Bar Scott – The Good
Gail Sheehee – The Bad
Bill Keegan – The Good
When asked, “How could God have let this happen?” he said, “This wasn’t and act of God, this was and act of brilliant evil. What came afterward was God.”
–An Attending Priest, WTC Ground Zero, Spring 2002.
Rick and I collaborated through the winter of 2001-02 trying to develop something that worked. He was focused on the negative. His idea was a documentary called The Aftermath of 9/11. It was very dark. That wasn’t what I was seeing at all. I had experienced such mind-blowing positivity that the negative seemed comparatively small. Yes, it was a horror of international terrorism; but to me it was how Ted died. 9/11 was his heart attack, car accident, or cancer. People rallied behind me. Of course, I understood people’s rage and fear over the terrorism. But I was immersed in a very different experience. I couldn’t focus on the global perspective. I had lost my husband and the father of my children. But my children and living our busy lives together was saving me. The loving energy that was being showered upon us from around the world kept us buoyant. I couldn’t stop seeing signs from The Other Side. If I stayed in the day, life was okay, even good.
Rick had told me a story about Carl Perkins that kept echoing in my mind. Carl Perkins had suffered many losses in his lifetime and many disappointments in his career, but he never gave up. Rick asked him one day how it was he could keep going, time after time. He said, “It’s my music.” Music was Carl Perkins’s ‘Voice’ for healing.
Voices of Inspiration was Rick’s idea for a radio or television program that Carl Perkins would host interviewing other musicians telling their stories of healing through music. Carl didn’t live long enough to see it through to fruition. I wanted Voices of Inspiration. I loved the idea of Voices. Only to me Voices of Inspiration wasn’t just about music; it meant any ‘Voice’ or creative outlet one used to heal. Now this idea had legs.
Bar Scott – The Good
In the winter of 2002 during the development stage of our collaboration, we met Bar Scott, a singer/songwriter from Woodstock, NY. Rick had heard her open the year before for Annie Haslam, the fantastic soloist of the band Renaissance in the 1970s. He was always looking for new talent. One of the many things I learned from Rick is that the world is full of talented people. Bar Scott was one of them. Bar’s original soulful sound spoke to me. Her music was sad and beautiful. My kids loved it, and we listened to it over and over in the years that followed. Bar’s music helped us process our grief and kept us company as we as we began to heal.
Rick contacted Bar only to learn that she had just lost her 3 ½ year old son and only child, Forrest, to a rare liver cancer just nine short weeks before. It was inconceivable to me to lose a child. Rick went to meet Bar and her husband, Peter, the following week. He filmed her sitting at her piano playing and singing her music between the details of telling her story. She was raw and open, honest and beautiful. Her pain was palpable and pure. Bar was the living personification of Voices of Inspiration.
Gail Sheehee – The Bad
Earlier that winter, Rick introduced me to the author Gail Sheehee. Sheehee had been hired by Vogue Magazine within weeks after the attacks to write a book chronicling the first year after 9/11 from a small town perspective. It was called Middletown, USA. Sheehee is best known for writing the book Passages in the 1970s. Sheehee was looking for several 9/11 widows who were willing to be interviewed, in-depth about their lives and their experiences in the year that followed the attack. She was speaking with three other widows that I also knew. My father warned me not to speak with her. Of course, I didn’t listen.
Sheehee spent 4 or 5 evenings at my house eating pizza (which I bought) with my children and me. I had agreed to meet with her because I wanted her to understand the amazing experience I was having. I was learning so much. People were so incredible. My 9/11 experiences were 90% positive and 10% negative. But she was digging for the negative. She was looking for ‘a story.’ She had an agenda and I should have known better. Gail Sheehey was well into her 60s at that time. After a meeting one night, she said to me, “Well, I’m going to take the train back to The City and make love to my husband.” I was stunned. Her complete lack of sensitivity in saying such a thing to a new, young widow, gives a glimpse into her true character.
In my foolish and idealistic way, I was hoping her article or book would help promote what Rick and I were doing. My lesson learned: never talk to any media with my own agenda. When the article (a preview to the book) came out in the September 2002 issue of Vogue, I was horrified. She had twisted the information from our conversations. It was judgmental and slanderous. She contrived a story from small, minute details about my relationship with Ted, and I loathed her for it. I sent a threatening email telling her to take me out of the book. Of course, she did not but thankfully the only portion about us in the book was a reprint of the Vogue article.
Bill Keegan – The Good
However, people come into our lives for a reason. The only good thing about Gail Sheehee was Bill Keegan. Sheehee had met Bill in the course of her interviews. She called him a poet laureate. The way Bill speaks — his descriptions and choice of words, his philosophy and view of the world — is extraordinary. He is a very special man.
