If your loved one had died on 9/11…

I follow, online, the musings of a thoughtful and provocative individual named Harry Tucker.  This morning, Harry posted on Facebook about an e-mail he had received, from a stranger, asking about a friend of his who had died on 9/11.  He wrote about the e-mail in his blog.

I never had the honor of meeting Harry’s friend Mr. Narender Nath.  I knew many people who were in New York that day, and I worried about them, but my friends were across the street, at the World Financial Center, and were not injured.  Mr. Nath was not so fortunate.  From the way Harry describes Mr. Nath, I’m sure I would have liked him.  The world is 3,000 parts sadder and lonelier for that day, and over 100,000 parts sadder and lonelier for the wars that followed.  The world has lost so many people because of the arrogance of criminals in leadership positions.

Most of the responses to Harry’s post, on Facebook, were positive.   Most of Harry’s friends commented about how touching it was, or how inspiring, that a family, thousands of miles from New York, had taken a poster from a baseball game with the name of a 9/11 victim and had framed it in their home.  This particular family had received the name of Mr. Nath and had found Harry online to ask if he knew of Mr. Nath’s family address.

I say “most” of the comments were positive because there was one exception: me.  My first response, upon hearing of this curious chain of events, was to respond as follows:

Honestly this story is a little bit creepy. I’m sure that given a choice between being alive or being a conversation piece in a distant living room, Mr. Nath’s family would choose the former. I doubt his widow will be offended, but on the other hand, how would you feel if the death, not life, of your loved one was enshrined in a stranger’s home?

I sure hope I have not offended Harry or his friends.  They were puzzled by my response on Facebook.  Most found it inspiring that a family, thousands of miles away, had chosen to remember Mr. Nath.  I do not find it inspiring, and the fact that I feel so differently is driving me to write this reflection. 

A few years ago, my father passed away.  It is normal, in the grand scheme of things, for a son to someday have to face the death of his father.  That does not make it easy.  I stood and spoke at his funeral, and was the executor of his will.  I miss him every single day.  How I wish he were still with me, to see how his grandchildren have become such wonderful young adults.  He loved them, and me, with every joyous fiber of his being.  Anand Malik was, and remains to me, the leader of the band

As I was writing the words I planned to say that day, I thought about the things he would want to hear, and about how he wanted to be remembered.  In the days and weeks that followed, I thought about how I want to be remembered, and it changed my life.  Since then, I have strived each day to be more memorable to my family, my friends, and the people I have come into contact with.  I have thought about the results of my life, and my own vision of the purpose of my being here.

I have always felt that it is the job of a “good man” to leave each room a little “better” than when he arrives.  Taken metaphorically, that means to make sure that my touch on the world is one of improvement, value, kindness, respect, integrity, and love.  As a result, I want each person who remembers me to remember the things I have done, and the way I lived.  I want them to remember the example I set, and the honorable and loving children I helped to raise.

That was going through my mind when I considered this story.

The thoughtful family that received this poster, in a baseball game, knew Mr. Nath only by his name.  They took the time to research him online, and I hope, through the writings of his friends, Mr. Nath is being remembered for his contributions.  However, the reason that this anonymous family wanted to learn about Mr. Nath was not because of who he was… it was because of how and where he died.  If Mr. Nath had died one day earlier, or had died in a car accident, or had passed from liver cancer, he would not be remembered a decade later by strangers in a distant place.  His family would have missed him just as much, and his light would have gone out just as early, but his name would not have been on a placard, handed out at a baseball game, and held up high during the playing of the national anthem.

So, yes, I found it creepy that a man who was surely loved by his family and friends was being remembered, in kindness, by a stranger based solely on the circumstances of his death. 

Someday, I will die.  When I do, I want my family and friends to remember me as a thoughtful, creative, kindhearted man, who contributed works of art, expanded the field of knowledge in his way, shared his passion and creativity freely, and instilled in his children a love of hard work, integrity, and hopefulness.  I want to be remembered for having an exceptional life, not an exceptional death.

Of course, I harbor no negative feelings to anyone else in this story: not to Mr. Nath or his family, and not to Harry and his friends.  My feelings are my own and I would not presume to suggest that other people should feel as I do, especially about something so deeply felt as the attacks that day.  If Mr. Nath’s’ family ever reads this message, please know that I am sorry for your loss and will keep you in my prayers.  But if the day comes when I pass away, I ask that you remember the man, and forget the date… for one day, no matter how spectacular or tragic, does not make a man, nor does it unmake him. 

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