ZOUK MOSBEH, Lebanon: Waleed Iskandar was 34 years old when he perished in the horrific attacks of Sept.11, 2001. He was a passenger on American Airlines Flight 11, scheduled to travel from Boston to Los Angeles before it was hijacked, and then slammed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
Laudy Asseily and Maria Maalouf, who grew up with their first cousin, shared their memories of the tragic event on the anniversary of the tragedy, as well as memories from their youth and adult lives, spent together with Waleed in Lebanon, Kuwait and the United States.
Asseily attended a one-hour memorial service Friday morning at the U.S. Embassy in Awkar, where Ambassador Maura Connelly delivered a speech to mark the occasion and paid tribute to three Lebanese victims of the attacks. Waleed’s family in the United States will be in New York Sunday for the commemoration there, and his sister May will be one of the relatives who will participate in a public reading of the names of the victims.
The cousins described their struggle to overcome the loss of their loved one, someone whose interests and achievements reflected a huge passion for life.
“It’s very easy to say nice things about people after they die, but he was the most amazing person I’ve ever known,” Laudy said.
Waleed received his bachelor’s and master’s in engineering from Stanford University and an MBA from Harvard, and was working in Boston with the Monitor Group, a leading global strategy-consulting firm, when he died.
He was flying home to see his parents on the West Coast and was supposed to be joined by his fiancée, Nicolette Cavaleros, the following day. An avid traveler of the world, Waleed was an also an enthusiastic water skier who managed to find the time to pursue his hobby, even during the academic year.
“He had an open mind, and would try everything once,” Maria said, recalling that her cousin’s excellent academic record in school and university could always lead to forgiveness for his passion to try new activities.
“We were both the black sheep of the family … but even when he would do something crazy, his parents would just shake their heads … he had good grades, but he wasn’t a nerd.
“He barely ever studied … but you couldn’t really be jealous of him, because he was so sweet, and funny and fun to be with,” Maria said.
Waleed’s connection to his homeland was disturbed by the Civil War and the family’s move to Kuwait. The cousins recalled a man who was overwhelmingly connected to his family, but not necessarily to Lebanon, even though he frequently visited both during and after the war.
“He came to my wedding,” Laudy commented, before falling silent for a few moments.
In the wake of Sept. 11, and the globalized “war on terror” phenomenon, the news media and popular culture have been awash with the term terror, but the cousins have tried to come to grips with their tragedy by ignoring much of the debate, and portrayals.
“I couldn’t watch the movie that came out … I couldn’t even tell you the name of it,” Laudy said.
“The whole period is just a blur,” she said. “Whether they catch the guy, or they don’t catch the guy, it’s not going to bring Waleed back.”
The cousins spoke briefly about the religious extremism espoused by the Sept. 11 attackers, but talked more about a decade in which political violence is a depressing, daily news item, as it explodes throughout the world and claims the lives of innocent people. As they commented about the horrific terror of New York and Washington, Laudy recalled the recent massacre of civilians in Norway, by an extremist of a different faith.
“They must be so deranged, to do something like that. But we’ll never, you’ll never, know the whole story [of Sept. 11] … It just happened,” Laudy said.
“The one thing I wonder about his thoughts in those last moments, whether he realized what was happening or not,” she continued.
“I hope that he didn’t know what was happening.”
Maria said that Sept. 11 did change one thing in her worldview.
One hears about the victims of violence on a daily basis but generally one thinks “it’s not going to happen to you. That barrier broke – yes, it does happen to you.”
Laudy noted that while Waleed’s father had found comfort in religion, she was merely left with the continuing question of “why?”
With the demise of Osama bin Laden, and this weekend’s opening of the monument at Ground Zero, one might think that the idea of “closure” has begun to gain ground. On the young man’s memorial website, Waleed’s father noted that justice had been done with bin Laden’s death, even though it wasn’t enough to bring Waleed and the other victims back.
For Maria, the question of closure in 2011 was simply premature.
“Ask me in 10 years,” she said.