When I was in high school, I always participated in "Math Field Day," a little mathematics competition in the state of West Virginia. There was always a county-level Field Day, and the top 3 from there progressed up the ladder. From 5th grade on, this was always myself and two students from a different school. In junior high and high school, there are only two schools in the county... I went to one, and the other two people went to the other. One kid always came in third (and, though I hate myself for it, I can't remember his name), but I was always competing with Alex for first in the county.
At the regional level, with 6 counties present, the top 3 would go on to state. In 5th grade, Alex was second and I was fourth (first alternate). But I was told that day that he had a chess competition that conflicted with state, and that I would go as the alternate. (Obviously chess was more interesting to him, as he even played during lunches at the field days. I played him once... I was no match, but I did stop a five-move ace. :^) That year, I won second place in the state.
My friends at school called me our appointed student warrior... while the sports teams took on the other school on the field, I took on their brainy kid at the math competition. (Ok, my friends sound about as geeky as me, but I think it's more that they were trying to make me feel good. Dunno.) Even though we rarely chatted, I feel that Alex and I each understood that we were stuck in West Virginia, while our futures were elsewhere, and in that I respected him, despite the petty high-school cnorm of hating the other school.
Well, Alex now lives in New York City, with an apartment somewhere inside the affected radius. He has been in contact with his parents (he's fine), and he's made the front page of the hometown newspaper. In this time of connecting the nation, I'm amazed that even my litte home town in West Virginia was so close to the events.
I won't say that Alex was a friend, because that would be a terrible perversion of history. But someone I know of personally, and have known of for a while, was close.
For his family, I'm sure he was too close.
And it makes me think... what if I had followed a different path? Could I have been a lawyer? An accountant? Someone whose business operates from the World Trade Center? If Alex ended up there... how close could I have been, had only a few things changed?
Over the next few months, I wonder how many more connections everyone will find. And in these connections, I hope that we, as a nation, will love each other a little bit more.