When were you in the prime of your life? If you are able to process this question you are likely in your 50’s or 60’s and should consider yourself a fortunate person. My guess is most people think about younger days when they attempt to contemplate their best moments. In their prime people don’t wait for the snooze button, they bounce out of bed in the morning with a hunger only ambition comprehends. I had just turned 41, in the guts of the game of life. Only on the look back do I consider it my prime, but I certainly wasn’t giving the idea any recognition at the time. Whatever “universe” I had created in my mind I was the master of. It was September 11, 2001 at 8:47am, I was already settled into my office on the phone with a client. “Holy shit, are you near a T.V., he asked me. ‘Yeah, I am watching the ‘Price is Right.’ “Well then turn to the news, a low flying plane just collided with the World Trade Center. I was cavalier that day, not aware the entire planet had experienced an eruption whose vibrations would be heard for centuries. At the same time I was on the phone with Les Concors discussing insurance premiums and our golfing plans for later that afternoon I am sure Michael J. Finnegan was fielding phone calls of his own high atop the north tower in downtown Manhattan. Myself and Mike in separate locations, both climbing the the “proverbial latter” to fortune and fame. On that gorgeous September morning, twenty years ago, I would bet both our us thoughts were more focused on our afternoon golf game. I shot a 79 that day. Michael Finnegan didn’t make it to the first tee.
What is there to say when a 38 year old shooting star evaporates from the sky in the prime of his flight. Mike Finnegan was blessed with many gifts. He was tall and handsome with an All-American smile.
The girls coveted him and the boys wanted to be him. There was no pretense to Mike, it was apparent he understood his endowment. He lived life with a generosity that gave cause to follow. With his easy going affable style he drew people inside his world leaving no one wanting a refund. Mike Finnegan was in Tower One (North Tower) of the World Trade Center wheeling and dealing for Cantor Fitzgerald on the 104th floor that fateful morning. At home, in Englewood, New Jersey was his wife Erin and their three children; Bridget five, Bradley three, and Jack only born two weeks prior to September 11th. The 38 year old golfing champion, husband, father of three, brother to Katherine, and only son to Frank and Beverly was gone in the fourth chapter of a ten chapter fairy tale.
When I was a young adult there were very few people I admired from afar. Even though I was a New Paltz boy and Mike Finnegan was a son of Kingston our paths crossed by way of competitive golf. Despite local fiefdom rivalries and a three year age difference (me being his elder) I was attracted to Mike’s energy. He was cocky, but not arrogant. He had a disposition that was a gravitational force. Mike made others in his presence feel like they were with the Pied Piper. If you hung with Mike the ride was filled with fun and plenty of testing your skin thickness ribbing. I knew Mike from the New Paltz bar circuit when he became of age. I recall the time at Twaalfskill Country Club after he had won the Ulster County Men’s Golf Championship at the age of 18. “Congratulations kid,” I said before quickly asking him “was that your sister out there?” He gave me that big winning smile, ” Good luck Rich, but you got no shot.” It was 16 years later that we played together in a golf tournament that in the passing years would be named and dedicated to him. We were two hard charging young men, married, each with two young children on the elevator going up. “Who would have thought you and me would have been the settling down type?” I heard him say as we shook hands heading for the first tee. We both had on the grin of two cheshire cats who had somehow survived, even thrived following our youthful days as pesty cads.
On the 20th anniversary of the day Mike Finnegan was taken out of the hazardous game of life I was poolside at the St.Regis Hotel in Atlanta. I was visiting my daughter who had just signed a lease in the apartment adjacent to the hotel. Aesthetically, the weather was a spitting image of the day all our lives changed. As I lay in the sun drenched serenity of the Georgian sky I was feeling a peaceful tender energy that was new for me. A voice, from a place I hadn’t heard from before, was speaking to me. “It’s ok now”, it’s ok”. The voice was my own. My eyes were closed trying to get a grip on the purpose and meaning of this life. ‘I am stuck between the appreciation of a dream like existence and the regret of not having climbed the ladder much higher.’ The sun was my fuel, it was colliding with the fire that still burns within me. It felt as if I was at the gas pump filling myself up to the brim with Vitamin D preparing for the journey ahead. I was far more content than sad. My mind was totally on myself until a couple of of low flying military planes rocketed by. That’s all it took for my mind to head back to 9/11 and the hard truth that Mike Finnegan had been gone for 20 years.
My eyes remained closed, the warmth of the early September rays was bringing both sweat and tears to my face. Not unlike a dream I could hear another voice, this time it was not mine. “Rich you’re sitting exactly where I thought you would be. It’s been 20 years, can you tell me what I missed?” How can you possibly answer that question from a beautiful bright light, who in the prime of his glow left of all so unexpectedly. The holidays, graduations, birthdays, and life celebrations he had been cheated out of. The void that was left for his loving parents and sister that can not be filled. His life partner, Erin, his three children who lost their soulmate and mentor. He missed his children turning into adults, he had missed the pain and glory that comes with growing old with the love of your life. He had missed the satisfaction that he surely would have felt for a life well lived. He had missed days like this when the sun rays reminded us of all that living is sacred opportunity. I let the sun continue to hit my face, soaking it up like it was my last day on this earth. I could not retrieve the courage, nor keep myself together long enough to explain to Mike the details as to what he had missed. I assume that he already knew the answer to his question.
As we grow older we become more conscious in regard to the frailty of this life. We chase, we drive, we climb, and all the time not sure of our purpose. The goal is to try your best everyday even though there is no guarantee for tomorrow. Death is the part of living that we can’t control. For Mike Finnegan the end came in the prime of his life. It is said often that “God has a plan,” or “everything happens for a reason.” Those words do not ease the deep pain that Mike’s parents, wife or children have experienced the last 20 years. Their loss cannot be regained. “Though nothing can bring back the hour of splendor in the grass, glory in the flower, we will grieve not, rather find strength in what remains behind,” the poet William Wordworth said so elegantly.
Mike Finnegan left each person who was lucky enough to touch him a piece of his strength. For me it was his zest for life that left its mark. For his children; it is in the pictures, the stories, and the tributes that show a man, a son, a brother, a father, a friend, and a husband who lived his life with an unwavering and uncompromising zeal. Right behind his family golf was his biggest passion. Today there are several golf tournaments that celebrate his life. With the help of his family “The Michael B. Finnegan Learning Center in Palm Beach Florida” was created. A nine hole golf course that includes affordable play and free golf instruction for junior golfers. Mike Finnegan continues to remain with us in all the wonderful parts of him left behind. His legacy has only begun to find its stride.