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September 11, 2013

Lydia Estelle Bravo: a 9/11 Tribute

This is a repost of something I wrong on September 11th, 2006. For Don, and all the assembled villainry who have put up with my inane ramblings for so long. If you want to read the comments, the original post is here.

And At Night, I Dream Of You...

Her name was Lydia.

Lydia Estelle Bravo.

Even the sound delights the senses. There is music in it. Her name rolls off the tongue like a line from the foreign films she loved to watch with her fiancee, Antonio Bengivenga. You would want to speak the words slowly so they could be savored, rich and full-bodied, like the Sangiovese she served Antonio the night before those planes hurtled out of a clear blue sky and tilted the world on its axis.

They were to have been married in January.

How do you tell the story of a woman you never met? Someone whose life was extinguished as casually as one pinches a candle flame after a memorable evening? Reading what those she left behind had to say about her, I have no doubt that Lydia loved life; that she made the days and nights of everyone around her memorable. One piece said that to Lydia, life was a feast.

This does not surprise me. You see, Lydia was an oncology nurse for eight years. Living in death's shadow for such a long time brings everything into sharper focus. It makes one appreciate how truly precious each and every moment we have on this earth is, how lucky most of us are, even to be able to walk out our front doors each morning and do mundane things like pick up the paper, fight rush hour traffic, or sit in overlong meetings listening to pompous, pontificating nitwits rehash things that could easily be said with far less oxygen. But on the flip side we also get to see sunsets, Italian movies, giggling babies, and the face of the one we love each morning resting on that pillow beside us; looking in sleep - for a moment - as innocent and carefree as a child again.

That sight alone is worth the price of admission.

Lydia knew how to celebrate life. She and Antonio met in a sports bar eleven years ago. They travelled together, most often to Italy or Mexico, and they loved to watch foreign films - so much so that she rarely needed the subtitles. On September 10th, the night before that bolt from the blue that was to change the lives of so many Americans, Lydia and Antonio celebrated their return from yet another trip :

The night before the planes hit, Lydia Bravo cooked a pot of ribollita, the Tuscan stew of beans and greens. She and her fiancé, Anthony Bengivenga -- "she called me Antonio" -- opened a bottle of Sangiovese.

They would have been together 11 years this month, Mr. Bengivenga said. Both had been married before, both had grown children. They had found in each other a passion for all things passionate -- the films of Pedro Almodóvar, flamenco music and food. All kinds of food.

Ms. Bravo, 50, was a devoted cook. She had taken classes at Peter Kumps. She had hundreds of cookbooks -- some picked up at flea markets, others on trips abroad. Whenever they went to Italy she peeked into kitchens and chatted up the cooks. At home in Dunellen, N.J., she cooked elaborate meals.

"That was really her forte," Mr. Bengivenga said. "I would help. I enjoyed being in the kitchen with her." She taught him a few things, but not nearly enough, he said.

This is clearly a woman who knew passion, who wanted the most out of life and knew how to savor even ordinary things in abundance. Antonio describes her infectious enjoyment of life:

"She had a certain laugh. If you mention her laugh, everybody who knew her will know it. She got everybody laughing."

This is the thing that called to me over and over again as I read about Lydia. So often it seems we avert our eyes from what is sad about life. We try so hard to shield our children from difficulties, to protect them from anything that might wound their self esteem, that might discourage or frighten them. But Lydia lived for eight years in what could be viewed as one of the saddest, most disheartening places on earth: an oncology ward.

The irony of this was not lost on me, for I recently lost my nephew to cancer shortly before his seventeenth birthday. Watching children suffer from a terminal illeness is perhaps one of the saddest things on earth. It seems so unfair. But it is, at times, perhaps also one of the most inspiring things one can imagine also, for even in the midst of pain that would daunt the bravest adult, children manage to find joy in the simplest things, and they face almost insurmountable challenges with an equanimity that never ceases to amaze.

Lydia seems to have absorbed this childlike capacity to take life as it is, or perhaps it was a part of her very being; for her response to the setbacks she must have witnessed as an oncology nurse was not to lose hope, to become bitter and withdraw emotionally. It was to embrace the world around her, to celebrate it, to grab onto life with both hands and wring every last drop of enjoyment from each day. And like that bottle of Sangiovese she served on September 10th, she was the perfect accompaniment to a life well lived. She infected others with her delight in living - she couldn't wait to share the good things life has to offer. The simple things: good food, a bottle of wine, great films, travel, laughter, love. As my husband would say with a roguish twinkle in his eye, this woman was abondanzza; a moveable feast in and of herself.

It took me three tries to write this tribute.

I never write rough drafts, I never revise, and this is nothing like the two which came before, which I threw out. They were too raw, too emotional. Too personal to share. In writing them, it occurred to me over and over again how odd it was that I was even doing this.

I never would have dreamed of doing such a thing, before that brilliant September morning in 2001. You didn't know me then.

