Wednesday, September 06, 2006
A Gentle Wind
"Gardner Christopher 36 Darien CT Deceased WTC Occupant Christopher Gardner, a senior executive at Aon Corp., was seen on the 78th floor of the World Trade Center trying to escape the aftermath of the attacks on Sept. 11. His father-in-law, Kenneth Hecken, told the New York Times that the family has received one or two unconfirmed reports that Gardner got out of the building but returned to aid others inside. "That's the kind of guy he was," Hecken said. Gardner loved to sail and was passionate about his wife, Susan, and his two children, Christopher, 3, and Alexander, 2. -- The Hartford Courant"
I have researched Chris a bit. I do know that he was working in Tower Two of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 when the attacks occurred. Witnesses have claimed that he escaped the tower and ran back in to save others. Judging from the stories friends and family have told of Chris, this seems probable to me.I learned that he was called Sam as a child. I could write about his joys, one of which was sailing, or his work as a senior executive at AON Corporation, but I really don't know much about those things. I understand his business was Insurance (better known in the business as "risk assessment", perhaps).
Now, I have sailed exactly once, in a small sailboat with my wife and a friend who knew what he was doing. It was great fun but one trip hardly qualifies me to write about sailing, though I retell the story often; expounding on my wife's fears as we flew along with the mast tip bouncing off the waves (it does get scarier and more adventurous with each retelling, but that's what stories are for, right?).
I have purchased plenty of insurance and I understand the concept of risk assessment. I've always thought that insurance was one of the more ridiculous things we humans pay for. I mean, if you think about it, when you buy insurance, you are placing a bet with the insurance company that you will die soon and they are betting against that happy occurrence. Kind of wierd, huh? So obviously I have no business writing about Chris Gardner's job as a senior executive at an insurance company.
I'd like to be able to say that Chris loved a good craft-brewed beer or that he was a fellow homebrewer. That would make it easy for me, a homebrewer and beer-lover, to properly connect to the man's life. I'd like to know that he was an avid hunter or fisherman because we'd also have that in common. Unfortunately, I am unaware of his drinking habits or of any hobby he enjoyed other than sailing. The picture at the top of the page is a racing photo taken at the Glen Cove Yacht Club, in Glen Cove, Long Island. Chris lived there as a child and surely sailed this stretch of sea as a young crew hand. He was also known to have sailed at Camden, Maine from the Camden Yacht Club in Penobscot Bay. He still sailed there with his wife and two children up until 2001, I believe. So, while sailing and the sea was Chris's passion, I don't really know enough about it to properly expound on this aspect of his life.
Of course one of his joys was his family, and that I am very familiar with. Chris had a wife, Susan, and two young boys, Chrstopher and Alexander. He and Susan were very dedicated young parents. According to Susan, Chris never golfed a weekend in his married life, as time with his family was too important to him. I understand that sentiment! Many times I have left my family for a hunting or fishing trip or a golf weekend with the boys, only to feel guilty and somewhat cheated by not being at home with the three people I care most about. I suspect this is why Chris didn't golf. At least with sailing, he could bring along the whole tribe and have fun together! I understand that Chris had a Boston Whaler, "Robo Chief" and a sailboat, "Evening Star", and he navigated the waters of Pebobscot Bay regularly in both.
As humans we like to name things because it personalizes those things for us and gives them even more meaning due to the personal connections the names add. The names of Chris's boats is an example. In the same way, in order to familiarize ourselves with people, we need to know who the people in their lives were, as we are a product of those personal relationships. Judy Gardner was Chris's mother. She was married to Jonathon Gardner, Chris's father. They had two boys, Jonathon and Christopher. Chris's wife was Susan. They were married in 1996 or 1997 and had two boys themselves, Christopher and Alexander. I don't know about you readers but that short list of the closest people in Chris's life helps me to understand him better.
This tribute to this particular victim of the 9/11 attacks is meant to celebrate the life of Chris Gardner and not to talk about the attackers. Of course it is tempting to rail on about the ignorant and bloodthirsty savages that perpetrated this crime or to lament the time with Chris lost to Susan and her boys. That would only exacerbate the pain and, in a way, assist those who enjoyed their (limited)successes on that day. I prefer to celebrate the life of an American husband and father, who lived a life of service to his family and his job, while enjoying the beauty and simplicity of the art of sailing and the magnificence of the sea.
I am a working class midwesterner, whose father left the Appalachian coal mining region and drove the Hillbilly Highway north to Detroit during that blue collar migration in the Fifties and early Sixties. I'm about fifty years old and could only dream of ever belonging to a yacht club or owning two boats (other than canoes or maybe a small fishing boat). I work in a middle management position in State government. I say all this to show that Chris and I come from very different worlds. The connection between the two of us is that we were both Americans and family men. We had more in common than we had differences, I believe.
Christopher and Alexander will be eight and seven years old by now. They will remember very little of their father, his having passed away when they were too young to have formed the memories that last as adults. I hope they remember the boating trip they took with Mom and Dad in 2001 on Penobscot Bay, where the two boys got to steer the boat through the crowded harbor. There is very little I can remember from before four or five years of age. I am sure Chris's wife, Susan, has kept the memory of their father strong in those little fellows , though. They now know what happened on that day and who is responsible. I'm quite sure they don't understand how such a thing could happen or why, but that's reasonable as most of us can't.
While I don't sail or even do alot of boating, I understand the lure of the sea and the peace and sense of communion with God and his nature that it brings. I have lost my father and mother and also know a bit about the loss of a loved one. Recently, the diagnosis of cancer in my oldest son, further illuminated the ephemeral nature of life to me and my family. For these reasons, I feel I can better understand what Susan and her two boys are going through. Perhaps a trip out on Penobscot Bay would help. I know just looking at the picture above, with that mast tipping towards the frothing waves, as the boat fairly flies along with the wind, helps me to blend with the nature that surrounds us all. I'll bet Chris would enjoy watching his family take another such turn on the water. He might even lend a hand, now and then, when the going gets tough.