Latest update: 12/09/2011 - 9/11 AttacksTen years after 9/11, a transatlantic legacy ofloveTen years after she lost her French husband in the 9/11 attacks, Dening Lohez(pictured) attempts to build bridges with her husbands homeland in what shecalls her legacy of love.By Leela JACINTO in New York (text)In a Midtown Manhattan office on a sunny September day just like the fateful one ten years ago,Dening Lohez stoically recalls the moment that changed her life: when the planes crashed intothe Twin Towers on September 11, 2001.Hers is a story of a decade-old – and still ongoing – journey to cope with the debilitating loss of aloved one, to try to understand the geography of hate that led to the loss, and to build a livinglegacy to a late husband.A Chinese-born US citizen, 41-year-old Lohez met her French husband while they were studentsat a New Jersey university. Shortly before 9/11, Jerome had just received his “green card” - orUS residency permit – and they were planning a family in the US.On the morning of September 11, 2001, Lohez bid goodbye to her husband around 7:30 am andheaded for her office in Weehawken, a New Jersey town just across the Hudson River fromManhattan.Jerome left for his office on the 26th floor in the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
Shortly before 9 am, a colleague with an office window overlooking the Manhattan skyline toldher to come over since a plane had struck the World Trade Center. Lohez said she was too busyand continued working.Around 15 minutes later, Lohez was called again. By this time, she knew it was serious. Over thenext few minutes, people in Weehawken started gathering on the Hudson shore, watching theManhattan skyline with a smoking World Trade Center from across the river.Lohez was on the waterfront when the North Tower collapsed. “Everyone was silent, nobodyscreamed,” she recalls. “Men were holding their faces. I saw women tear up. But there was nohysterical crying, no noise, just silence.”Waiting for JeromeIt was the start of a harrowing day as she kept trying – unsuccessfully – to reach Jerome on thephone while waiting for him to return to their New Jersey home.By evening, Jeromes company had put out an emergency information number. When Lohezcalled, the operator said her husband was alive and had “checked in with us”. But at 5 am, after asleepless night, she called again and another operator on duty said they had no idea about herhusbands whereabouts.With her life and hopes careening like a rollercoaster, Lohez and her family and friends made therounds of hospitals in the next few days, seeking information.When she was finally told her husband was officially missing, Lohez called her in-laws inFrance, who were clinging to the hope that their son was still alive. “It was so sad. His parentssaid he may be in a mental hospital if he has lost his memory,” she said.It was eight months before she was called to the New York City Medical Examiners Office,where she was told that her husbands remains had been recovered.“They gave me a list of his remains. They told me his body parts showed no signs of burns andthere were no signs of stress in his muscles, which led them to suspect he had a quick death andthere was not much suffering,” she says.“The doctor offered us a chance to see his body parts. I had no appetite to view it, but my sister,who was with me, saw it,” she recounts flatly, the ten years of grief now settled into a dull pain.
Nurturing a transatlantic legacyNow came the decision over where to bury her husband. Lohez decided to bury him in France.“For one, his parents had vowed never to come back to this country so if I buried him here, theywould not have access to his grave,” she explains. “But also, I decided that he had only been inAmerica for seven years. Hes a Frenchman, he should go back to his country. Besides, I stillhave a part of him in Ground Zero.”In the next few years as Lohez struggled to pick the pieces of her life, she traveled frequently tothe Middle East, where she took Islamic study courses to try to understand the faith of theSeptember 11 hijackers.SPECIAL COVERAGEShes loath to summarise her lessons in printable sound bytes. “Its too complicated. But I haveno animosity to Arab culture,” she rushes to explain, lest she be misunderstood. “On thecontrary, I love Arab culture.”Through all her wanderings, Ground Zero is a spot that has anchored her. An economicsprofessor at Hunter and Queens colleges in New York, shes also the guiding force behind theJerome Lohez Foundation, which has provided scholarships to 20 French and American graduatestudents over the past six years. Her mission in starting the foundation was to foster French andAmerican cross-cultural understanding.Now it is her way of keeping her husbands legacy alive.The idea for the foundation came from a conversation Lohez had with a store manager at ParisCharles de Gaulle airport a few years after she lost her husband. When the young Americanwidow casually asked the man what he thought about 9/11, his answer rattled her.“He said that the 9/11 attacks were a Jewish conspiracy to propagate US foreign policy. Youdeserve it, he told me,” recounts Lohez with a rueful smile.
Confronted by a chasm of animosity between citizens of two officially friendly yet oftenmutually mistrustful nations, Lohez decided to act. A conversation that would, in most cases,have ended in a shouting match or a harrumph of reciprocal antagonism instead gave birth to abridge-building mechanism.For the past few years, Lohez has also maintained a personal connection to her husband’shomeland by commemorating September 11 with visits to his grave in Bourg-en-Bresse, apicturesque town in eastern France.But this year, she intends to attend the tenth anniversary commemorations at Ground Zero.“I will go to the World Trade Center because I want to show my solidarity with the other [9/11]families. Ten years is an important marker, I dont want people to forget,” she says, beforequoting a Persian verse frequently inscribed on gravestones – with a minor tweak. "Alas, withoutme for ten years/ The Rose will blossom and the Spring will bloom/ But those who have secretlyunderstood my heart/They will approach and visit the grave where I lie."