I would have thought this a silly, sentimental exercise, too mawkish. I would have had no patience with this sort of thing. To be honest, I have little patience with most of the 9/11 panoply, the remembrances, the tributes to the "victims" (a term I loathe with every fiber in my being, for I think it robs them of their dignity). I almost lost it while watching CNN the other night and hearing some inane announcer say with almost obscene relish, "You can watch the entire attack online - complete! unedited!". It's not that I want it covered up. I understand the need of some people to relive it all. It's just that it bothered me to hear that perky announcer saying, in essence, "Tune in and watch as 3000 people die!". I can't do it. If it brings healing to some, then perhaps that is a good thing. I suppose that is yet another way in which I have changed.

But I still refuse to call Lydia a victim. She lived her life to the fullest. I am angry, and sad - sadder than I can say - that she didn't get to live it out to its glorious end. She should have had grandchildren, tons of them. She should have had a full table at endless Thanksgivings, with scores of people to cook for.

She should have had so many tomorrows. But I will not call her a victim, for that grants her killers too much stature and takes from her too much dignity.

I said a few days ago that a part of me died on 9/11, but oddly enough I didn't realize it at the time. I thought then, privately, that it was as though a part of me - some protective layer - had been forever ripped away and that this had left me weaker, more vulnerable than I had been before. But though I still think this is true, I am no longer sure that this is entirely a bad thing.

Defenses keep things out, but they can also immobilize us. In so many ways, what happened that day represents a fork in my life; a turning point from which there is no going back to the way things were. And however much we may mourn our losses: the loss of loved ones, the loss of our security, of innocence, of peace, we have in other ways gained things we do not fully appreciate. I know that as much as I often regret it, I would not be here writing these words, were it not for the events of September 11th.

And as much as I hate the pain the each day's news brings, as much as I despise the too easy tears that seem all too ready to spring to my eyes these days, I am also thankful for them, for they are a reminder of how much I have to be thankful for. And such reminders often come to us in strange ways. Sitting at my aunt's funeral recently, the minister said something I loved. My aunt, more than anything else on this earth, loved to sing. And the minister said to listen for the music in everyday life; those moments of quiet joy when it is good to be alive.

Or even those moments which are painful, but which have something to teach us also. Because so often in life, it is only by experiencing pain that we fully appreciate joy; and only through loss that what we do have glows ever more brightly in our eyes.

For you see, I am still here, walking the earth. And like Lydia, my husband was inside one of those buildings that was hit by one of those four planes on 9/11/2001. But unlike Antonio, and unlike so many people whose last chance to talk with their loved ones was a hurried message, or even - God forbid - a voice mail recording, a few hours later I received a cell phone call as I sat at my desk, wondering if I would ever see the love of my life again.

Life is always too short, and there is never enough of the things we want from it. But it is always so worth the living, and always worth the celebration. And so, tomorrow night, I will borrow a scene from my favorite novel. When the moonlight hits the balcony on my patio, there will be two glasses of Sangiovese, full to the brim, placed on the edge.

And they will remain there all night. Sweet dreams, bellisima.

Di giorno ti penso...di notte ti sogno.

Update: Whisky honors Lydia

Posted by Cassandra at September 11, 2006 08:59 AM

Posted by Cassandra at September 11, 2013 02:19 PM

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Dear Cassandra and Friends

I asked Cass to repost this because I don't want to forget. I don't want to forget that Lydia Bravo lived, was a vital and wonderful woman, and is now dead, because of the madness and hate that lives at the edge of all of our lives.

Today, we remember. Today, we hope. I hope that Lydia rests in arms of the Eternal Father, beyond the pain of this world, and on the Last Day, is there for the Resurrection of Souls, and life everlasting. I hope, we all hope.

We hope to see everything that is good and worthwhile and valued.....and the best of what we are.

The best of what we are. Friendship, loyalty, courage and love. But most of all love. We hope that it endures. We hope that the best in Man endures and is vindicated. Only in this can we conquer the hate that took her life away from her, and so many others.

I hope we remember Lydia, and as many of the others as possible. Not to bathe ourselves in pain and pathos and pity, but to remember and hope.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at September 11, 2013 05:10 PM

Well said, Mr. Brouhaha :)

I like to remember that much good came from 9/11, too. I have so many dear friends whom I would never have "met" (in meatspace, or online), were it not for that day.

For these blessings, I hope I'll always be grateful.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 11, 2013 05:37 PM

Beautiful stuff, Cass. Every passing year it seems that I have almost as much trouble trying to remember that day as I do trying to forget it. I can't remember less, or forget more. Thanks.

Posted by: spd rdr at September 11, 2013 06:05 PM


Posted by: Cassandra at September 11, 2013 06:28 PM

I wish KJ and Purple Raider still frequented here. And Frodo, Bthun and a host of others.

Cricket is still here (hi Carolyn)

And we all suspect that Pile On lurks. hi bro.

I saw another old friend post a few weeks ago, Joatmoaf.

Just gotta say; spd rdr - I love you, man. :)

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at September 11, 2013 10:49 PM

Wow. Thank you.

Very Respectfully,

Posted by: CAPT Mike at September 12, 2013 02:41 AM