By 2001, Lt. Commander William Keegan had worked for the Port Authority (PA) for 28 years. Keegan was honored to run the night shift at the Ground Zero site for the nine-month duration of the clean up effort. It is thought that he logged in the highest number of hours of anyone who worked at Ground Zero. Lt. Cdr. Keegan oversaw and helped manage seventeen trade unions working around the clock. Normally, that could be a volatile combination; but these men worked together, side by side, without incident for those nine months. They were doing God’s Work. It was their honor to do it. They worked undaunted trying to exorcise the terroristic poison and the pain of their own losses (thirty-seven PA officers were crushed when The Towers fell), finishing what should have been a two-year project in a record nine months.
Rick had been trying to interview Bill Keegan having heard about him from Gail Sheehee. By May 2002, Bill had rejected Rick’s many requests for an interview. Too many people were trying to get his story. He wisely wasn’t buying into the media circus. So Rick asked me to try.
The Ground Zero site was scheduled to close on May 30, 2002. I had not yet been to New York to see it. I called Bill at 11pm on a Saturday night a few days before they were due to close the site. I was at home alone by myself, yet again, while other people were out having fun. It was a sad and lonely time that I thought might last forever.
Bill answered his phone. I told him who I was and that I had not been to Ground Zero yet. I said that I had been working with Rick and asked if it would be okay if we came in and filmed the last “Roll Call’ with his men as they started the final shift before the site was to close the next morning. Because I was a widow, he said yes.
On May 30, Rick and I and one cameraman went to Ground Zero at 6pm to meet with Bill Keegan and his men.
Port Authority is a private police force that manages the airports, bridges, tunnels and mass transit servicing New York and New Jersey. It is privately funded by both states. The World Trade Center was owned and managed by the Port Authority, so they had jurisdiction over the clean up of the site. The PA office was a doublewide trailer right next to the fencing on the north side of Ground Zero.
When we arrived, I was disoriented by the lower Manhattan that I found. What felt like dozens of city blocks had been leveled and the hole left where The Towers and surrounding buildings had been was beyond enormous. What I was seeing was incomprehensible. The only thing I recognized after having lived and worked in New York City for many years was the Century 21 sign that had once been blocks away from Ted’s office. Everything was in the wrong place. It was surreal.
Once inside the PA trailer-office, I found a room with sixty or so chairs and desks in the center, an office in the front and a u-shaped area in the back. In the u-shaped area was the PA’s own, personal memorial tribute with photos and artwork for their thirty-seven men and women lost when the buildings fell. It was then that I saw for the first time, the famous painting of an angel coming down and reaching out to touch the finger of a woman in a business suit who is reaching up to meet her from a window of one of The Towers. I can see it in my mind’s eye today.
Rick, the cameraman and I were standing on one side toward the front of the room.
Lt. Cdr. Keegan began his roll call. He spoke for 20 minutes to the 60 or so men who filled the chairs and lined the walls of the room. He talked about the honor and diligence of their mission. He discussed the details of the next day’s ceremony, taking the last steel beam from the Ground Zero site and who would walk beside it. He discussed how they had been away from their families and would be returning to them for the first time in months. The energy in the room was serious and sad; the intensity of the emotions was palpable.
It was then that I had two revelations:
…. that these were the men who had been looking for Teddy every day… with their hands.
It may seem obvious now, but no one had figured it out yet; no one had even thought about it. These men were spending 12-hour shifts literally sifting through the dirt on the floor of Ground Zero picking up anything that was larger than a quarter. They were looking for bone fragments. They had sorted and sifted through hundreds of feet of debris and human remains for months until they were left with only dirt. What they had seen had been horrible. But they continued with pride and a sense of purpose. They left nothing untouched. I knew I was seeing something no one yet knew about.
….and these men were about to hit the emotional wall that they’d been running from for months.
They had sacrificed so much for us. The next day they were going back to the lives they had lived before 9/11, but they were different men now. They had gone to war. They were devastated. The silence would be deafening. The idleness would be dangerous. The work that had kept them going was finished. They no longer had a project with which to distract themselves. They were now left with only time on their hands and thoughts from which they couldn’t escape. Theirs was a unique grief and it was only just beginning. I was very worried for them.
When Lt. Cdr. Keegan was finished and asked for questions, I raised a shaky hand. I was faced with one of those moments when I knew that if I didn’t say something, I would regret it for rest of my life. My stomach was in knots; I was shaking uncontrollably and in a emotional, tearful, shaky voice of gratitude and appreciation (that made everyone very uncomfortable), I thanked them from the bottom of my heart and promised to tell everyone I knew what they had be doing for me — for us — the families of the victims of 9/11…