Thursday, October 13, 2016

American Bard – Bob Dylan Wins the Nobel Prize for Literature

recent Bob
When I heard that singer-songwriter Bob Dylan had won the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature, I could not help but smile. How many times I had listened to his songs seemed inconsequential; rather, it felt like an affirmation not only for Dylan’s way with words but how they affected generations of not just fans but other artists like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones as well.

Anyone who has listened to Dylan’s songs has known that they are pure poetry – the liquid rush of carefully chosen words exploding through the speakers of a sound system along a sweet stream of music. There are the memorable lyrics to be sure that keep the tunes buzzing in one’s brain, but there is also the unique vocal delivery, a slightly nasal twinge and the distinctly country inflection. Add some harmonica and a liberal amount of guitar, and you have the recipe for what made Dylan a legend in his own time.

I could cite favorite songs here – and no doubt each of us has so many of them – but there is more the collective impact of his work and its effect on people especially during the 1960s. It almost seems a given to call his songs anthems of peace as some will do, and a song like “Blowin’ in the Wind” will be forever seen as such. His songs were that but much more as well – they were a soundtrack for our lives.

There is such universality to his lyrics and the music that goes with them, similar to Shakespeare’s sonnets or Frost’s poems. They can be read in any setting or century and strike a chord – cutting a deep emotional chasm into the listener that reverberates and is unforgettable.

young bobSara Danius of the Nobel Committee said, “Bob Dylan writes poetry for the ear, but it is perfectly fine to read his works as poetry.” She also noted his “new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” Of course, Danius is correct; if there were a Mount Rushmore of American musical artists, Dylan would be right up there with Elvis, Frank Sinatra, and Michael Jackson.

We fans have always known that Dylan’s words were poetry and didn’t need the music, but having the luscious sound entwined with those unforgettable words made us all like Odysseus, wanting to be tied to a mast and absorbing the magnificence that might drive us to insanity or delight.

Dylan has won numerous awards including an Oscar and a dozen Grammys, but the Nobel Prize elevates him into a pantheon of American writers so honored. Now his name will be said in the same breath as Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, and Toni Morrison, and yes, he rightfully takes his place as the American Bard most of his fans always knew him to be.

It is not that Dylan has not received recognition before, but this award solidifies his place in the American cultural landscape. Dylan has always been a precious resource, a font of words and music that keeps on giving and will continue to do so for generations to come.

For those who have not had the pleasure of knowing about him or hearing his songs, I am sure that Dylan would say, “Don’t think twice; it’s all right.” And it is indeed!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Sinister Clown Sightings Prove the Joke Is On Us

Although I laugh and I act like a clown;
Beneath this mask I am wearing a frown.
-The Beatles “I’m a Loser”

It has been a bad time for clowns – you know the kind with the floppy big shoes, the colorful baggy clothing, the makeup on the face, and the requisite bubble nose? With apologies to the great Cole Porter, all the world does not love a clown; in fact, it would seem clowns are on the most wanted list now thanks to what has been dubbed as “sinister clown sightings” all over the country.

My own history with clowns is that I have never liked them; the real truth is that I have been scared silly of the pernicious pranksters most of my life. When I was a little kid (not sure if I was four or five but not much more than that), my parents brought me to the circus. I remember being in the Big Top and watching the elephants march, and there were these annoying clowns running around with big horns making noise, and I wanted to see the elephants – magnificent beasts that were simply ignoring those dastardly jokers.

Later on my father took me to get a hotdog, and as we were standing on a long line I saw a clown in the corner sitting on an overturned crate. He was a rather ubiquitous looking clown at first, but then he took off his big hat, and I saw streaks of sweat running through his makeup. He stared at me with an expression that still chills me, took a big candy bar from his pocket, curled his white gloved index finger, and motioned for me to come over to him.
I shook my head negatively and he kept nodding his head insidiously and moving that finger, and I looked up at my Dad and grabbed his hand. When I glanced back in the direction of the clown, he was gone, but he had left the candy bar on top of the crate where he had been sitting.

bozoNow perhaps my youthful imagination got the best of me – no way; that clown had the most evil expression I have ever seen. Since then all clowns have given me the creeps. Other kids watched Bozo the Clown on TV, but he scared the crap out of me. The legendary Emmett Kelly, the Joker in the Batman TV series, and just about any other garden variety clown made me want to jump out of my skin.

