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Jewish World Review Sept. 17, 2001 / 28 Elul, 5761

Bill Tammeus

Bill Tammeus
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One precious life
among many -- I WILL tell you how terrorists think. They think like Joseph Stalin. This is what Stalin once said about the value of human life: "One death is a tragedy; a million deaths are a statistic.''

Now I will tell you how, in contrast, decent, rational and loving people think. They think the people who died in the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington were not statistics, no matter what the final number of them turns out to be. They think each of them was a real person with real families, real dreams, hurts, joys and, above all, real histories.

And they're right. I can't tell you about each precious life erased in this despicable madness. But I can tell you about one of them. I can tell you about my nephew, the only son of one of my sisters and her husband. He was on the first flight to hit the World Trade Center. Maybe my words about Karleton Douglas Beye Fyfe can, in some inadequate way, illuminate all the lives annihilated by darkness.

This, and more, is who Karleton was: loving and cherished son, husband, father, cousin, brother, uncle, nephew and friend. He was gentle but clear-eyed, analytical but whimsical _ as you might expect from someone whose dual majors at the University of North Carolina were economics and, of all things, philosophy.

He maintained an intriguing philosophical approach to life even as he went on to Boston University to get his MBA while working for Fidelity Investments before transferring to John Hancock. The cosmic questions of life -- and the absurdities -- fascinated him, and he looked forward to working out answers as he grew older and wiser.

But now the killers have made that impossible.

Karleton loved -- simply loved -- life. To him it was a puzzle to be solved, a gift to be opened excitedly, a party to enjoy with family, which meant everything to him. He looked forward to nothing more than living out a full, long life with his wife, Haven, and little boy, Jackson (who will turn two years old in February, five days before what would have been Karleton's 32nd birthday).

But now the killers have made that impossible.

Karleton was born in Texas the year his parents moved from there to North Carolina. His father is a biochemical researcher, his mother (my sister) a registered nurse. One of Karleton's two sisters has two children herself and lives near Atlanta. His other sister just got married this summer (the last time I was with Karleton) and also lives in Boston, where she and her brother loved to spend time together.

But now the killers have made that impossible.

When Karleton went to college, he made huge numbers of friends, all of whom, it seemed, showed up at his wedding in 1994. What fun we had that day. How we laughed later about one of his groomsmen collapsing in a heap in the middle of the service when he thought he'd lost the ring he was holding. What good, loving, wonderful people came into Karleton's circle. How he looked forward to staying in touch with them.

But now the killers have made that impossible.

When Karleton took a job as a financial analyst in Boston it was clear he was a quick study. He moved up rapidly. Even his doting mother could hardly believe her boy was doing so well in a field that many of the rest of us in his family would have found tedious and mysterious.

He was able to infuse the world of finance with meaning and import because he understood that decisions made by major investment houses ultimately can have a terrific impact on people he loved. He looked forward to creating a career that would help people achieve the financial freedom to allow them to devote their lives more fully to family and to helping those in need.

But now the killers have made that impossible.

What joy Karleton brought to me personally. When he was a boy he would visit my family in the summers. We'd go on trips. We'd play catch in the back yard. One day while working on his curve ball, he put a baseball through my neighbor's garage window. And, at age 11, he offered to pay for it.

How much in recent years I loved getting his strange, spontaneous e-mail. For no reason at all, he'd flash me a note that said, simply, "Did you know how incredibly handsome and tall I am?'' I wanted this to go on for decades.

But now the killers have made that impossible.

And all of us grieve with all the families who have lost all these precious Karletons.

Comment on JWR contributor Bill Tammeus' column by clicking here.

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Reprinted by permission, The Kansas City Star, Copyright 2001. All rights reserved