Monday, September 11, 2006

Daniel McNeal

In March of 2002, I celebrated my 30th birthday.

I was still reeling from the horrifying year that had been 2001 – the accidental death of a beloved friend, TTT, in July of that year, the death of my grandpa in November, 2001, and, of course, September 11.

I was struggling with writing my law review paper. I was slowly losing my sanity because my two year old baby still was not sleeping. I think, truly, that I, like so many other Americans, was experiencing some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder.

I was depressed on that day in March that was my 30th birthday. When my mother called to wish me “Happy Birthday,” I gloomily told her that I “so depressed.”

Instead of responding as one might expect that she would (i.e. “You’re depressed? I’m the one who’s old enough to have a daughter who is THIRTY”) she instead said, “Think about the people who didn’t get to turn 30 today.”

I said, “What?” And she said, “Think about the people who WOULD have been 30 today, but for 9/11 or car accidents or leukemia or what have you. You should celebrate turning 30 today, because the alternative, is NOT EVER turning 30. You see?”

I fixated on this question, of who was not turning 30, and through some quick research via the Social Security Death Index (an index of people who are dead, who had social security numbers), I found that the answer was EIGHTY-SIX. Eight-six people, who had U.S. social security numbers, who shared my exact birthday, did not get to turn 30 in 2002. (It’s likely that there were some other Americans, who shared my exact birthday, who passed away before adulthood, and they are not listed in the Social Security Death Index, as they did not have social security numbers. Unlike today, not all children born in the 1970s got social security number the same year they were born. At that time, the IRS didn’t require social security numbers to claim a dependent on their taxes. This did not happen until 1988, and, as a matter of curiosity, on April 15, 1988, some 7 million American children disappeared, due to the fact that they never existed at all:

One of those eighty-six people who in particular stood out, to me, was a man named Daniel McNeal.

I didn’t know Daniel McNeal, and it’s unlikely that our paths would ever have crossed. But, he was born on the same day as me, in 1972, and he died, five years ago today, on the bright sunny morning that was September 11, 2001. While I sat in a lecture on Trust and Estate Law at a small Midwestern law school, Daniel McNeal was on the 104th floor of the World Trade Center Tower 2. He had recently been promoted to a position of Vice-President. And while it appears that he did attempt to escape from his office on the 104th floor, he did not make it out of the tower alive. Daniel McNeal will forever be 29.

I think, in a way, Daniel McNeal makes this day that much more horrifying for me. His is an identity for my collective grief. I didn’t know him, but, we shared something – the day we both came into this world. And Daniel, who should have celebrated his 30th birthday in March of 2002, on the same day as me, did not get to blow out those thirty candles. He didn’t get his “free birthday dessert” at any number of chain restaurants. His mother didn’t get to call him on the day she gave birth to him thirty years earlier. He didn’t get any of those things. And hey, maybe if 9/11 hadn’t happened, it’s wholly possible that Daniel McNeal would have met his end in any other myriad of ways in the five years that have passed since that horrible morning. But maybe, just maybe, but for Osama Bin Laden, Daniel McNeal would be just fine this morning. Maybe he would have had a cup of coffee and some raisin bran and hopped on the subway to the World Trade Center station. And the rest of us 260 million Americans would not have the occasion to be caught up in the grief of remembrance today…

I think of this man, this man I did not know, this man whose name I WISH I had never come to know - because the fact that I know it is solely because he is no longer walking among us - each year now, on my birthday, and again on September 11.

Daniel McNeal, I wish I could tell you, five years after your death, that we caught the man who stole your 30th (and all subsequent) birthday from you. I wish I could give you that piece of information, and I can’t. But, I hope you rest peacefully, Daniel McNeal.



Anonymous Christina/Mrs. Broccoli Guy said...

Thank you for putting a face to the numbers, Gretchen. I'll be praying for Daniel's family and all the others who lost loved ones on this day.

Monday, September 11, 2006 3:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Terri said...

I came across this website:
A bunch of bloggers wrote tributes to the 9/11 victims. Your post touched me so much that I had to scroll down the list to find Daniel McNeal (#3172). Unfortunately, I was unable to view it, but perhaps you could. Just thought you might find it interesting.
Best wishes to you all in your adoption journey!

Monday, September 11, 2006 9:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Colleen said...

Hey Gretchen,

My name is Colleen and like many others I am in the middle of what seems like an unbelievably long wait to become a mother thru Vietnamese adoption. I was so touched by your recent blog about Daniel. You get it. That is what counts. I lost my fiancé Jason on September 11th. He is forever 25. I am not. I live for him and I hope you will too. Good Luck and I look forward to sharing stories in the future.


Tuesday, September 12, 2006 1:41:00 PM  
Blogger Melanie said...

WOW!!! That was so very interesting and moving. Thank you for that.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006 1:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I Googled Daniel McNeal's name while looking for a story that my friend wrote for a Maryland newspaper, and came across your blog post. I thought you might like to read the story and see how his family his doing:

Tuesday, May 03, 2011 12:45:00 PM  

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