Sept. 11, 2007 -- While Sept. 11 is a tough anniversary for all Americans, it's especially difficult for those who were directly touched by the attacks.
Their loved ones are gone, but in so many cases, from their inspirational lives has sprung a legacy of tremendous gifts that continue to helps others each and every day.
In a haunting foreshadowing, two years before 9/11, Linda Jacobs Kalodner was trapped with her 6-week-old twins, Isabel and Jacob, in a burning apartment building in New York City. There was no way out of the black smoke on the ninth floor.
"My throat was starting to hurt, my eyes starting to hurt and outside was all smoke and blackness," Kalodner said.
New York City firefighter Matthew Barnes came to the rescue, a bright light in the darkness.
Kalodner said she will never forget his grace and dedication to protecting her infants. "I was saying 'You have to come back. I have twins, I have twins.'"
And, as he later told reporters, Barnes did go back.
"She indicated that she had two children and she proceeded to hand them to me," Barnes said at the time.
He was her knight in shining armor that day.
"I totally trusted him. I totally trusted him and he made me feel like I should trust him," she said.
Kalodner and her family were devastated when Barnes died with so many others on 9/11. The twins, of course, don't remember their rescue, but now say they are grateful for the gift of life Barnes gave them.
The twins are now boisterous 8-year-olds.
"I'm glad I got out of there because without Matthew Barnes I'd be dead right now," Jacob said. "He told us the lesson of giving by basically giving his life to other people because he was saving us."
"I think that our experience gave us, taught us to love each other more," Kalodner said.
Barnes was an angel, the family agrees.
"His spirit is in our hearts," Jacob's twin sister, Isabel, said.
Daniel Brandhorst, Ronald Gamboa and David Brandhorst-Gamboa
For the people of St. Victors Church in Los Angeles, six years haven't erased the deep impact that one family had on their congregation.
Daniel Brandhorst and Ronald Gamboa were a gay couple that had adopted a newborn baby named David. Active in their Catholic church, every Sunday morning at Mass, the Brandhorst-Gamboa family were the epicenter for all the other families with parents, gay and straight.
"They were really the glue, the centerpiece of the parents, the leaders if you will, of the group of us," family friend Mary Walton said.
And Dan and Ron seemed to have all the tricks for handling a toddler in church.
"They had everything, whatever you needed, whether it's treats or diapers. Mothers would go 'We learned so much from them,'" Walton said.
"The other parents respected them greatly and learned a lot from them. It didn't matter if they weren't the biological parents, that they were gay parents — it didn't matter," friend John Aiello said. "They were good parents."
Dan, Ron and their son, David, were traveling home from a New England vacation on flight 175 from Boston on 9/11. It was the second plane to crash into the World Trade Center that day.
"One of our parishioners perhaps put it best, an older gentleman, very conservative, said, 'If you had told me 20 years ago I'd have gay friends, let alone a gay couple with children, I would never have believed it, and I loved them,'" Aiello said.
To everyone that knew her, Nancy Perez was a champion of children.
She gave all of her extra time to her niece, her cousins and their kids — and to children she didn't even know. She took a sign language course so that she could teach deaf children karate — she wanted everyone to feel as if they were a part of the group.
Perez's passion for children lives on in a secret gift, discovered after her death on Sept. 11.
Perez had written a children's book about a boy's fear of the first day of school and how his collection of butterflies saved the day. The boy was her cousin Kyle McCann.
Kyle and Perez were very close; Nancy was like a big sister, aunt and extra mother, all rolled into one.
"She sent it to a publishing company in the hopes she would get it published; unfortunately she passed away before anything could happen," her friend Marie Roman said.
The book is called "A Butterfly Circus," and it was never published. No one knew about the book, except for one friend who helped with the illustrations.
"It's such a beautiful surprise to us. We feel like she left us with a little bit of her heart," Perez's cousin Irma Meneve said.
The gift from Perez is solace to Kyle who, now 14, is still grappling with his grief.
"She's here in my mind and I pray to her at night and I know that she's always with me and helping me," Kyle said. "I'm gonna always remember her love forever and I'll never forget her."