a visit to the site

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In September of 2001, it was called “the pile” by those who were part of the  rescue and recovery. When it was emptied in May of 2002 it would become “the pit.” Today it is called “the plaza”.  And  in September of 2001, when the firefighters from Squad 41 would ask me if I wanted to visit what had been the World Trade Center, they would say “do you want to go to the site?”  The WTC was 6 buildings on 16 acres with the seventh building across the street. It was a city within a city. When it was built there was more office space at the WTC than in the entire city of Detroit.  Hundreds of thousands of people worked, commuted and/ or visited the WTC on any given day. And after September 11, 2001 it is reduced to the simplest of terms – the pile, the pit, the plaza, the site.

I had only been to the World Trade Center twice in my entire life before September 28, 2001. As a teen, I remember catching the PATH (Port Authority Trans Hudson) train there once. Actually missing the train because after a certain time the schedule changed and “we” didn’t realize that. This was years before cell phones so I would end up getting home later than my curfew. I remember telling my dad this long story about getting there too late for the train and having to wait an hour and on and on. My dad finally said “Well, this has to be true because you don’t have a good enough imagination to have made it up!” Wow thanks, dad!?! My second visit to the World Trade Center would be July 4, 1976. Bruce, his sister and her husband and I would go to the “top” of 2WTC. I remember the elevator traveling faster than I could believe. It was an incredible view but it was scary. I also remember than people had said you are crazy to travel into the city on July 4. It was the 200th birthday of our nation so there were tall ships, celebrations, etc. But we actually made great time getting into the city and the lines for the observation deck were not long. After our visit we would find a pier to stand on and watch the fireworks which were so far in the distance that there was no sound – my kind of fireworks. On July 4, 2011, I would relate that story and my September 11 story to young people from South Africa, Ireland, USA and Israel.  That opportunity would be one of the most profound experiences in my life.

On Friday September 28 ,2001 we would journey into NYC to visit “the site”.  A firefighter from Squad 41 would come to my home to escort us. Squad 41 had left a FDNY 15 seat passenger van at my home in case I needed to go somewhere. In a lighter moment my daughters had joked that we could drive around and pick up their friends and head to the mall – not!!  Our group would be made up of my sister and her husband, my other sister, who had flown in from CA , myself and my 2 daughters. We would travel to the Brooklyn Naval Yard. It would be a long journey. Traffic was moving slow. There was military on the bridges. When we arrived at the Brooklyn Naval Yard we would board a boat. It was one of those cruise around the harbor party type boats.  I remember thinking that the boat looked sad. No blinking twinkle lights, no people in their fancy evening attire, no music or drinks. Our small group was joined by another family, Red Cross volunteers and a NYPD chaplain. My daughters would each be given teddy bears. And we were given bagged lunches with notes from school children inside. When we arrived at what I now know is the marina at the World Financial Center, we would disembark and walk over to Liberty and West Streets. There were many little sailboats in the marina that were covered with grey ash and pieces of paper. The National Guard was there and they took their hats off as we walked by. That was humbling. The Red Cross would give us little packs of tissues and a map so you could understand where you were standing and where the buildings had been. I remember commenting “wow, the Red Cross has tissues with their name and logo”. I think that was my mind trying to keep me from being overwhelmed. To be honest I would not understand anything about where I stood or where the buildings had been, until I started doing tours for the Tribute Center. Today I can retrace my steps of September 28 but on September 28 I was just following our FDNY escorts and keeping an eye on my daughters to make sure they were okay.

The site looked like war. It was like a bad war movie. Old movies of World War II or photos from that same era were the only point of reference I had to make sense of it. What I had seen of the site on television was nothing compared to what it looked like.  It was total devastation and it was huge. It was very loud because the heavy equipment was there. There was smoke because the fires were still burning. There was a pregnant woman in our group and they gave her a paper mask to put on. I don’t know how long we stood there. My brain couldn’t process it. I kept looking at the map but it didn’t help. The NYPD chaplain would state that he was going to read the 23rd Psalm. And he did. And then he said he was going to recite the Lord’s Prayer and we were welcome to join him. After we recited the Lord’ Prayer, I realized that no one had said “Oh excuse me. I don’t know if we can say that here.” I realized that I had stood at the World Financial Center in NYC and the word of God had been spoken. And the Bible states “my word will not return void.” Thank you, thank you.

