We never called it Ground Zero

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As we walk diagonally across the Memorial, Steven* in true gentlemanly fashion is carrying the bag containing the head sets. On this walking tour, I am the lead docent and Steven is my support person.  Steven is new to the program and is a little apprehensive but when he speaks of “his guys” you hear and see his passion and expertise. You see the firefighter. It makes me smile how the firefighters Steven included always try to take care of me. I have carried that bag back to the Tribute Center many times through the ten years I have been volunteering.  I appreciate the gesture. I am grateful but I am capable. I am not the “little FDNY widow”.  In reality, Steven is actually shorter than I am and we are about the same age.

The Memorial is busy. There is a gentle buzz of activity.  I notice faces of visitors from many nations, hear softly spoken words, see tears being wiped, selfies being snapped and the sound of the south waterfall. As we walk along Steven suddenly comments “We (FDNY) never called it Ground Zero.”  We stop walking and I nod in agreement. The media said Ground Zero and to me that term Ground Zero always brought the image of a red and white target.  Steven continues “We called it the Pile and as we got lower we called it the Pit.”

The Pile I had seen that for myself on September 28, 2001.  I remember that massive hole (the Pit) in the ground from when I started volunteering at the Tribute Center in 2006. We continue walking and I add “and now it is the Plaza.” He nods in agreement.

Our conversation confirms in my mind something I had been pondering for a while, this place and I had been on parallel journeys since September 11, 2001. The World Trade Center which I had only visited twice before the attacks had become a travel companion. We had weathered the attacks, sorted through the debris, filled the void and remembered those we lost as we continued on.

*name has been changed

 

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I haven’t walked down the stairs in the shoes of the business person fleeing the building.

I haven’t climbed up the stairs in the boots of the firefighters arriving to rescue and aid.

I haven’t run away in my bare feet towards the Hudson River to find safety.

I haven’t stood in my black uniform shoes directing thousands to safety.

I haven’t knelt on the ground to treat the injured.

I haven’t said a prayer over a dead body.

I haven’t dived under a car or into a building to seek safety.

In one way I was removed from the September 11, 2001 attacks, I wasn’t there.

I was 50 miles away listening, watching, praying…

And then

I walked in the shoes of a FDNY widow.

I walked in the shoes of a 9/11 Tribute Center docent.

I  walked in the shoes of a keeper of the story.

 

I challenge each of us to remember that September 11 is an international tragedy but to many and not just those who lost someone it is very personal. Be kind to yourself. Be kind to yours.

Extra, Extra, Read all about it!

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I was recently interviewed by a Wall Street Journal reporter. She and a photographer attended a 9/11 Tribute Center tour and then she interviewed me. I guess I talked so much she felt compelled to write more than one piece. I am grateful for her professionalism and how she fact checked everything. Thank you Sophia and Mark.  Two different pieces featuring my 9/11 story appear in the WSJ   Amazing. I am humbled and very appreciative of the opportunity.

 

http://www.wsj.com/articles/a-9-11-story-helping-a-husband-follow-his-dream-of-becoming-a-firefighter-1473455936?tesla=y

 

http://www.wsj.com/articles/a-9-11-widows-story-life-came-back-1473453906

 

countdown

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random ramblings

last column bearing Squad 41 where they found Bruce's body.

This is a reprint from a blog this time last year. I felt it is worth saying again. This anniversary is fifteen years so the “activities/hype/coverage” will be even greater than a normal year – 3rd, 7th, 13th… I did watch a good documentary on CBNC called “Ground Zero Rising: Freedom or Fear”  Lee Ielpi, founder of the 9/11 Tribute Center, was featured as well as a fellow docent, Matt Crawford. Another documentary being shown on PBS on Sunday September 11 is “The Trees” by Scott Elliott. I was interviewed for that film. I will say the thing that makes the countdown even more difficult for people I know is when the days line up and September 11 is a Tuesday. Thankfully this year it isn’t. Side note: September 11 and Christmas always fall on the same day of the week. I know that is a weird thing to…

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familiar but foreign – language

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I am confident that I know two words in Japanese – arigatou (thank you) and konnichiwa (hello).  I actually know another two words that most of the time I forget I know which are hai (yes) and sayounara (good-bye). And if everyone else is saying it I can say oyasumi (good night). I can read no Japanese characters. Thankfully we have wonderful translators, we are rarely left to fend for ourselves, pointing is a good substitute for words, signs are usually in English and Japanese and  many people speak more English than I speak Japanese.

