The Love of the Legend

Dearest Rachel –

As much as I might complain about not meeting people on this weekend’s camping venture, I happen to know that a lot of it is my own fault. You’ve already heard about how I hadn’t felt comfortable talking to the ‘guests’ as a mere worker, but that sort of reticence applies to when I’m ‘on the job,’ as well. When I’m elbow deep in cold, greasy dishwater, all I’m thinking about is getting the job done, and getting it over with. I don’t feel as if I have a lot of time (or desire) to talk.

You might’ve seen me like this from time to time when I was working in the booth. Sure, during rehearsals, I’ll be expressive about every little change to the program (even giving grief to the worship leaders, in a joking way, from time to time about it); but once the service starts, I try to be all business. If nothing else, excess chatter is distracting for all concerned. Most commentary is limited to the occasional questions about cues and camera positions, and that’s about it.

So I didn’t get involved in a lot of conversations this weekend. However, this morning’s tasks were relatively light (I say ‘relatively’ because, while none of us volunteers were scheduled to actually do any work that I know of, when I showed up at the dining hall an hour before the appointed time – because I was still unable to sleep very long – there was a pile of pans and trays awaiting someone to wash and rinse them, and it might as well be me), and I managed to sit down at a table with at least one volunteer and a staffer or two (I still couldn’t find it in me to join a table with any of the girls at them – and many of those that were still at camp hadn’t arrived for breakfast yet, in any event), and join in on the conversation already in progress. From what I could tell, the volunteer was talking about his conversion story – essentially, what brought him to camp in the first place. He then turned to me, and asked me about my story, and my connection to the camp.


I gave him a brief mention of my few attendances as a camper back in the day, the acquisition when the churches merged, and how you and I and Daniel visited the place for family camp in 2019… and then, our day at winter camp that brought us to where we are now.

His eyes widened. “Oh, you’re her husband? I heard the story about someone being involved in a crash on the tubing hill, but… I didn’t realize she was your wife…” He proceeded to apologize profusely, which I tried to brush off. I don’t want people to be walking or on eggshells when discussing this topic around me. It’s a thing that happened, and there’s no changing it; all I can do is to go on with my life. What surprises me is the fact that I assumed that, forever after, I would be a marked man; “Rachel’s husband, the one whose wife was killed over on that hill.”

It turns out that you’ve become something of a legend at camp, honey – one that most people up there have heard about, but don’t know the face that goes with the story. And for this weekend, at least for this one volunteer, I’ve become that face – or at least, the face of one affected by this legendary incident.


It’s almost appropriate that this is being discussed today, as, twenty-one years ago, some three thousand people entered into legend. For some of them, we remember their names; some for their heroism – Todd “Let’s Roll” Beamer, who led the doomed charge on Flight 93, Betty Ong, the stewardess on Flight 11 who was the first to contact air traffic control with the news that they had been hijacked, Steven Siller, who ran through the Holland Tunnel in full firefighter’s gear rather than deal with the traffic jam, and was lost when the tower came down – others for their villainy, like ringleader Mohammed Atta; and others simply as part of the record of the timeline, thanks to one call or another as the planes reached their targets or the towers started to crumble. Others are lost in the mists of the chaos – some never had their remains found; some, like the “Falling Man” of one prizewinning photo, simply are not identified.

Most of them were no more heroic than the average man or woman would’ve been expected to be ; mere ‘victims of circumstance’ (pace Jerome “Curly” Howard) in the wrong place and time, just like yourself. But they were lost in a tragedy that is still honored by an entire nation on this day, and as such, part of the national legend, even though, on an individual level they are actually remembered by a close few.


If one sees fame as a sort of immortality, it seems cruelly ironic for that fame to come at the moment of one’s death, or because of it. Songs are written, honoring Casey Jones, the engineer, and John Henry, the steel driving man, but they never got to hear them. Even at our university, the BASIC group would occasionally meet in a room that served as a chapel in the student union that commemorates the Five Chaplains, one of whom (a man by the name of Fox, I believe) was an IWU alumni, who surrendered their life preservers to others when their ship was attacked by a U-boat during WWI. His name is (vaguely) remembered far beyond any of his classmates for the manner of his death, not the he is able to appreciate it.

And so it is with you. Tragedies are remembered in a way that an ordinary death would not, even though the name and face I forgotten as the story is passed on. You have entered into minor legend, for whatever that’s worth. And I continue to bear witness of it; including the need to inform you of the situation as I see it.

I’m not sure how to close this letter, honey, as for once, the story isn’t about me. All I suppose I can ask is that, as you are remembered, remember us as well.

Take care; love you.

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I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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