Editor’s Note: The essay below was written in 2001 and appears in the self-published book, Through Our Eyes: A Tapestry of Words and Images in Response to September 11. Printed and distributed in 2002, the book was the result of an independent, volunteer documentary project organized by a journalist and several friends. The author’s bio was written in 2002 and has not been updated.
Britt Ehnar, a 52-year-old midwife, was born in Gothenburg, Sweden, where she continues to live today. On Sept. 11, she lost her youngest son, David, who is survived by his brother, Patric Tengelin, and sister, Petra Ehnar. Britt was at work in Sweden when terrorists struck America. She wrote the following letter Nov. 15.
I am writing to you as you may be able to help me celebrate my son’s memory. David Tengelin lived to be 25 years. He perished in the World Trade Center disaster. I know he is dead, but I cannot take it in. He worked with Marsh & McLennan’s CAPS group on the 100th floor of the North Tower. David was a Swedish citizen, as are the rest of his family. My son Patric, 27, studies at Greenwich University in London. My daughter, Petra, 21, attends college in Stockholm and I live in Gothenburg, Sweden.
We are going through such a torturous time now. I cannot find words to express what I feel, more than that my life has come to a complete and sudden stop.
You give birth to your son, you feed and clothe him, you raise him, you love and care for him. You enjoy the time you spend with him and your pride grows with each new accomplishment your son achieves. How any mother can live with a tragedy such as losing a child, I will never understand. Even worse, the cause of my son’s death was an act of terror. He had no wish to be part of the high stakes of international politics, yet his life was abruptly brought to an end because of it.
We are the only family in Sweden who has lost a family member in the WTC disaster on September 11. We are so alone here. No one can really understand what we are going through. The first week after the terror attack, we just stayed at home in utter shock and dismay. We kept watching the news showing the two aircraft crashing into the Twin Towers and saw them crumble as they fell to the ground. I watched it again and again. These images will torment me for the rest of my life. I could not do anything to save my son’s life, but would have given my own life to do so.
After a week, the airlines resumed traffic across the Atlantic again, and we could finally go to New York to be close to David. During that week there were so many practical issues to deal with that we hardly had time to grieve. David’s favourite place is Bryant Park. We had all been there with him on numerous occasions, and we sat there for hours and felt his presence all around us. I long to go back to David’s park again and drink Starbucks coffee, as he often did. He also loved going to the Guggenheim Museum and the Museum of Modern Art.
David was a globetrotter. He loved to experience new things and new places. He once told me that his goal from then on was to experience something new every day.
Other inspirational quotes from David in letters to me:
“Live every day as though it were your last.” (11/16/98)
“It is nice to be important, but it is more important to be nice.” (12/5/99)
Let me tell you a little about David.
He completed his International Baccalaureate Degree in Sweden in 1995, with honours. His dream was to go to America and, much to his satisfaction, he was offered a place at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona. He graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree of Science in Business Management three-and-a-half years later, in December 1998. He received scholarships every year due to his excellent achievements. He treasured every day there, and was well liked by his friends, who called him “Swede.” One of his dearest pastimes was soccer, which he has played in Sweden ever since he was a kid.
During summer vacations, he worked at PWS Ltd. in London. However, he always made sure to come back home and spend a few weeks with his family and friends in Sweden.
After graduation he was granted a temporary green card. He packed his bags and got on a Greyhound to New York. He went on his own, with no job waiting for him, and nowhere to stay. He has told us that he had never been more scared in his entire life. But he was pursuing his dream.
For the first six months he stayed in a hostel, which was closed between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. This was in January 1999, and it was freezing outside. David spent hours in the New York Public Library and in bookstores and cafés to keep warm. He applied for innumerable jobs, and while waiting for replies he found himself with time on his hands to read books. Some of his favorites include:
The Thief and The Dogs (Mahfouz)
The Master and Margarita (Bulgakov)
The Stranger (Camus)
The First Man (Camus)
No Way Out (Onetti)
The Age of Reason (Sartre)
The Chase (Carpetier)
The Fall (W. Golding)
Slowness (Milan Kundera)
Immortality (Milan Kundera)
Identity (Milan Kundera)
David wrote in a letter to me on March 12, 1999: “All these books are very influential, and major works of the 20th century. With this new love for reading comes an equally strong passion for writing. I love to share my thoughts with others and put them down on paper as coherently as possible.”
All these books are now in my care, along with other books he read later. In addition to the books we brought home from David’s flat in Manhattan were all his paintings. He was a gifted artist. His letters were like reading an intriguing book. He told me very recently that one day he was going to make it as an author and an architect. Had he lived for another 25 years, I am certain he would have achieved that dream as well.
In April 1999, he found a job at a law firm as a clerk, but it paid very poorly. He had a place to stay, but only three dollars a day on which to make ends meet. Despite the daunting odds, he never gave up on his dream. At difficult times, he found strength and drew inspiration from Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York.”
In September 1999, David became an employee at RGL Gallagher in their New York Office on the 52nd floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. RGL was later acquired by Marsh & McLennan, and the entire RGL team moved up to the 100th floor of the North Tower. David was very proud to work for MMC there. Furthermore, he was living his dream.
Two weeks before the disaster, David and his boss flew to Sweden on business. His boss flew back later that week, but David stayed behind with us until September 9. We were all so happy to spend time with him. As we have not been able to see him as much as we would have liked during the past six years, the moments we did have together were invaluable. Petra had just started college in Stockholm, so David and Patric went up to visit her for a few days. I called them Petra’s bodyguards, because they always looked after her.
Petra came down from Stockholm before David left for New York on September 9, a Sunday. We had an unforgettable dinner on Saturday. When Patric left for London that same night, David said, “Good luck in London” and they embraced. This was the last time Patric saw David, his brother and best friend.
Early the next morning, Petra and I took David to the airport. We were joking around as we always did, embraced and kissed David good-bye. He checked in his bags and walked through the gate. That was the last we ever saw of him. Petra has lost her brother and her soul mate.
My heart is bleeding. I miss him so much. My life, our lives, changed in a few seconds, and will never ever be the same again.
Jenna, why am I telling you all this? Well, David once wrote to me, saying: “I DO NOT WANT TO DIE AS UNKNOWN, AS A NOBODY,” and I fully agree with him.