing a sister. Now, I completely understand the writer's feelings. Although I do not have Yan Mei's literary talent, my grief at the loss of my brother is no less intense. He will not fade away from his family's memory. My sister and second brother are coming to his memorial service in the U.S. during the Chinese Moon Festival. This will be the first Moon Festival that we have spent together since each of us got married. In our childhood, we used to share a moon-cake in four equal parts and enjoy memories of our past under the full moon. It will be impossible to have the same enjoyment when our oldest brother will not be there to take his quarter of the moon-cake. Time may diminish our sorrow, but nothing will bring back our lost brother. I am sure that the strong bond built between us will never be broken, just as it is impossible to separate water merged from a creek and a river. My only wish right now is to have time reverse itself and bring back my beloved brother. I will not give up waiting for this dream to come true.