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A Vision of Hope, A Message from the Hereafter

The colleague he lost in the collapse of the South Tower on 911 returned to reassure him that “all is well.”

Brian Clark
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I lay on my side in bed, a week after the attack, waiting for the comfort of sleep, still trying to make sense of everything that had happened. Tomorrow, I was supposed to return to work at Euro Brokers’ new office space. I was one of the company’s executives. People expected me to be there, but was I really ready to go back? After what I’d been through?

It was still so surreal. I’d survived. Scrambled down 84 floors from my office in the South Tower of the World Trade Center. Some in the media were calling me a hero, because I’d stopped to pull a man from the rubble on the 81st floor. But surely anyone would have done the same. The truth was, Stanley Praimnath had saved my life as much as I’d saved his. If not for him…I shuddered at what might have been. Just minutes after we got out, the building collapsed. I thought of the colleagues I’d lost, more than 60 in all. I’d never see them again.

I closed my eyes and I was back there in the South Tower with Stanley, holding onto each other, the stairwell lit only by my flashlight, pushing past huge pieces of drywall, water cascading down the steps. The air was thick with dust. Hacking, coughing, we got to the seventy-fourth floor, and suddenly it was like we’d entered another world. The lights were on. I could breathe again. We hurried on.

On the 68th floor we met a man coming up. José Marrero. He’d worked in Euro Brokers’ security department for years, a friend to everyone he met. He was a handsome man, in his mid-thirties, with a 100-watt smile that told everyone that things were right with the world. But that day he was drenched in sweat, breathing hard, holding a walkie-talkie to his ear.

“José,” I said, “where are you going?”

“I can hear Dave Vera’s voice up above,” he said. “I’m going to help him.”

“Dave’s a big boy,” I said. “He’ll get out on his own. Come on down with us.”

“No,” José said. “Dave needs help. I’ll be all right.”

It was the last I saw of him alive. I opened my eyes, staring into the empty darkness of my bedroom. My wife stirred and put her arm around me. Had José made it all the way up to Dave Vera? Where was he when the tower came crashing down? He’d never again know his wife’s touch. He’d had his whole life ahead of him. Like so many of the others. Now, there was nothing.

My thoughts faded: tired…

I was awake again. I’ve gotta get some sleep. I was lying on my back looking at the foot of the bed. I never sleep like this. Why don’t I turn over? And then, suddenly, there was the image of José, standing inches from my feet. He was wearing the most unusual shirt, blousy and brilliant white. I stared at him. José, you’re alive. How did you do it?

He just smiled that glorious ear-to-ear grin. He was okay, joyful even, like he was in on some kind of wonderful secret, and he seemed to be telling me, “You’ll figure it out.”

Then he was gone. As quickly as he had appeared. Still, there was something that lingered. A powerful, reassur­ing presence. José is with God, I thought. But more than that, I sensed God was with me.

There was the alarm: 5:30 a.m. I reached over and turned it off. I wanted to get to work and see my colleagues. I wanted to help in any way I could. Whatever awaited us, we’d get through it together. And with God.

Five years ago I retired from Euro Brokers. But never a day goes by that I don’t think of José. In fact, I wear a silver bracelet engraved with his name. It reminds me of his sacrifice and abiding optimism, a message that I feel called to share with others.

I give speeches around the country. I tell people how Stanley and I made our way out of the tower and how José came to me that morning one week later. I watch as their eyes grow wide with amazement. Life is precious, I tell them. It can be gone in an instant.

A couple of years ago I was speaking at a church in Connecticut as part of its annual September 11 remembrance. At the end of the service there was a video playing, a photo montage of all the victims. The focus grew tighter and tighter until at last just one picture remained. It was José, smiling out at the congregation.

I felt his warmth all over again and it hit me, what José knew all along. Hope never dies. It is with us always.   

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