I am certain that there are good clowns out there somewhere; you know, the ones that dress up and go to birthday parties – I just do not want to have anything to do with them. When my kids were little, the last thing I wanted to do was have a clown come to our house for their parties. Now, I don’t want to put my (irrational?) fears into the kids, but truthfully without me even saying anything they haven’t liked clowns either.

266My son when glimpsing a supposedly benevolent female clown in an episode of the Disney TV animated series Jo-Jo’s Circus said, “This show is weird,” and (sigh of relief) I never had to sit through that uncomfortable experience again; however, when the kids are hungry and I am occasionally forced into an obligatory trip to McDonald’s, I have to turn away from any images of that smiling rogue Ronald McDonald like a vampire from a cross, or I’m unable to eat even a single French fry.

Because of people like me – and now I am convinced there are more of us than ever – there is even an advocacy movement starting now. Clown Lives Matter is this group of clowns that is out to prove to the general public that clowns are basically good people dressed up in costume and wanting to bring joy to children and adults. While I understand there are good clowns out there in theory, I just can’t embrace it completely enough to put myself into situations where clowns could be present.

All of the reports from across the country about menacing clowns have not helped matters. We have heard from police departments warning citizens “Do not shoot the clowns.” Of course, when you get a story like the one in the NYC subway station where a clown chased someone with a knife, you can imagine a menacing clown like that eventually becoming a target.

My kids have asked if they should be worried or on the lookout for clowns. Trying to calm their fears (while I scan the vicinity for those costumed clods) I said that the police are taking care of it, but I wonder how many rogue clowns are out there waiting in the wings – and the woods, alleyways, and streets to scare the bejeezus out of people.

With Halloween quickly approaching, it should be no surprise that some police departments are warning citizens not to buy clown costumes, which is like telling a kid not to touch the cookie jar. I have no doubt that many people are going to go out to buy all the necessary items in order to make themselves into the ugliest, scariest incarnations of clowns imaginable. To say I am dreading Halloween this year is most definitely an understatement.

In the end you have to wonder about these people who have been dressing up like clowns and lurking in the shadows. Is it to get a vicarious thrill in scaring people? Or maybe they are not playing with a full deck, but it really doesn’t matter. Either way the joke is on us all for giving them so much publicity.

killer klownsNow excuse me, but I have decided to face my fears and force myself to watch the movie Killer Klowns From Outer Space. Since no one else in the family wants to watch this film with me (they are all pretty much clown phobic now), I am going into the basement alone for my viewing. I am leaving the lights on and may not last ten minutes, but at least I am trying to face my fears, but I’m keeping my Louisville Slugger next to the chair just in case.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Alicia Machado's Story Proves That Beauty Pageants Should Be Gone With the Wind

Alicia Machado, annoyingly referred to as “former beauty queen” by the media, has come into the news again because of the presidential campaign. Her story involves becoming Miss Universe in 1996, unfortunately the same year that one Donald Trump bought the pageant. During her reign Machado gained some weight (according to Trump she went from 116 to 160 pounds), and Trump learned of her appeal to the pageant organization to help her lose the excess pounds. He got involved to the point of attracting publicity about her attempted weight loss, much to Ms. Machado’s embarrassment. His treatment of her during that time created buzz in the media, and now 20 years later it has all come back to the surface.

ali2My purpose has nothing to do with Trump – he is just a blip on the periphery here. I am moved by Machado’s story to shine a light on the cause of women of all sizes and shapes who are no doubt as mad as hell and don’t want to take it anymore. A woman’s appearance should have nothing to do with becoming Miss Universe or getting any other job for that matter.

Imagine a young woman aspiring to be the one of the most famous women in the world, and then go one step further – she is bestowed with the title Miss Universe. The contest centers not on the woman’s intelligence, personality, or skills, though there is an obligatory nod to those things throughout the proceedings. The element that matters most is how the woman looks and, more importantly, the contours of her body. As I heard someone once say over objections about the bathing suit competition, “Well, it’s a beauty contest after all.”

There lies the rub – what is beauty? For most people it is a subjective thing, and sometimes love has everything to do with it. When a friend of mine brought an overweight girl home from college and introduced her to his family and friends as his girlfriend, on the side people were ribbing him and making fun of the girl. One obnoxious guy asked, “How can you go out with a girl who looks like that?”

