Sunday, September 10, 2006
In Memory of Kathleen A. Burns
When I agreed to write a memorial to the memory of Kathleen Burns, I realized three things: I knew nothing about her, nothing about how she died and nothing about what her loss meant to friends and family. I can only speak from personal knowledge of what her loss means to me as a fellow American who never knew her.
All I know for sure is that on that fateful day five years ago, she was a fellow one three hundred millionth of
She was a sister I never knew I had, until I agreed to remember in words one victim of 9-11. I thought about contacting her family, send a nice letter explaining what I was doing and would they be so kind as to let me interview them about Kathleen.
But I could not send the letter because I felt I did not have a right to intrude on their privacy or to cause Kathleen’s family the slightest additional pain at their loss. If perhaps, they might have felt better about talking about her and further embellishing their memories and details of who Kathleen, I apologize to them and give them something I never give anyone the right to do- to edit my words or strike them completely, I will comply with whatever request they have regarding this post.
While all Americans feel the loss of “that day,” it is the actual families that live with the reality of it everyday. And I try never to forget the thousands of injured, those who were seriously hurt and those who bear lasting and ongoing medical issues for the “crime” of living in the United States of America.
Who are these wicked men to act our judges? Were they our intellectual or spiritual betters? Had they advanced the world or humanity in any way; will their efforts and thinking ever lead to a single scientific or social advancement that had the merit of a single hair of Kathleen Burns? Never. The men who perpetrated Kathleen’s murder were the marginal losers and rejects from the marginal and failed states whose citizens all share a burning desire to leave.
What little I know of Kathleen were the words from obituaries written by others. Kathleen lived at home with her folks. I assume they were a close-knit family: Kathleen loved her family and was loved in return. She was well regarded by her co-workers and she had advanced in her career in computer technology for the financial industry. Kathleen ran the department that ran the computers that ran the office that managed a lot of money for a lot of people. This was a job of trust. Kathleen Burns was someone you could trust.
So it was on a beautiful morning in September, Kathleen was living her life, went to work and did not come home. I know nothing of her last hours in life; I only hope she did not suffer. All of us have our 9-11 memories: when we first heard, what our first impressions of the situation were and then our realizations as events went forward from bad to worse.
The Burns family’s memory are different; they are personal: for them they will remember Kathleen’s last words to them, what she was wearing the last time they saw her and all the kaleidoscope of memories of her that all of us, when we close our eyes and think about it, remember of our lives and the people in it.
Some people you know everything about them because they tell you what they think and feel, others are quiet and introspective with their thoughts and feelings too personal to share with others. I do not know what Kathleen was like in this regard, was she all business all the time? The quiet and thoughtful type that after a forty minute meeting raises their hand, says how to solve the problem and the meeting is over?
Was Kathleen a slug you in the arm “How about the game last night type?” or was she pink and ruffles? Was she an athlete? A runner? Han gliding! Did she always want to hang-glide? Perhaps she loved avante garde film and listening to punk rock. Did she keep a picture of a beloved pet in her wallet? Did she take different ways to work to see different parts of the city every day? Did she and a group of friends have a regular Tuesday dinner where they would get together and talk?
If Kathleen was some of these things or all of them, whatever she was and whatever she did, all of it stopped.
And when she stopped, many things happened. There were the tears and the sadness; the counting of the loss. But something else happened, something magnificent and special, something transcendent and forever: an entire great nation stopped whatever it was doing and did whatever it could to help the victims and their families. All differences were forgotten as we filled the boots of firemen all over the nation to send on to
To punish Kathleen Burn’s killers and stop any other who might decide to follow, we have sent soldiers all over the world and sent our sons and daughters into 125 degree hellholes with camel spiders larger than paperback novels and 109 and other countries more. Kathleen and those who fell with her represent us all; each of us realizes that any of us could have been a victim that day; were all attacked. Fate determined that Kathleen’s story would stop on that day but the hand that struck was aiming for us all.
I looked at the pictures of Kathleen online, she comes across as someone who did not put on airs, she had a mischievous smile and twinkle to her eye that suggested that she was a great person. I do not know if she was volunteer in her community, a Republican or a Democrat, an avid reader or liked doing crossword puzzles, whether she liked the Jets or Giants, even the Raiders or Cowboys or hated football but loved baseball, if she went to church every Sunday or never went to a service ever, she was Kathleen Burns, a fellow American, citizen, a resident of New York and the world is less of a place without her in it.
I only know that she had family and friends who loved her and miss her deeply that she was special to them and they were special to her. I only know that no one had a right to take her life; if they can pay for it in this world, great, and they will pay in the next for certain. There cannot be a G-d that says slay as many innocents as you can to get at the guilty, any faith, or any G-d that tells its followers such madness cannot deserve credence. Any faith that G-d that accepts Kathleen’s killers as saints deserves to die.
I imagine Kathleen when she was a little girl opening presents in the family room on Christmas morning; how happy she must of have been. Jumping with happiness opening a present, the one she really wanted and her folks looking on contentedly, smiling; she was theirs and all the problems of the world and difficulties of day to day life were wiped away with her happiness. There are a lot of happy little kids on Christmas morning, but for the Burns family, their happy child was Kathleen.
I only have pseudo-memories of her, those who knew and loved her have real memories, and real pain at her loss. Kathleen was real, she mattered and she still matters today and she will matter many years from now. She will matter because however we view our society and our lives all of us live in this place called
For some it will just be paying taxes, others will fight, and sadly, for a few, it will be their fate to fall. No one expected that a fine September morning in 2001 would add new war memorials to American national memory but
We also never quit. While the towers burned we saved lives and planned to repair them and when they fell we resolved to rebuild. Whether etched in granite, glass or paper at ground zero, the name Kathleen Burns stands not just for a 49 year old American lady; it stands for each and every one of us. If we cannot remember Kathleen and those who fell with her, we do not deserve to be a nation.
Kathleen, I know very little more about you than when I began, but you are not forgotten and never will be. I will do my part, others will do theirs; we know it cannot bring you back to us.
To the Burns family, again, my deepest condolences.
Kathleen Burns: may your memory and all those who fell with you on September 11th be for a blessing in this world.