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Carrying On After 9/11

I won’t pretend that the 9/11 program I heard last night at the JCC Manhattan was any more special than the hundreds of programs offered this sad week around the country and around the world. The two people who spoke were probably not even the most sympathetic of all those who lost loved ones that horrible day — they were, and are, wealthy, well-educated, privileged, secure.

Then why was I so moved?

Because Howard Lutnick, chairman and CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald, and Jennifer Gardner Trulson, whose late husband worked there, are extraordinarily articulate people, able to share their grief, anger, confusion, and yes, joy, in an unusually captivating way. And the palpable warmth between these two dear friends, who have never before appeared in public together, added a redemptive quality to their stories.

Lutnick lost 658 of his firm’s 960 New York employees, including his only brother, and the way he tells it, the magnitude of that loss walloped him again last Sunday when he visited the new memorial at Ground Zero. The company’s names filled one side of the memorial, then another, a cascade of pain, and halfway through reading them, he had to stop.

“It was too big. Too many names. Too many people,” Lutnick said.

Cantor Fitzgerald’s culture of hiring family members and friends meant that the murders on 9/11 created loss on many levels, compounding the tragedy. Twenty-two mothers lost two sets of sons. One father lost two daughters.

Trulson’s husband, Doug Gardner, was Lutnick’s best friend. The families were extremely close; their children about the same age. Michael Gardner was four when his father died, his sister Julia was two. With two sons of his own, Lutnick pledged to include Michael in a “men’s night out” once a week. Lutnick runs one of the world’s leading financial services firms, and he’s known as a driven, ruthless businessman, but for two years he never missed his weekly outing with his best friend’s son.

Yeah, I was impressed.

Abigail Pogrebin, the evening’s excellent moderator, asked them how 9/11 had affected their faith. Trulson (she has remarried) was honest. “I put God in a time-out,” she acknowledged. She had gone to so many memorial services that “going into a house of worship felt like going to a funeral.” It was only during her own son’s bar mitzvah in 2009 that she felt embraced again.

Trulson, who has just written a memoir entitled “Where You Left Me”, seems unusually capable of choosing her own path in confronting grief. The idea that she would somehow reach closure — when not a trace of her husband was ever found — seemed ridiculous.

“I don’t know why I have to close the door on my past,” she said. “Why can’t I carry him with me?”

We should all carry these stories with us.

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