My friend responded, “You don’t see her with my eyes.” Beauty is indeed in the eyes of the beholder; in fact, it always has been. Unfortunately, society has interfered with nature and has corrupted the concept of beauty. The great poet John Keats once wrote, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” (he was referring to beauty as an enduring spiritual matter) but all these years later the truth about what is truly beautiful seems more and more impossible to discern.

While this beauty contest thing has been going on for a long time, it is something I must admit I used to think was okay – at least until I had a daughter. Before she was born, I would watch Miss America and Miss Universe broadcasts. Not tuning in to see the talent portion of the show or to hear how these women felt about current events, I was pretty much there to enjoy the scenery.

ali4After my daughter was born I started to think differently. One time she was sitting in her highchair playing with toys, and as I went through my mail I realized that I had just received the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated. I looked at the picture of Czech model Petra Nemcova on the cover and then glanced at my little girl and felt something like a knife piercing my heart. What kind of world did I want her to grow up in; certainly not one where she would be judged by her appearance and expected to conform to such an unrealistic ideal of womanhood.

I threw that magazine into the recycling bin that day, and I recognized just how demeaning these contests and magazines can be. Of course, it is not only the men who are pressuring women to be sexy and skinny; women are just as guilty, especially those who are the models on magazines covers, ones who star in movies and television shows, and even those everyday females who walk around competing with one another in glamour games that are like an almost more ruthless version of The Hunger Games. It seems everyone is in part responsible for such irresponsibility.

slide_368656_4228130_freeThere are just too many culprits in this nefarious – and it is indeed sinister – plot to construct an ideal to which women must aspire. I recall the British model Twiggy who was famous when I was a kid, and I remember my mother saying, “No real woman looks that way.” Of course, Twiggy was a real young woman but with an almost skeletal figure; she became an iconic fashion symbol and no doubt caused many girls to try to starve themselves in order to look impossibly thin like her.

We can definitely point fingers at the fashion industry, the media, the movies, and TV; we can blame mostly male directors and studio heads who for decades ran Hollywood and the media, promoting the glamour queens that became the ideal for both men and women; however, the beauty pageant organizations are even bigger antagonists in the narrative of young girls and women searching for self-esteem. The situation with Alicia Machado only highlights the disregard pageants have for women as individuals – they are a product and have no choice but to conform.

Do we really need beauty pageants in 2016? They serve as salient reminders that society seems to value women more for their appearance than anything else. It would seem that it is time to dispense with these annual charades that advertise themselves as contests that supposedly empower women but do nothing more than qualify and objectify them.

Newly crowned Miss Universe, Alicia Machado, from Maracay, Venezuela poses after receiving her crown during the Miss Universe Pageant in Las Vegas, Friday, May 17, 1996. Miss Universe is hitting the gym, trying to reduce her weight in light of recent criticism. (AP Photo/Lennox McLendon)Why not create a whole different kind of contest where the winner is not crowned with a tiara and asked to prance around wearing a bathing suit and high heels? These contests could be something like Jeopardy! where they could showcase their intellect. They could compete in athletic tournaments and displays of talent including dance, art, or music. All of this could result in a top prize but based solely on accomplishments and skills, having nothing to do with the way the person looks or dresses.

It is time to get rid of the beauty pageant as we know it. The term alone is insulting. I have seen great beauty in the women in my life, and I’ve come to appreciate that it had nothing to do with the way they looked. That beauty emanated from within, manifested by love and compassion, and the happiness and fulfillment I experienced conjured a desire to return those feelings.

Many of us have known what society calls beautiful people who turn out to be quite ugly inside. They succeed in life getting by on looks, but there is a seething monster beneath surface that, when provoked, suddenly bears its fangs and claws, exposing the real person to the world. Turns out that the cliché "Don't judge a book by its cover" is pretty much accurate here.

For the sake of all our daughters (and maybe even more importantly our sons), we should promote a movement that supports and encourages people to be seen for what truly matters – who we are, what we do, and how we treat  others. We should all aspire to make that a reality in this world, and that would be truly beautiful!

Friday, September 23, 2016

Movie Review: The Magnificent Seven – The Western Is Back With a Vengeance

In many ways it has never left, but director Antoine Fuqua’s phenomenal remake of The Magnificent Seven reestablishes the Western as a cinematic force that demands attention. By teaming up with Denzel Washington (who won an Oscar under Fuqua’s direction in Training Day) as the leader of a group of misfit but highly able gunslingers, Fuqua captures our attention and doesn’t let us go for one moment.

