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Steve Lopez POINTS WEST

A Victim's Father Teaches Us About Humanity

September 11, 2002|Steve Lopez

I wasn't going to call, and then I was, and then I wasn't.

Of all my memories from a year ago, two stand apart. One is being awakened by the sobbing that came through the wall of my hotel room, a steady, invisible cry both distant and near.

The other is a brief encounter with a father searching the streets of New York for his daughter, a photo of her tucked under his arm, even though he knew she was gone.

I can't fully explain it even now, but I felt lucky to have met that man. Even with smoke curling over Manhattan, the attack felt remote and unidentifiable for several days. I didn't appreciate the full weight of Sept. 11 until I came across this ordinary gent from Indiana who walked the streets wearing his daughter's death.

Katie McCloskey had gone to New York on a dream, and she occasionally called home to South Bend from her office on the 97th floor of one of the World Trade Center towers to say she couldn't believe she'd made it to the big city. She was 25.

The McCloskeys and I have talked a few times since then. I've visited their home in Indiana.

I've felt privileged to be let into their hearts; I've never known what to say.

For the one-year anniversary, I wasn't going to call, and then I was, and then I wasn't. I was torn between respecting Dick McCloskey's privacy and wanting to maintain this connection with the one man who had hugged me on the street, a total stranger, and implored me with simple elegance and grace to "say good things."

His humanity humbles me to this day. In the midst of an unfathomable personal loss, and a horrible moment in history, he made an appeal to the force for good in the world.

Say good things about those who died and about those who grieve for them, he had said. Say good things about a world with at least as much generosity as cruelty.

A year later, I can't comply without qualification.

I still have not a solitary good thing to say about anyone associated with the incineration of so many innocent people. I have not one good word for egomaniacal fanatics who promote ignorance, kill for God, treat women like dogs and teach hatred to children of poverty.

As for Americans, we haven't learned that as citizens of the world, we'll always be loathed for being the fat kid at the birthday party, for foreign policy that is more often about corporate greed than global good, and for loading missiles onto bombers when we don't get our way.

But for Dick McCloskey one year later, I'm going to be optimistic, naive--whatever you want to call it--and say that his daughter Katie died for the sake of making us consider the meaning of our lives, and for the sake of uniting us in cold reflection on the preciousness of life.

I passed her father's hug on to my father, and to my sons. I don't know where it comes from, but I'm grateful for the smile on my wife's face when we wake each morning, and I love that she still cries over the 3,000-and-some Katie McCloskeys in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

Say good things?

The McCloskeys taught their children tolerance, and Katie's boyfriend was of a different race. She was killed by religious bigots who attacked the most open society in the world.

We're flawed, of course, and we've got our own great divides. But I'm writing this in an international city and multicultural state that stand as the world's most spectacular arguments and best hope against the despotic, narrow world imagined by the terrorists.

I wasn't going to call, and then I was, and then I did.

The moment Dick McCloskey said hello, I was glad to hear his voice.

It'll be a difficult week, of course, he said.

But he was pleased about a monument in Katie's name that was unveiled at the local cemetery Monday night.

And Mr. McCloskey was proud to say a local girl had just headed off to Purdue University with the first scholarship named for his daughter.

Mr. McCloskey had dinner with the student Saturday night and had nothing but good things to say.

Anyone wishing to make a donation can send a check to the Katie McCloskey Memorial Scholarship Fund in care of the Community Foundation of St. Joseph's County, P.O. Box 837, South Bend, IN 46624.

*

Steve Lopez writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. He can be reached at steve.lopez@latimes.com.

I wasn't going to call, and then I was, and then I wasn't.

Of all my memories from a year ago, two stand apart. One is being awakened by the sobbing that came through the wall of my hotel room, a steady, invisible cry both distant and near.

The other is a brief encounter with a father searching the streets of New York for his daughter, a photo of her tucked under his arm, even though he knew she was gone.

I can't fully explain it even now, but I felt lucky to have met that man. Even with smoke curling over Manhattan, the attack felt remote and unidentifiable for several days. I didn't appreciate the full weight of Sept. 11 until I came across this ordinary gent from Indiana who walked the streets wearing his daughter's death.

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