Today the FireFamily is remembering and honoring Stephen Gordon Ward as a part of Project 2996.
Stephen Gordon Ward was 33 when he died on September 11, 2001. 33. That’s young. Four and a half years older than me (now), Ward woke and went to work at Cantor Fitzgerald on a clear September morning. An accountant. An uncle. A brother. A son. He had just moved to Manhattan. I’m sure he felt like he was on top of the world as he made his way to the top floors of 1 World Trade Center, the floors that Cantor Fitzgerald occupied. 657 of his fellow employees died that day.
When I joined Project 2996 and was assigned to remember and honor Ward, I started Googling. The things people have said about him in various forums all over the web have stuck with me. From what I understand, he must have been a character, the kind of guy that could make you smile. His sister’s quote in the New York Times profile from November 16, 2001, posted here on Legacy.com, made me tear up.
“But to my younger sister, she’s the youngest, he was her big brother, he was a god. It’s interesting for the two of us, we have the two perspectives. For me, he’s a little kid, how could he be gone? For her, he’s the great big strong big brother, how could he be gone?”
Eight years later, words like these are important to me. To remind us of the humanity lost. We may have removed ourselves from the immediacy of the terror and the fear. But to remember that men like Ward were brothers, that they left behind confused sisters, well, it brings back the point of remembering. We don’t remember out of fear. We remember because they lived, they touched lives and they continue to live on in the hearts of friends, of family.
I didn’t know Stephen Gordon Ward. I didn’t even know on September 11th, 2001 that I would one day marry a soldier, a firefighter. I didn’t know that while reading Fireboat to my inquisitive three-and-half-year old eight years later that I would choke up and sniffle back some sobs only to be asked, “Mommy, why are you sad? Fireboat helped those people!” Fireboat did help those people. He’s right. But I wonder when my boys will understand. I wonder how I’ll ever be able to explain it properly. I do know that we, as a family, will say a prayer for Ward’s family tonight. I do know that we, as a family, will continue to participate in things like Project 2996 each year, honoring and remembering and learning.
Yesterday afternoon, I set up the easel on a sheet on the deck. I drew the lines of the flag with intention of having them paint with brushes. Then I couldn’t find the right paint and we did some finger-painting instead. We didn’t end up with flags. We do, however, have finger-painted tributes. I didn’t make them wear their firefighter helmets. They’ve been on non-stop. We just recently got a new firefighter costume and they’ve been wearing their helmets everywhere. It adds a certain something to these pictures, this visual tribute. I struggled with whether to share pictures on this tribute post of the boys with smiles on their faces. I then realized that if someone was remembering my family and our loss in such a great tragedy, I’d want more smiles than tears. And so we did.
I don’t know much about Stephen Gordon Ward. But I know that these two boys will be raised to respect and honor his life and his death just like those of the 2995 others who lost their lives on September 11, 2001. I may shed another tear or two today but I hope to raise my boys with little projects like these each year. They give me a reason to smile. I pray I can teach them a healthy balance between remembrance and living life, between laughter and tears. This year we send our smiles and tears, our hopes and our prayers to Stephen Gordon Ward’s family. We honor their loss, their grief and the lives that they continue living.
Please visit Project 2996 to read the tributes to the other lives lost on September 11, 2001. We, our family, will never forget.