He smiles into the camera from the photo on the guestbook page, wearing a leather jacket, what looks to be a Harley shining at his side. This man loves life, anyone can tell that.
I click, and the next picture pulls me up short. There he is again, Brian Magee, whom I've never met, but next to him a familiar face. My mind shoots back through forty years to a university campus in Washington, DC, then to an apartment in Arlington. The memories have grown hazy, but I see the same face from those memories smiling out with Brian from the photo.
I never met Brian Magee, but his brother Kevin was one of my husband's closest college friends. They, and their third partner in crime, Stephen, were inseparable, joined by love of history and political affairs, Irish music and beer. When Ralf and I got married, there were only two groomsmen at our wedding: Kevin and Stephen. But as it often does after graduation, job opportunities and family ties sent us all our separate ways - my husband and I over to our new home in Virginia, Stephen to California, and Kevin back to New York.
"No, you're kidding," my husband said when I told him the news. "I can't believe it. Brian was such a nice guy." He remembered Brian from visits to New York with Kevin all those years ago. My husband is an only child, and the dynamics of large, close families fascinate him - frighten him a little, too. But his memory of Brian matched the face I saw in the guestbook - gregarious and welcoming.
Brian's tribute and the messages left for him come from and speak to his family: the wife and sons he left behind, sisters, brothers, nieces and nephews, and his mother. They talk of a man with integrity; a mentor, a listener and a friend; a man with spirit and humor, affectionately called "Gadget Man" for his love of tools. His wife's good man.
I don't know how you say good-bye to such a person, or how you reconcile his death with the irrational horror of September 11th, 2001. Is such a thing even possible?
Maybe not. Maybe the best you can do is hang onto him in your heart with all your strength, and never let go.