On the twelve-hour flight to Japan I watched Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot which was a good time filler movie. However it made me doubt if I was being translated properly. Let me explain. In the film, Tine Fey is a reporter in Afghanistan and people say something to her in Pahlawi, Farisi or Dari and in subtitles you see what they said. Tina Fey then says to her translator “what did he say?” and translator says something totally different and usually kind opposed to rude. There were moments on the trip that I was sure that the subtitles running at the bottom of the screen said something totally different from what I was told the translation was and  that made me chuckle more than once.

Being translated is an interesting experience, I find it makes me choose my words more carefully and I even seem to structure my sentences differently. I am always amazed that I can say ten words and the translation is two words or vise versa I say two words and the translation is ten. One thing for sure is not knowing the language makes me a better listener. It makes me more aware of body language and tone. I don’t know about you but on occasion I am formulating my response instead of being attentive to the speaker. Truly being present, connecting with and tuning into the person I am listening to is a skill that I want to be familiar with even if the language or circumstances are foreign.

Familiar but foreign

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IMG_3345

 

It was my third trip to Japan in four years. Japan is a place that feels familiar but foreign to me. This trip was similar but different. I visited some of the same destinations as I had in 2013 and 2014 but also some new ones. To me the main thing that had changed since 2014 was the sense of a new normal. There wasn’t as much uncertainty as to what the future holds. Rebuilding is underway, memorials have been established, possibilities of moving back are on the calendar, sharing of stories has begun. This trip was far more about being ears to listen than being a storyteller. It was far more about I am only a half step further down the road from my disaster after fifteen years than you are after your disaster five years ago. This trip was about resilience.

In future blog posts I will explain more of what I experienced and learned on yet another life changing trip to Japan.  Below is the information I received before the trip from our organizers. 

5th International Outreach Program for School Children and Community Survivors of

3/11 Great East Japan Disasters

Back Ground: Now more than five years after the 3.11 Great East Japan Earthquake, still 170,000 evacuees from disaster stricken areas with 99,000 evacuees from radiation contamination continue to suffer the consequences (3/4/2016 report by Reconstruction Agency). In particular, children’s emotional well being is concerning as they continue to be displaced away from their communities and show signs of emotional stress.

Goals: We wish to empower school communities with self-motivation toward recovery by showing concrete examples of resilience and people overcoming disasters.

Sadako’s Soaring Crane: Together with American Airlines, we brought an origami crane monument fabricated out of steel recovered from 9/11 on our 1st mission in 2012. This symbol for recovery from the international community dedicated for children’s comfort was inspired by Sadako Sasaki, who died at age 12 from radiation exposure after the bombing of Hiroshima. Sadako’s origami cranes was previously donated to the 9/11 Tribute Center and we made a symbolic return of Sadako’s wish for peace and comfort for children. KyodoNews

Children’s Storybook: We have published a children’s storybook of late 12-year-old girl’s story about strength and courage to move forward and how Sadako’s Soaring Crane monument came to Fukushima. This storybook is touted as a “book of life” and “Hiroshima–NY–Fukushima connected with hope.” We have donated more than 10,000 copies of storybooks to school children in Fukushima. The story will continue to touch the kids around the world.

Impact of Survivor Exchange Program: We continue to gauge the impact of post-3/11 outreach efforts on both the 3/11 “recipient” community and the 9/11 “donor” community. The success of this outreach program may be partially attributable to the fact that it meets the basic objectives of psychological first aid to “establish human connection in a non intrusive, compassionate manner”; “support positive coping and empower survivors to take an active role in recovery”; and “facilitate continuity and ensure other sources of support when leaving.”

Japan 2016

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244Back at the end of May just days before the email appeared in my inbox, my daughter randomly asked “is the Tribute Center doing a trip to Japan this year?” I replied “They are but I am not sure who is going?” And then on June 5  the email appeared “would you like to be part of the fifth trip to Japan?” Wow! I can’t believe I am invited to be part of this amazing team again. When I was invited the first time in 2013, my daughters’  said “Mom, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Go for it. ” A year later when I was invited again, my daughters’ commented “wow, most people don’t get their once in a lifetime trip twice!” This time when I mentioned I was invited they commented something along the lines of “so what dates are you going to Japan again?”

The my third trip is now over and I will be posting about that. In the meantime if you would like to catch up on the past trips, here are the links to some of those posts.

Travel Tuesdays – S1E16 Japan

https://missannsays.com/2013/08/20/travel-tuesdays-s1e18-japan-lost-in-translation/

https://missannsays.com/2013/08/27/travel-tuesday-s1e19-japan-phds-mds/

https://missannsays.com/2014/08/30/japan-2014-part-1/

https://missannsays.com/2014/09/03/japan-2014-part-4/