“what’s in a name?”

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    “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.” Juliet in Romeo and Juliet

some random thoughts on “names”

As I was heading to the parking garage yesterday, I noticed signs announcing that the Battery Tunnel is being renamed the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel. I hope that is a wonderful remembrance of Mr Carey’s public service. But I do  wonder how long it will take people to refer to it as the Carey Tunnel instead of the Battery Tunnel. In the past year or so, the Triboro Bridge has been renamed the RFK Bridge. Does anyone call it that?  I have noticed on some highway signs it has the exit number and then there is a little sign that says “old exit #___”. I have often wondered how long do you keep the old exit # signs up. At what point do you have to start using the new number.

When Bruce and I were picking names for our children. There were a few names I couldn’t even consider because through the years I had students with those names. We had three girl’s names picked but neither of our daughters looked like a Sarah so no Sarahs in our family. I have had students who I always called the wrong name because they didn’t look like that name. To be honest I am a little confused by some of the names parents especially celebrities pick for their children. I don’t think some parents think through that the child is going to have that name forever (unless they change it). And some names are hard to spell and will be very long on that lined paper in kindergarten.

One of my favorite stories about “names” happened when I was a kindergarten aide at a Christian School. The teacher had asked “who remembers the names of the young men in our story yesterday?” The day before the teacher had read the story from Daniel 3 about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace. At the time there was a poplar Veggie Tales video about the same story.  A few little hands waved in the air and Miss B. picked a one of the eager students to answer. The child said “Shack, Rack and Benny” – the names from the Veggie Tales video. We tried not to laugh and Miss B. said “Almost what are their real names?” More little hands waving. She calls on another student who says “Larry, Bob and Junior”. In case you aren’t familiar those are the Veggie Tale’s character’s names. It was too funny. And the whole time I am thinking Shadrach, Meshach and “to bed we go”.

The Bible is full of stories of God giving people new names – Abram and Sarai will become Abraham and Sarah, Jacob will become Israel, Saul will become Paul. They will each receive a new name and a new task. I am reminded of a time  when I was teaching the story of Jacob’s name change and a student says “He was named after a country that is weird!” ‘No, the country was named after him.”  And then another student chimes in “your cousin is named Aja (prononuced asia) and that is a continent.” Don’t you just love 5th graders. 🙂

 My favorite name story is when Moses asks “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you, and they ask me,”What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” “God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites:’I am has sent me to you'”

a dollar crown

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When I had related the following story to my mom she had said “$1 and a dream” – the lottery slogan. Anyway this week I saw how  a simple $1 purchase could excite a child and give me a sense of delight. I had ventured into Target to get some things I needed to replenish  my mother’s assisted living stash – toothpaste, shampoo. I was also looking for “labeling tape” to be able to label the new shirts I had purchased for my dad. I didn’t find “labeling tape”. I actually ended up writing his name on his collar using a Sharpie. With a graying population and so many people in assisted living or nursing homes, I think there is a market for “labeling tape” but what do I know. When you enter  most Targets they have those $1 bins which I am sure are the bane of every mom’s existence but if you need to restock the treasure  box at church they are great. I found a package of glow in the dark insects and another package of glow in the dark snakes. Perfect for the treasure box. And then I saw it. The things little girl’s dreams are made of “a crown headband with little diamonds.”  But it wasn’t your average crown it was made of a plush, soft material, a little understated but with enough blink to shine. The minute I saw it I knew there was a child at church who would just love it. The crown headband was available in a couple of colors – pink, purple. I knew the child I had in mind would love purple.

To encourage the kiddos  to bring their supplies, do their assignments and behave at quizzing on Wednesday nights I have a point system. The children get 1 point each for attendance, bringing your student book, bringing your Bible, bringing your scripture booklet and just because. Just because is when for no particular reason Miss Ann gives you a point. You get 2 points each for doing your homework, bringing a friend and memorizing the Bible verse. The children can’t actually ever lose their points because they have earned them but their points can be frozen. Frozen points mean you have “stepped over the line.” That doesn’t happen very often but it could 🙂  Anyway at the end of each weekly class we “do points.” After the points for that week have been tallied, the children have a choice to spend or save their points.  The save or spend choice teaches another life lesson but don’t tell my kiddos.  You can spend your points as follows: 5 points for the candy bag, 10 points for the treasure box, 15 for the scripture cd, 20 for the dog tags, 25 for the memory verse poster, 50 or 100 points are some kind of super treat – a trip for ice cream or bowling, something we do together.   We still need to spend their 50/100 points from last year. There has been much discussion about where to go, etc. Unfortunately busy schedules this summer didn’t allow us to spend those points.