The cold opening involves big bad rich guy Bartholomew Bogue (the always good at being bad Peter Sarsgaard) and his men descending on the town of Rose Creek, torching the church, killing townsfolk, and giving them an offer of $20 for their land our else. Bogue personally kills one of the men, and his widow Emma Cullen (a radiant Haley Bennett) will not go quietly away.

mag1-4When we first see Washington’s Chisholm, he is coming down from the high country like a dark angel descending from the mountaintop. While this scene is reminiscent of the great classic Shane, from here on Fuqua liberally borrows from such films as True Grit, High Noon, My Darling Clementine, and probably all of Clint Eastwood’s Spaghetti Westerns (there are more than enough close-ups of gunslingers’ beady eyes to go around for everyone). None of this matters though, because Fuqua is paying loving homage to the genre and it is part of the film’s appeal and success.

Chisholm has a back story that we only get hints about, but as a man in black who is black, he defies the expectations of those he meets as a bounty hunter who is determined to get his man. When Emma approaches him and offers to pay him handsomely to help her get justice, Chisholm is at first reluctant, but when he hears Bogue’s name he suddenly has a change of heart, and for reasons that will only become apparent later he decides to assist Emma.

Chisholm begins rounding up a gang that can shoot straight and drink all night long. Recruiting card playing and hard drinking Josh Faraday (the fantastic Chris Pratt) after a bar altercation, the two of them go about rounding up the rest of the gang – mountain man Jack Horne (Vincent Donofrio), wanted man Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), Chisholm’s former adversary during the Civil War Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), knife-throwing Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), and Native American Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). While each of these fellows is more than rough around the edges, they are just the right mix to take on Bogue and his army of thugs.

Of course, the rest is spoiler territory, but Fuqua manages to make the tension rise continuously as we march inexorably to the final showdown. Basically following a good deal from the 1960 film starring Yul Brynner, that story came from Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, but writers Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk have added traits and quirks for the characters, and the dialogue is solid and sometimes downright beautiful. When Chisholm and Robicheaux try to sort out whatever went down between them in the war, Chisholm says it’s time to move on with these poetic words: “What we lost in the fire we found in the ashes.” Those kinds of memorable lines are threaded throughout the film.

mag1-2Simon Franglen and James Horner’s lush score lends itself well to the landscapes captured so distinctively and breathtakingly by Mauro Fiore’s cinematography, and Rose Creek becomes a living and breathing place filled with smoking chimneys, dirty streets, and townspeople who seem to be genuinely from a time about 15 years after the Civil War.

The glue that holds the film together is Washington, who for so long has been a powerful presence on screen, but here his stature as Chisholm looms over all, and even the rag-tag group he has assembled seems in awe of him and follow out of respect. As they work together and formulate a plan to take on Bogue’s much larger army of hired killers, it becomes clear that this is the first time any of these men has ever really bonded with others and trusted someone other than themselves.

The Western has a unique place in American cinema, having had its popularity peak in the 50s and 60s, but it still reflects something about our country that is appealing. Yes, it was a time of cruelty, violence, and suffering, but it was also one where the frontier seemed to stretch on forever, where people with dreams could keep going until they wanted to stop, and then build something of a life for themselves. Of course, there would always be bad guys like Bogue who would want to stomp on their dreams and steal them away.

mag1-1The Magnificent Seven is in some ways the sum of all the cinematic Westerns that came before it, but in another way it makes a case for a new era of films in the genre. With Washington in the saddle and the likes of Pratt, Hawke, and Donofrio at his side, you could not help but want some more helpings of this slice of American pie that still tastes mighty damn good.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

TV Review: Designated Survivor – What Would Jack Bauer Do?

There is a problem inherent for me in reviewing Designated Survivor, the new television series starring Kiefer Sutherland as Tom Kirkman, an everyday kind of guy who suddenly gets thrust way up the political food chain and becomes President of the United States. My problem is that I – admittedly and very unfairly – do not want Sutherland in this part, but rather wish that he were still playing Jack Bauer in 24.

This is not to say that this new show does not have a terrific premise – it does and then some – but instead of Sutherland playing the POTUS, I cannot escape the feeling that he should be the guy the new Commander in Chief is calling for help. Instead the guy Kirkman will be probably calling is a woman – the beautiful Maggie Q. – who plays an FBI agent with perhaps a little of that Jack Bauer edge about her, but it’s too soon to be sure yet. It is also good to see Kal Penn in the role of a speechwriter who will probably become an important member of Kirkman’s team.

