Sunday, September 11, 2011

Tribute to Cindy

I know this post doesn’t fit into the theme of my blog. The truth of the matter on this is that nobody has the big end of the stick in this story – we’ve all lost.

It saddens me that when I search the internet for Cynthia Marie Lise Connolly, that all I find is her name on various lists of 9/11 victims. It is a shame that I never find anything that celebrates her life and the person that she was. All you can usually find is:
Cynthia Marie Lise Connolly, 40, Aon Corporation, Metuchen, NY

So today I am going to change that. Going forward when you look up her name you will hopefully find this tribute to her. After reading this you will know that she is not just a name on a list but that she was a real person, with real dreams, aspirations, friends and people who loved her. After reading this you will know that there are people who think about her, who miss her and who grieve her loss. She is not just a name on a list – Cindy was my friend.

We met when we worked together at a small Montreal stock brokerage firm. Cindy was a short, bubbly young woman who was bright, picked up things easily and worked hard. We quickly became friends because we were close in age, liked the same rock ‘n roll bands and had the same gripes about some of our co-workers. We genuinely enjoyed spending time together and were friends both in and out of the office.

The one thing that everyone remembers about Cindy was her great, big, infectious laugh. When Cindy burst out laughing it would turn heads. It was big and it was loud, and it would always be a surprise that it would be coming from such a small little woman. But there it was – the laugh that encompassed all the wonderful qualities she possessed. She was positive, happy, quirky, independent, strong, smart and sometimes a bit silly – but that just made her all that much more fun to be around.

Cindy is responsible for teaching me a few of the most important things I’ve ever learned. One day when visiting her apartment I noticed a photo on her nightstand of a little girl sitting on someone’s shoulders. The little girl was proudly carrying a picket sign that proclaimed “GIRLS ARE STRONG”. I remember asking her about it – I was curious why she had it and what it meant. The conversation didn’t last long. She simply looked at me like I was from outer space, arched up her eyebrows and said ‘Women’s Lib - you know, girls are strong’. She said it with such conviction that it really got me thinking and I realized it was true. Girls really are strong and knowing it made me strong. I had never even thought about it before, but girls are strong became my mantra. It made me feel brave and invincible. I didn’t need any more explanation as to why that photo sat on her nightstand. I realized that she probably woke up every morning and took strength and independence from that photo.

So I became strong too. I decided the small brokerage firm couldn’t offer me the position I wanted so I looked for the job I wanted and found it at another, larger brokerage firm. Cindy and I remained friends even though we weren’t working together anymore. We had great times. We laughed a lot – we were close.

When the larger brokerage firm I worked for started going belly up I lost my job and decided to go into business for myself as a consultant. Cindy still worked at the small firm where we had met and they became one of my most long-term and loyal clients.

Eventually I had more work than I could handle and I made an arrangement to hire Cindy part-time. She worked hard and was an asset to my business. She was always willing to do anything I asked and always attacked every task with gusto. We had fun working together - always laughing and having a good time. When my daughter came down with chicken pox it was Cindy who took care of her while I was out at clients. My daughter still remembers her.

I was young at the time and painfully unaware of the depth and importance of my responsibilities as an employer. When work slacked off, instead of making the effort to drum up new contracts to keep us both busy I decided to let Cindy go. I was selfish and stupid and I didn’t do it the right way. It is with shame and profound regret that I admit this.

It put a strain on our friendship and things were never the same. I felt horrible about it but I couldn’t take back what I’d done and I couldn’t fix it. I remember speaking to her a while later and finding out that she had moved on and was working for the insurance division of Aon Corporation. We eventually lost touch. Life went on.

I never knew that Cindy got married. I always hoped she would find love and I am glad that she had the chance to share part of her life with someone. I figured that she would do well at Aon and would climb the ranks, but I never knew that she had moved to New Jersey and was working in the World Trade Center.

On September 11, 2001 I was working from home. My husband called me from work and told me to turn on CNN. I sat transfixed and watched the events unfold. I watched in horror as first the South, and then the North towers collapsed into clouds of dust. I never knew that Cindy was in the South Tower. I never knew that the life of my friend had been snuffed out that day.

I watched the TV specials on the attacks and I never saw her name. Although I knew that 24 Canadians had lost their lives that day I never in my wildest dreams thought I would have known one of them – that one of them was my old friend Cindy. Admittedly, I never read any of the Canadian newspaper articles that were published on the subject.

Around 8 months later a business associate casually mentioned Cindy passing away on 911. It was like a punch in the stomach. He thought I knew.

I didn’t know.

It hit me really hard. I felt responsible. As an employer you have a strong influence over your employee’s destinies. If I had been a little more serious, a little more mature and a little more responsible, Cindy might still be working for me today. We would still be close friends and she would still be here on this earth enjoying this glorious, bright, sunny day and the big beautiful blue sky.

Finding out so many months later I never felt right contacting her family to offer my condolences. After so many months they were probably beginning to come to terms with their loss and I didn’t want to rip open the wound again. To this day I continue to agonize over never contacting her family.

If I had been a better friend and hadn’t messed up…I feel so guilty. I really let her down and I can’t forgive myself for it. I offer my sincerest and deepest heartfelt condolences to her family and to her husband Donald. I wish she was here. I wish we could joke around about turning 50 together. I wish I could hear that big, hearty laugh of hers again.

On this 10th anniversary of her death I needed to let the world know that Cindy was a kind, honest, joyful, fun loving person. She lit up a room with her presence and touched everyone who knew her. Maybe this is why nothing has been written about her. Maybe because she loved life so much it is too heart-wrenching to come to terms with her loss and to talk about her. It is such a shame. The world needs to know how special and appreciated she was.

I wish I could tell her that I miss her. I wish that I could make amends for the wrong I did that ruined the wonderful friendship we had. I’m sorry that she put her faith in me and that I let her down. I’m sorry she isn’t here anymore – that nobody hears her laughter, that nobody is touched by her friendly smile and her warm and bubbly presence.

I always get tearful when I hear the lyrics of Lee Ann Womack’s song I Hope You Dance. I’m OK until it gets to the part where she sings:
I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens ...
and then I am flooded with memories of Cindy, flooded with regrets and with remorse. It always makes me sad.

Dear Cindy. I am so, so sorry. Rest in peace my dear friend.

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