This week was the second week of quizzing. I hadn’t been there the first week because of my surgery so points didn’t start until this week. I gave everyone 5 points for the first week  just because. I reminded them that we would be spending our leftover points from the last school year in the near future. And we were starting points over for this year. And then we did points for this week. Everyone decided to save their points except for my youngest student. She wanted to spend 10 of her 12 points on the treasure box. So I placed the treasure box on the table in front of her and she opened it. And her face said it all “a crown” – it was the perfect reaction. It was the reaction I had known I would see when I spotted that $1 crown in Target. She was so excited. I cut the tags off of the crown and placed it on her head and I think she was suddenly standing straighter and walking taller. I know her smile was infectious.  It was an absolutely delightful moment for all of us.

It makes me smile to think about how spending $1 made a little girl’s day. I hope I remember her squeals of delight for a long time.  I also hope I never forget that even in today’s world you can wow a 6-year-old girl with a dollar crown. It was fabulous.

Questions & answers

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Since September 11, 2001, people have asked me when I knew Bruce was dead. I can’t tell you an exact day. At some point within the first week or so, I had a dream about Bruce in the towers. I dreamt he heard the sound of the floors collapsing above him and he tried even harder to get people out.  He whispered he loved his girls (that was what he called E, M and I) and then he was face to face with God.

After Sept 18 meeting and the dream, I knew he was never coming home and it was time to begin planning his memorial service. I had told one of the other wives from Squad 41 that I would be the first wife to declare my husband dead and plan a service.  Of course there was the legal side of that – filing a missing person’s report and requesting a death certificate.  My sister would take care of contacting the powers that be. A NYPD detective would come to my home and leave the report. My sister and I would sit at my kitchen table and we would complete a missing person’s report.  Weight, height, tattoos… but there are questions you have never even thought of – attached or unattached ears???  That same detective would come back and pick up the report.

We would also need to deal with the DNA request. Squad 41 had already given the medical examiner’s office Bruce’s comb, a t-shirt and toothbrush from the firehouse.  When we were at the “leave your DNA at the door meeting”, my sister had inquired about my daughters being able to go to a lab near our home to give DNA samples instead of in the  hotel ballroom. We had decided that we wouldn’t ask my 82-year-old mother in law to do this. My older daughter decided that she was going to be the DNA sample giver.

There were 3 groups of people I had to know were okay with having a Memorial Service –  my daughters, my mother in law and the firefighters from Squad 41. My sister and I sat on the living room floor with my daughters and I would ask them “Where do you think Daddy is right now?” They both would respond “in heaven”. I would reply “Okay then it is time to have a Memorial Service.” “But what if you are wrong?” “I have no problem with your dad walking into his own memorial service but we need to plan one. And I don’t know how we are going to get through this, or birthdays, or Christmas but if a week ago someone would have said we would have to go through what we have already gone through we never would have believed them. And God has gotten us this far and He will get us through the rest.” I would have a telephone conversation with my sister-in-law and she would agree.  My mother in law had scheduled a meeting with her lawyer to change her power of attorney to her daughter so I knew she was thinking Bruce wasn’t coming home.  The firefighters were sure they would find Bruce and the other men. They spoke of voids. I told them I hoped they would find Bruce but we needed to have a service. After discussion with my family, close friends, pastor and the fire department, we decided on Saturday September 29. It was about 10 days away but that would give us time to plan and people to travel.

At some point both of my daughters would come to me separately and ask me the same three questions. Can we still live in this house? Can we still go to EC? And what will happen when we get married?  Yes, we will live in this house. Yes, I will make sure you can stay at EC. And we don’t have to worry about when you get married because right now you are too young to get married and you don’t have a boyfriend.

 

 

 

 

rescue to recovery

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We would be invited by the FDNY to a meeting in the city on Tuesday September 18,2001. The weird thing is there are some things about that meeting that are forever etched in my mind but there are other details  I can’t remember at all. For  example, I can vividly remember walking out of the Fire Zone, seeing a full size bus, boarding the bus and being driven basically around the block. On the other end of the spectrum, I have no memory of where my youngest daughter was while I attended the meeting.