That said, it is not a spoiler to reveal that Kirkman is just an ordinary dude who wears a hoodie (sly nod to Jack Bauer’s hoodie wearing days) and drinks beer while watching the current POTUS on TV while he’s talking to a joint session of Congress that includes all the other big and little wigs that could assume office if something happened to Numero Uno. In a matter of seconds something does annihilate them all as the Capitol Building is decimated, and Kirkman – the unlikely but nonetheless “designated survivor” – must assume the presidency.

jack-bauerThe basic goodness and decency that most fans of 24 knew was at the heart of Jack Bauer, despite the sometimes despicable and cruel things he had to do to save his country, is to be found in Sutherland's portrayal of Kirkman this time around. It is a credit to Sutherland that he can display a range of emotions with facial expressions that it takes most actors ten pages of dialogue to accomplish.

Like Bauer in the early episodes of 24, Kirkman is a family man who loves his wife, played by the lovely Natasha McElhone, and his job as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development makes him an insider even though there are hints that as his wife’s career has been evolving quickly and that he is not so keen on the Washington scene. Now he has no choice as he assumes the role of POTUS and his life and America will never be the same.

There is something at the heart of the show’s premise that seems prescient considering the upcoming election, and it is almost too eerie to make the comparison, but when 24 premiered in 2001 it was unsettling in relation to the 9/11 attacks, and now Designated Survivor comes along right before this whole divisive presidential campaign comes to what promises to be a combustible conclusion.

While it is great to see Kiefer Sutherland on TV, I wonder if this series can overcome the limitations of its dynamic of throwing the everyday guy into the White House. How long it can keep going depends a good deal on Sutherland, who can carry a series with his eyes closed, but we will have to see how long it can keep humming on all cylinders as it did in the first episode.

Designated Survivor is off to a great start, but I must admit when I see Sutherland talking on the phone that I am secretly wishing that he was playing the guy speaking to the POTUS rather than playing him. Even Sutherland must be secretly thinking, "If Jack Bauer were here…." Well, let’s leave it at that for now!

Klaatu Barada Nikto!  

Sunday, September 18, 2016

September Beach Days Can Be Glorious

The summer isn’t officially over yet – that comes on Thursday – but Labor Day usually signals the end of our carefree vacation days. Now we aren’t supposed to wear white anymore; the kids are back in school, and the beach is a fond memory; however, the weather has been so lovely and there is no reason at all to stay away from the surf and sand.

September has always been my favorite beach month. My father taught me to savor these days at the beach whenever I could because the crowds are gone, the water is still warm enough for swimming, and the slightly cooler air temperatures are more conducive to sitting on the beach in the sunshine.

With the kids in school and having a day off, I ventured down to my favorite surf and sand spot in Nassau County, Long Island – Long Beach – to enjoy some time there. I wouldn’t stand a chance trying to park my car anywhere near the boardwalk during the summer, but on this day I easily found a spot right off Lafayette Boulevard.

lb-4There were a few people walking along the now totally refurbished boardwalk (the original had been decimated by super-storm Sandy), and a couple of bike riders whizzed by in the central bike lane. I walked over to the railing and gazed out at a beautiful panorama of white sand, blue sky, and sparkling sea.

There were a small number of people sitting in chairs or on blankets on the sand, while only several ventured into the water. After Labor Day the lifeguard stands are gone along with those who sit on them and watch over swimmers. While the water seemed a bit calm on this day, I did notice a couple of surfers down the beach a ways trying to catch a wave.

I walked along the boardwalk heading east, and had a clear path mostly to myself. Encountering only an occasional jogger, walker, or bike rider, there was none of the negotiating for space that I would experience on a midsummer’s day at 11 a.m.

lb-3After getting my 2 miles of walking in, I returned to Lafayette Blvd. and sat on one of the many benches that dot the boardwalk. I saw an oil tanker way out near the horizon, a few other smaller vessels, and I enjoyed the serenity of being able to breathe in the sea air while I sat and meditated. Nothing lifts my spirit more than being near the ocean, closing my eyes,  and hearing the waves come in to shore. 

During this blissful time of getting some exercise and away from my desk and computer, I was simply clearing the cobwebs out of my mind and breathing in clean air. Now I felt ready to get back in the car, have a quick lunch, and then go home to do some work until I had to pick up the kids at school.

