Years ago a friend told me that in his country, people believe no one really ever dies as long as there is someone to remember them. This may not always be as soothing as we would want it to be and it certainly doesn’t bring the person back, but it is my hope that by participating in the wonderful Project 2,996, I can be a part of cultivating the memory of someone whose life will be honored by everyone who reads the entries. In all that we owe to the dear souls who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, this small gesture can help bring to life such elements of their lives as their hopes, dreams, values, what they loved and didn’t love, struggled with or found great joy in, what their favorite foods or hobbies were, what they liked to do at the holidays. We may or may not know what happened in their last moments or learn that their families didn’t know for many agonizing hours or even days their final fate. It can be a struggle to read the details, but they, coupled with the ordinary and extraordinary other details of their lives, give them the voice and recognition they are owed. These are the people who deserve to be memorialized. Please join us in honoring those who on September 11, 2009 sacrificed their lives so that our children and we may continue to live in freedom and prosperity.
Karen Renda: “Love never comes to an end”
When Karen Gargano met her future husband, Charles Renda, on a blind date, he learned something that other folks in Bethpage on Long Island already knew: “She was full of class and everything she did was ladylike.” Three years earlier she had been chosen queen of the Snowball Winter Dance and Ann Marie Anderson, who has known Karen since junior high school said, “She just made everybody feel special.”
Karen’s engaging personality, compassion, friendliness and special way of reaching out to others not only continued after high school, but expanded in ways great and small—and we all know how in so many instances when we feel the worst, it is the small acts of kindness that often matter the most. Karen demonstrated the power in such acts when she visited Mrs. Anderson during an illness, painting her nails and arranging her hair nicely. Though it may seem only a small but nice gesture to some, Karen was intuitive enough to recognize its power to refresh or affect the psyche in a positive way—in this and other contexts, such as when she created bows for Mrs. Anderson’s daughter to wear in her hair. For an ill woman or a little girl, Karen knew how to make someone feel cared for.
She gave this kind of attention and more to her own boys, Danny and Matthew, and her husband. Married to Charles in 1975 and a mother soon after, Mrs. Renda in 1982 left her job at Merrill Lynch to be a full-time mom. Those boys were her first priority and she was a hands-on parent. She kept after them to do their homework, but she also helped the boys in their endeavors. Holidays such as Thanksgiving were special in the Renda home and Karen’s personal touch was evident, from her stunning Christmas trees to the dishes the extended family gathered to share.
Life, of course, is not always perfect; troubles or difficult moments occur and the Rendas were no exception. For the boys this meant the difficulties of adolescence, a time that can create discord for many families. Danny Renda remembers how his mom used to say, “This too shall pass,” providing for him a balance of perspective along with the support a child in this time of life needs. “No matter how dark and cloudy my life seemed to me, and sometimes felt like a storm inside of me, my mom would always be the beautiful bright shining beam of sunlight that would shine through the darkness clouding up my mind.”
Three years before that fateful day, with her sons almost grown, Karen Renda returned to the workforce and had been with American Express Travel for one year prior. Arranging itineraries for business executives, she worked on the 94th floor at 1 World Trade Center. It’s easy to imagine that Karen put her all into making travel and scheduling as pleasant as possible for the executives she worked with; her caring and detail-oriented nature, along with her energy, fits such an occupation well. She continued to apply it to her family life also: in preparation for her younger son’s Valentine’s Day school dance she was in charge of decorating soft toys with hearts and bows and arrows. Charles, her husband, came home one day to see a herd of bunnies staring at him from the table. “There were about 100 of them.”
After the attacks Karen was missing; her family later held a memorial service for her at Our Lady of Pity Church. Various tributes to Karen there and elsewhere highlight her joyful manner and how she affected people in positive ways. It’s a tribute to this brilliant light in her heart that Karen’s son Danny speaks of a spark that never loses its illumination:
“I will always love her forever and keep her locked in my heart. Love never comes to an end.”
I never met Karen Renda, nor did I lose anybody in the attacks on America on September 11, 2001. And it’s now been eight years since this terrible day but still I cannot read about the victims of these attacks without weeping; I probably never will be able to do. So I can only grasp at what it must be like for Karen’s family and all the others whose lives were shattered that day. And while it is “easy” for me to speak of people who never really die if someone remembers them, I don’t live with the losses the Rendas faced after Karen’s death. It is my sincere hope that Karen and her family would consider this tribute worthy of the person she was and the loved one she will always be. I am so grateful for this opportunity to remember a wonderful human being whose life brought such joy and happiness to others. If it is possible for my tiny bit of anguish to take away some of their pain, please dear God let it be so.
Dear Karen, I hope and pray I have done justice to you, and that you are at peace. As a mother myself, I strive to show my child the same love, compassion and honor you showed to your boys, and your example now has become a living part of my heart. May that flame burn brightly in the hearts of others as you and all who lost their lives on September 11 remain in our memories forever. We shall never forget.