Ed and Abe and Billy

Of all the stories from September 11, the one that gets me the most is of Abe Zelmanowitz and Ed Beyea, computer programmers in the World Trade Center. They were friends and colleagues. Ed used a wheelchair; he was quadriplegic. Abe had designed him a tray so he could read in bed. Ed loved to laugh and tell jokes.

On this worst day when the sky was so blue, when the planes hit, when there was fire and terror and horror all around them, when the first tower came down and the elevators in the second tower stopped working, three people had nowhere to go. Ed couldn’t go down the stairs. Abe told Ed’s assistant to go. He would stay with Ed until the firefighters got them out, but she should get out while she could.

She left. She lived.

Ed told Abe to go. Abe didn’t listen.

Firefighter Billy Burke came up the stairs, knowing the building was about to fall. Ed and Abe had called their families, assuring them they were fine, and they were together. Billy Burke assessed the situation and gave the command that saved his men’s lives and made him a legend, a hero among heroes. He ordered his men out, then told a lie. “I’ll be right behind you.”

Billy stayed. Firefighters don’t leave the helpless, and he knew they had no chance. He probably could’ve gotten out, but Abe wouldn’t leave Ed.

I picture these two friends, maybe holding hands, heads bowed. The firefighter, too, maybe turning off his radio and taking a knee. I think of those last few minutes, knowing what was about to happen, praying that their friends and coworkers made it out, praying for their families. I think they must’ve felt a little better with Billy there, that they hadn’t been left all alone. I think of their friendship and love, and that when the unspeakable roar came, that these three looked into each other’s eyes and smiled, and that peace came over them. Friends till the end. The best of humanity in the face of the worst.

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