I signed up for the 2996 Tribute Project a few months ago, which was meant to commemorate those people that died in the September 11 attacks by having 2,996 people write about those people's lives today.
Here is one of their stories.
Michael A. Diaz-Piedra III was born in Cuba. In 1960, shortly after Fidel Castro's rise to power, Michael's parents (who were wealthy plantation owners) took him, his brother, and his sister and fled the country. They spent a year in Florida before eventually settling in New Jersey. It was Michael's dream to return to Cuba and reclaim his family's land after Castro's reign ended.
After Michael graduated high school, he went to Rutgers University where he pursued and achieved a degree in psychology. He later also received his M.A. in Business Administration.
One of his interests in life was the military. He collected uniforms from different armed forces from all over the world. When Halloween or the occasional masquerade party came around, he particularly enjoyed dressing up in one of his costumes.
This is a man who found joy in his life.
Michael also had a flair for the romantic. On the day that he proposed to his wife, he surprised her at work by picking her up in a vintage Jaguar which took them to a romantic dinner that was specially serenaded by violinists. Michael had four children, two of which were young adults and two of which were 6 and less than one year old at the time of the attacks.
This is a man who found joy in his family.
In addition, Michael was also something of a scholar. He had an article published in the Disaster Recovery Journal that was meant to encourage those who worked in disaster recovery planning (he was the Vice-President of Disaster Recovery Planning for the Bank of New York) which he considered to be a thankless, yet, very necessary and vital line of work.
Consider the last lines of his article:
"Our goal is to put all negative aspects of the job behind us...What a job this is, what an adventure! What a challenge!"
These are the words of a man who found joy in what he did.
I wonder how many people who have been faced with the task of trying to inititate systems for recovery from the 9/11 attacks have read Michael's words. I wonder also how many have been encouraged by them. Even in his death, the need to do what he had a passion for doing lives on.
As we never forget the 2,996 people who perished in the 9/11 attacks, let us remember the joy that Michael A. Diez-Piedra III found with his life, his family, and his work.
May all of us be as fortunate in our own lives.
EDIT: Since posting this tribute, I have been in touch with Michael's sister, Anna. She had a couple of memories in particular that I've asked if I could share here. Here is a portion of the first email that she sent me:
"...Anyhow, you certainly captured the truth of his life—joy. He thoroughly enjoyed life, family, and even work. The thing is, he found and created fun in just about every situation. Sometimes he lived large, but most times he found fun in small things. For example if he had to get into work early, he made sure that he and his staff met for a big breakfast (featuring his favorite—french toast slathered in syrup). He kept lists and photos of things he wanted and focused on his hope to obtain things he liked. He brought his wife daisies every week. Every week. So, joy, for sure is what he was about."
And here is the body of a second email:
"Dear Brian: Absolutely post my comments.
"Mike's first marriage was when he was 21 and he had two children, Monique about 28 and Cristian 26. His marriage to Kelly was when he was in his early 40's. He married this beautiful younger woman, Kelly, and started a family with her. He was "over the moon" with her and he thoroughly enjoyed his kids. He was, in fact, a big kid at heart--probably one of the most important qualities humans should never lose, but most do. Kelly tells me that every night when he came home from work he would get on the floor with the boys and wrestle, etc. while she got dinner ready or took a break. With the baby it was more the hold'em up in the air while the baby laughs type of thing. He got them out of her hair on the weekends too--and I never once heard him complain as some father's seem to, on the contrary he thrived on it.
"You know Brian, people often do say of those who've died, "oh he was great", "what a guy", etc. and I guess it's probably true. You say he sounds remarkable and the awful truth is that you're right, we just didn't quite realize it while he lived. It's not that we're revising history or glossing over his faults--he had some for sure like everybody else. It's just that he was so unique and goofy, and eccentric and different from us more serious folks that we didn't see these qualities as gifts to us! Only when you go to a family party now and there's nobody to greet you wearing a "love boat captain" outfit or his last party where he was ironically, wearing a "sheik of arabique" type of outfit, do you realize the loss of fun and joy.
"Just one last thing about this to illustrate. My reaction when we drove up and Mike was on his front lawn in a purple/silver turban, three quarter length purple brocade jacket, black high boots over riding pants was to say something like, "holy --- what the eff is he wearing now?" I felt a bit embarrassed. It wasn't a costume party it was his boy's summer birthday party... why can't he dress like normal people? He not only didn't care what anyone thought, he had a great time, and kids surrounded him like bees on honey. So, you tell me, who was the jerk? Yeah, I know.
"Recently I have recaptured my youthful enthusiasm and playfulness, my hopes and dreams. I can tell you I'm so much the happier and joyful for it--highly recommend it. I'm not yet wearing costumes, but you can never tell what might happen!
Mike was my oldest, big brother, and I love him and miss him deeply. Thank you again for helping keep the memory of the souls that were murdered, alive."
9 hours ago