If the weather cooperates, I plan on returning again next week on my day off, but this time wearing a bathing suit and armed with my beach chair, towel, and carrying a picnic lunch. Summer’s lease does indeed have all too short a date, but I am going to enjoy this good weather and the sun, surf, and sand until it inevitably expires.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

15th Anniversary of 9/11 – Never Forgetting Not a Choice For Some of Us

Every September it comes again, like a hammer to the head or a punch in the gut – there is no solace in watching TV shows about it, no recompense that assuages the pain or mitigates the loss, and those who would profit from 9/11 or use it for political reasons are beneath contempt. 9/11 is an anniversary no one wants to remember but is impossible to forget, and we are compelled to mark the day out of respect and dignity for those lost, for their friends, family, and loved ones who still suffer not just on 9/11 but every day of their lives.

For me and for some New Yorkers and Americans 9/11 is personal. If you know someone lost that day at the World Trade Center, or in Washington D.C. or Pennsylvania, there is grief beyond what other people can know or grasp. 9/11 is not just a number or a day on the calendar – it is a horrifying reminder of what happened, a day that not only will live in infamy as much as December 7, 1941, but one that qualifies the sanctity of memory and the value of grief.

My sister lost her Steve that day; he was part of her life and our family for many years. He went out that door after borrowing $20 to get the guys at the firehouse bagels for breakfast, saying goodbye to her and his beloved dogs. In that casual and everyday way of seeing someone off to work, there is no marking of the inherent importance of last words said, no way of knowing that the person won’t be back.

bates-2In the days that followed 9/11, my sister waited and hoped that Steve would be found. Each time the front door opened, the dogs would look up longingly hoping to see their master who was never coming home. In the weeks, months, and years that have followed, my sister has come to terms with her devastating loss, but she is never over it – the it is never ending, and those people who want everyone to move on and forget have no understanding of what happened and continues to happen not just on 9/11 but every day of the year between anniversaries.

My sister dedicated herself to honoring Steve’s memory and legacy, creating a scholarship in his name and holding an annual golf outing and dinner to raise money to support it. The scholarship provides funds to less fortunate students to attend a fine private grammar school, and so many children have benefited from her efforts these last 15 years. She has kept the essence of his bravery and generous spirit alive in this way, and in doing so she has also made me and her family extremely proud of her beyond what words can express.

But Steve was just one of the many firefighters who went up the stairs while everyone else was coming down, and 343 of them were lost that day. There is no qualifying the heroism, the bravery, and the call to duty that these men displayed that day, just as there is no rectifying their loss. Memorials, ceremonies, and monuments are all appreciated, but nothing – absolutely nothing – can overcome the pain and suffering that endures for those who lost these valiant heroes, who rose to the impossible challenge to fight the fires and save lives that day.

And yet 9/11 is not just about firefighters but all first responders; it is about the people who worked in the towers and the Pentagon, the passengers on the doomed jets and the flight crews, and it is about all the Americans who were witnesses in person or on TV that fateful day. Someone can watch the footage now, read about it in books, or listen to stories, but nothing is truly the same as having lived through that day.

bates3My children only know of Uncle Steve from what we tell them. They know their aunt goes to Ground Zero every year for the ceremony; we show them pictures of Steve and they can see him dancing in our wedding video. We can construct as much of Steve as we can for them – and he was beyond question a larger than life personality who was intelligent, funny, and charismatic – but the worst part is that they will never really know him, and that is the enduring theft that his loss brings to their lives.

We can magnify that by 2,996 people who died that day and the grim reality emerges. The loss of these people – citizens from 115 nations of the world in all – had a similar impact on their friends, families, and loved ones. The depth of grief and despair radiates across the planet, and there is no ability to gauge the incessant pain and suffering this day has caused and continues to inflict on those who lost someone that day.

bates-stevenNow, fifteen years later, my nephew (who was the ring bearer at our wedding) is now in the New York City Fire Department Training Academy and will participate in 9/11 ceremonies. While there is a great pride in his accomplishments as he prepares to graduate and join the ranks of New York’s Bravest, there is deep sadness that Steve is not here to welcome him into the ranks.

Indeed, life goes on, and the friends, loved ones, and family members of those lost know that only too well. Each day is a reminder of the gift of life, but also that this precious gift was taken from those killed on 9/11. 15 years have gone by, but it is like 15 seconds in eternity. We can say we will “Never Forget” and we never shall nor will we truly move on, even though many people tell us it is time to do so. We keep living our days but the pain endures, and a vacancy remains in our hearts that is forevermore.