Jewish World Review Sept. 21, 2001 / 4 Tishrei, 5762
Many people are horrified or confused when they first hear this saying. I certainly was. But today, I think I understand it.
Chris Hanley should have seen his parents one last time before he died. They were at their country place on Long Island, and he was at his place in Manhattan. And he called them Monday night last week and asked them when they were coming back to their home in Manhattan.
If they got back early enough, Chris said, they could all have dinner together.
His mother, Marie, 67, and father, Joe, 72, left Long Island that night to join Chris. It was a tight family -- just the three of them -- and they enjoyed each other's company.
But what with the rain and the always-lousy traffic on the Long Island Expressway, it took Marie and Joe forever, and when they finally got home they found a phone message from Chris telling them it was too late, but not to worry, they would get dinner some other night. It was no big deal.
The next morning, Chris would normally have headed for his office at Rockefeller Center, where he worked for a financial services network. But this Tuesday, he went to a high-powered business conference for 500 people at Windows on the World, the fancy restaurant on the 106th and 107th stories of the north tower of the World Trade Center. Or, as it is now known to many, the tower that was hit first and fell down second.
When Chris' girlfriend, Tracy Lloret, woke up Tuesday morning, she, like much of America, flicked on the TV to see the north tower burning. She knew Chris was supposed to be in the building and immediately called his cell phone and left the message, "Are you all right?"
Chris called her back and said: "I'm OK. It's very smoky, and I'm a bit scared." Then his cell phone went dead.
At the Hanley's apartment, Marie and Joe, too, were watching the two towers burn on television. Their phone rang, and it was Tracy.
"He's OK," Tracy said.
"Who's OK?" Marie asked.
"Christopher," Tracy replied. "He's there." The Hanleys had no idea Chris was going to the World Trade Center that morning.
They all turned back to the TV. And watched the south and then the north tower collapse.
Marie screamed and screamed and screamed. "It was a primal scream," she remembers now. "It was beyond description. I think I knew then it was all over."
But for the next two days, Marie clutched a St. Jude medal in her hand and prayed to the patron saint of hopeless causes. No matter what else she was doing, she would not let go of that medal.
Marie and Joe looked for some way to help their son -- for something, anything to do. Marie called the company she had retired from, CBS, and they made up a poster for Chris and put it on their website. It shows a dashingly handsome young man in a tuxedo standing next to a Christmas tree, some descriptive information and a phone number to call. It is titled: Missing.
"Deep down, I really wasn't sure he was alive, because he was up on the 106th floor," Marie said. "But he was such an incredible, resourceful human being. If he possibly could have survived, he would have. And he would have gotten others out, too. That's the kind of person he was."
Joe went to the medical examiner's office and filled out endless forms. Then he began to gather up those things that would help identify the victims: dental records, a DNA sample (a hair from a hair brush, for instance) and fingerprints.
"It kept us going," Marie said.
Friends from outside New York were the first to call to make sure that everybody was OK. They all expected the news to be good. New York is a huge city, after all, and there were only about 5,400 people missing.
"Everybody all right?" the callers would begin.
"Well, actually, no," Marie would say. "Chris was in the building."
And after that, there was not much to say. For days, Marie and Joe would watch TV -- maybe Chris would wander dazed into a hospital or be pulled alive from the rubble -- until they could no longer stand The Picture, the picture that the networks ran over and over again.
"I just could not stand to see that building explode one more time," Marie said.
Friends of Chris began to call and offer condolences. Friends he went to Boston College with, friends he went to prep school with, even friends he went to grammar school with. "I suppose I should not say this," Marie said, "but his old girlfriends, some of whom are married, called to say that they still loved him and they would always love him."
His mother can find no great meaning, no lesson in the loss of her son. But she takes a tiny bit of solace in the life Chris led. "He tasted the best of everything," Marie said. "He had traveled all over the world -- Paris, Brazil, Spain, London, Rome, Dublin. He had a wonderful life." She talked of how he loved music and art, and had won awards for his photography. Then she paused.
"He would have been 35 years old tomorrow," she said.
Joe, who worked for years for newspaper syndicates and now is a consultant to Crain's News Service, found he could not talk about Chris. Not now. Not yet.
"He's a man," Marie explained softly. "As a man, it is very difficult for him to express his emotions. But he is hurting so terribly."
Parents are not supposed to outlive their children. That is what the Chinese saying means. There is supposed to be a natural order to things, an order we can prepare for, an order that gives us time to accept death.
But when that order is disrupted, when a child is torn from us suddenly, there can be no greater pain.
"It's just ... it's just that Chris was so much part of our lives," Marie said. "He would call
every day. He was our only child. And now there is just this total emptiness. And the hurt. The
hurt that never goes