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Monday, September 12, 2011

Remembering Fallen Friends

   A number of years ago when I was working in downtown Manhattan, a co-worker offered to give me a ride in his helicopter. I met him that Saturday morning at Linden Airport in northern New Jersey.
   "There are no doors on this thing?" I asked, as I struggled to secure the seatbelt.
   Richie gave me a wicked smile. "Let me know if it gets too much for you," he taunted. I'd have to fall out, I decided, before I would scream and at that point he probably wouldn't hear me anyway.

   We flew over lower Manhattan and he banked hard as we went around the World Trade Center. Naturally, he flew so that the right side, where I was sitting, was facing the ground oh, so far away. Gulp. But I managed to utter not so much as a yelp. After a few minutes, I even relaxed. It was beautiful.
   Shortly afterward, Richie Cudina left Chapdelaine Corporate Securities for Garban. Later, I heard he'd gotten engaged and by all reports he'd never been happier. I was glad because he was such a nice guy. I lost track of him after that but never forgot that helicopter ride. Thinking of it always made me smile. I didn't know that Richie subsequently moved to Cantor Fitzgerald.
   In 2001, my boss, also a nice guy, left my company and later joined The Hartford up in Connecticut. I went with him. My first day there was September 4, 2001. A week later, Richie and more than three dozen other people I knew were dead. 
   I managed to last five years at The Hartford but my dissatisfaction with being in Connecticut inexorably grew. The joy of working with my boss became the only good thing I could point to, it seemed, and even that was no longer enough to make me want to get out of bed in the morning. I had to make a change.
   Not one for subtlety, I quit my job, sold my house and most of my belongings, and put the rest in storage. I would take a year off and bum around Europe, I decided, and try to get my priorities fixed in a better fashion. Three weeks before I left, a woman considerately crashed into the rear of my 1987 BMW, effectively totaling it. As I looked at the settlement check, far more than I would have gotten had I sold or donated it, I felt it was a sign I was doing the right thing.
   One year turned to three and I found myself buying a house in France. Life is radically different--I live in a teensy two-bedroom, one bath house with a makeshift kitchen and a postage stamp-sized garden out in the rural countryside of central France. As a newly established freelance writer/editor, money is much tighter than it was back when I was working at Chapdelaine. And, yet, I've never been happier or more grateful.
   So, yesterday, I found myself thinking back to all those friends, co-workers and neighbors I'd known who had died 10 years earlier and I offered them up a prayer of affection and thanks--thanks for having touched my life in some way and also for reminding me how short life is and how precious, how important it is to stop wasting days toiling unhappily as I had been and to move forward.
   Thanks, Richie, for showing me how much better it is to get a grip on my fears and enjoy the ride instead of closing my eyes and wishing it was over. God bless you all.

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