Remembering Lindsay Coates Herkness III
Five years ago, I decided to take part in the 2996 Project, an effort by bloggers to honour each of the victims of America's greatest tragedy on the fifth anniversary of that day. I was assigned a tribute, which I wrote and posted, but then I learned that some of the bloggers who had signed up to write a tribute never did so. Those of us who took our responsibilities seriously were horrified, thinking of the families who might seek out their loved one's tribute, only to find nothing. So some of us agreed to research, and to write, tributes for these victims as quickly as we could.
I was given the name of Lindsay Coates Herkness III, with the mission of researching his life and writing his tribute literally overnight. I am ashamed to confess this next truth, but I must, in order to explain what Lindsay taught me, even after his death. When I began to research him, I discovered that he was someone I'd formed a poor opinion of in the days immediately following the disaster. He was the man who remained in his office, refusing to leave, until one of the Port Authority security officers went up to bring him down. Both men died when the tower collapsed.
The fact that I wasn't the only person to criticise him when I heard the news report about the rich financier who 'got a poor security guard killed' is no consolation. You see, whatever prior opinion I'd formed about him, I believed that I owed it to Lindsay himself, and to his family and friends, to learn whatever I could and to write the best tribute for him that I honestly could. So I sat up, in the middle of the night, reading about his life, and reading the comments people who had known him left on various memorial sites. In the process, a very different picture emerged from the man I'd been so quick to criticise.
It became obvious that he was the type of man others relied on, whose calm refusal to leave would have helped to keep others calm. It was also obvious he must have known this, or at least guessed it, and his "foolish" decision was in reality the best thing he could have done to prevent a panic. Remembering my own arrogant judgment of his actions, and the fact that many others had made similar remarks at the time, I wrote his tribute in such a way that, I hope, anyone who had misunderstood his actions would be convinced he had in fact done nothing wrong. At the time, as tired as I was, that was the best I could do.
But since then, I've remembered Lindsay at times, especially in early September, but on other occasions as well. And I've remembered just what he taught me, even though he had already been dead for five years at the time. I learned how very easy it is to criticise someone else, even when you're wrong. I learned how arrogant, how judgmental, I could be, even towards a man who paid with his life for his choice. I learned how easy it is to attack someone with the benefit of hindsight. I learned just how important it is to try to view something from the other person's point of view before you make up your mind why they acted as they did.
So, I'm sorry, Lindsay. This is my public apology to you. You taught me a great deal, and I owe you more than I could repay even if you were alive. I hope someone else may read this, and learn from my mistake - and remember your life, and the choices that you made, and do better than I did that awful day. You were a generous and a gracious man, so I'm sure you would have forgiven me, if you had the chance. Thank you for that, and for what you've taught me. I wish I could have known you.