Tuesday, December 14, 2010


The position that I took in Detroit nearly 35 years ago opened up because a man wanted to transfer to Ann Arbor. This man became the only terrorist victim I ever knew personally. He was a passenger in the plane that exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland 22 years ago, killing 240 + passengers, most of them Americans and another 40 on the ground. Images of this sweet man falling in pieces in the dark sky haunted me for years. He had a wife and 2 sons.
Eventually I was able to arrange my own transfer to Ann Arbor. Steve interviewed for my vacated position in Detroit when his New Jersey  based company bought out our company and was sending its NJ employees to Michigan. He passed on that job and ended up in Ann Arbor too. I had seen his CV before I had met him in the flesh. About 18 months later, after my transfer and meeting of Steve, I was allowed to go to my first professional meeting. Steve was with me along with the future Lockerbie victim and his wife. We went out to eat with them at night and learned their history. Both were peace corps workers out of college stationed in Afghanistan. They told tales of abject poverty. The wife was a nurse running a clinic. An Afghan woman brought her daughter-in-law in upset that the girl wasn't producing sons. Turns out the girl hadn't even reached puberty yet. Their stay was cut short by a coup that threatened their lives. This would have been in the early 70s. For several seasons, this sweet man was on Steve's softball team. He was a power hitter whereas Steve was a very consistent singles hitter. (Naomi and Josh inherited all of their athletic talent from him. All I can do is endure for long periods of time although I was a good racketball and ping-pong player).At some point, it was decided by the powers that be that this man had skills more useful outside the lab and he was promoted out of research. Right before the Lockerbie incident, he was attending a high power meeting in Germany on company business. As he had died while on company time, a memorial was put up for him.

I don't know the relationship between terrorists in Afghanistan and Libya if any. Do they know they killed someone who was trying to help their people? If he wasn't so well-spoken and seemingly destined for greatness, he would be still alive. If he had taken a different flight he still would be alive. If..if...if. His flight was probably chosen for the abundance of Americans on it.
Pan-am was warned a few weeks ahead that there would be an attempt to blow up one of their flights from Germany. Pan-am responded by affixing a $5 surcharge on its passengers for the additional screening costs. But the bag containing the explosives got through anyway.

On 9-11, my labmate was especially concerned. His sister transferred trains underneath the WTC daily to get to work. In an attempt to console him, I pointed out that she should be at work already. But how do I know if she wasn't running late that day and why isn't she picking up her phone? Of course I didn't know. He was not amused when a boss thought if we would just get back to work, then we'd feel better. He went home still trying to get a hold of the sister who eventually was found unscathed though she had a very difficult time going back home. Her future commutes were impacted too.

Many members of Steve's family were in NYC at the time but out of harm's way south in Brooklyn. They could see all the smoke. In the 80s, Steve's sister worked in the WTC. We went to see her office perched high above the Hudson. But 20 years separated her from being in harm's way. A very small if.

Life is full of ironies and absurdities. I am to make a decision soon that I can't discuss here but the back-story is so full of irony, it makes my head spin.

1 comment:

Holly said...

small and sometimes sad world...the young adult son of friends of our died in the Lockerbie crash as well...


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