Sunday, August 25, 2013
She was an absolute stranger. That would not be surprising as Nancy graduated six years after me in our middle class high school in South Huntington, New York. Her sister Janet graduated the same year as I did, bud oddly, I didn’t know her as well. Janet likes to say few people knew her back then. Nancy went on to become an accomplished graphics designer until a tragic card accident in 1989 not only changed her life forever, but put her and her tragedy in the national spotlight. The accident left her in a coma and the fact that she was a few weeks pregnant brought out abortion critics nationwide who fought her husband for the legal right to abort the pregnancy, since Nancy could not make the decision on her own. The case reached the Supreme Court and the abortion was granted, Nancy recovered from her coma and life went on. A movie starring Henry Winkler was made about the event and stories appeared in national newspapers, including the New York Times. And then like most things in America, life continued, whether Nancy was ready or not. It is going on 25 years since that accident which left Nancy severely brain injured, requiring care for the rest of her days. The cameras have left. Mr. Winkler has returned to Hollywood. The New York Times is still in the newspaper business, but Nancy is no longer news. She is news to me. In 2008, I founded the Walt Whitman High School Hall of Fame to honor the amazing graduates of our school and document their achievements to those passing through the very same halls we all shared at one time. As of this writing, 26 graduates have been honored and every two years, an independent committee decides on enshrining more graduates. The next HOF ceremony will be in the fall of 2014. I have become an observer of my creation. I maintain a Facebook page and through social media, keep up with graduates who indicate that they once went to Whitman. I invite my former classmates to join us on Facebook and go to the school district website to learn more about their Hall of Fame. It was how I learned of Nancy. One day I was checking for graduates from other classes who might have joined Whitman related websites and Nancy’s name appeared with this unsettling message. As I wrote earlier, I had never heard her name before this day. I went to Cornell University and then married Martin Klein. Martin and I had one girl. When I was pregnant with the second, I had a very bad car accident. I lost the baby and also my husband divorced me. I now live in Delray Beach, Florida where my mother lives with me. I would love to hear from old friends because I am very lonely. What kind of person writes something like this? I had to find out. That is the curiosity which led me to create the Hall of Fame. For better or worse, that is the curiosity which fuels me to this day. Within minutes, I had Nancy’s mom and then Nancy on the phone. She was so happy to hear from me. Over the past few months, I have helped Nancy find other friends Nancy Klein is a 1974 graduate and can be found on Facebook should you wish to contact her. There is still much to be done. Nancy’s mom is in her 80’s and there will be a time when her caretaker job will end. Nancy and her sister Janet need to plan for the future and they would love to speak with classmates who have ideas on that subject. It is funny how life keeps throwing you curves. Recently, I had to deal with a moron who objected that I posted a picture of his Whitman graduate girlfriend with a caption: “Do you know this Whitman Grad?” He called it a “random” posting. There was nothing random about it. She had posted the very same photo online the very same day. I was really growing tired of pitting out those fires and the grumbling from graduates who were tired of hearing about my cheerleading the Hall of Fame, simply because they didn’t take the time to find out what it was all about. And then came Nancy. It was like a breath of fresh air. Suddenly this beautiful woman, a true survivor, one of our own, a Whitman graduate who was once famous, but known by few, stopped by to say hello. And I realized that I was wrong about the Hall of Fame. It doesn’t belong only to the achievers, the gold crust, the trail blazers, the award winners of life. It also belongs to the Nancys of the world, the survivors, the ones who have been tossed around by our violent world, chewed up and spit out, only to slowly, unmistakably, irrevocably climb back on the road to life. It is the Nancys of this world who belong in the Hall of Fame as well as any other. Because when the cameras stopped rolling, when the newspapers stopped calling, Nancy went on living. And Nancy announced to the world—Dammit! I am still here! Don’t you dare forget about me! I am here to tell you, Nancy, I haven’t and Walt Whitman High School won’t. For that, you have my heartfelt promise.
Posted by Steve Tarde at 1:22 AM