Squad 41 had wanted to send a van to pick us up but we decided that my bff ‘s hubby, T would drive my sister, my older daughter and I into the city. We were suppose to meet at one of the designated locations and then would be transported to the meeting. I guess the idea was to keep the press away and protect our privacy. As we approached the George Washington Bridge, I remember there were men in full military garb holding the biggest guns I had ever seen. I remember thinking “this is the United States of America; we don’t have military on our bridges.” The traffic was moving very slow. I think there was a giant flag hanging on the bridge but that could be a memory from another time.  And as I glanced at the skyline, I couldn’t figure out where the Twin Towers had stood. We discussed their placement on the island and couldn’t figure it out.  My sister commented “I thought there would be a cut out where they had been.”  It was so very strange to see the new skyline.

We reported to the designated meeting place, we had chosen “The Fire Zone” at Rockefeller Center.  Everyone was so very kind – did we want something to eat or drink, could they do anything for us. A full size bus would arrive complete with police escort and men “talking into their sleeves.” It was like we were in some B rated movie. We boarded the bus and were transported to a hotel only a few blocks away. We disembarked, rode the escalator up to the next floor and were ushered into the grand ballroom which was outfitted with round tables and chairs. We chose a table to sit at and introduced ourselves to the other people at the table. There was a woman, her young adult son and daughter. Her husband was very high-ranking in the FDNY. There was another young woman whose fiancé was a firefighter. We compared notes on what we each knew about our loved ones and what we thought the meeting was going to reveal. I remember Governor Pataki was walking around and greeting people. He was very tall and seemed sincere as he spoke to many people.  Governor Pataki would mention  that his dad had been a long time volunteer firefighter. I remember my sister and I discussed how casually dressed some people were in comparison to other people.  There were people in shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops and other people in business attire. I had carefully chosen what I was wearing.   Knowing that I was attending a meeting with the governor, mayor and chief of the FDNY, I wanted to represent my husband in a way that was honoring to my position as a firefighter’s wife.

The whole meeting was surreal. The purpose of the meeting was to inform us that the mission was going from rescue to recovery followed by a question and answer time. There was discussion about DNA samples and opportunity to give a DNA before you left. In the years since that meeting, some FDNY widows have come to call it “the leave your DNA at the door” meeting. Sorry if that sounded really bad but sometimes you have to acknowledge the absurdity of the entire situation. My sister would investigate if there was another option of giving DNA that would be more private. She found out that we could take my daughter to a lab near where we lived which definitely seemed like a better idea.

This would be the first time I would see the other wives from Squad 41. I had spoken to some of the other wives on the phone but hadn’t seen them until this meeting. These were women who I knew because our husbands worked together. I would have seen them maybe twice a year. But here we were “thrown together” by the most unbelievable set of circumstances. So we didn’t really know each other expect for the annual Christmas party and summer picnic. One of the other wives would comment “I will be praying for you.” And that moment I did something I had never done before in my entire life, I said “why don’t we pray right now.” She went to get her family and I went to get my bff’s hubby and announced to him “you need to pray.” This part I remember so vividly even though it seemed like an out-of-body experience – standing in a crowd, noisy NYC hotel ballroom, holding hands with my family and my Squad 41 family, T starting to pray and all the other sounds of the ballroom melting away and it was just T’s voice beseeching God for His peace and favor and thanking God for His gifts of life and love. It is one of the most profound moments of my life.

On September 18, 2001, I didn’t really totally comprehend what “going from rescue to recovery” meant. But I did know that I needed to take the next step. We as a family needed to move from believing there would be a rescue to setting our lives for recovery. And within a few days, I would have what at the time I thought was the hardest conversation of my life. That however is a story for another day.

then and now – Sept 16

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Sunday Sept 16, 2001 would prove to be the “tipping point”.  Family, friends, neighbors, total strangers were stopping by my home with meals and encouraging words which was so very kind but I couldn’t be “all things to all people”. It was time to “circle the wagons”.  Steve, my pastor, would take the lead and announce that “Ann doesn’t answer the phone or the door.”  He would have the church organize updates and meals. The church would add daily updates on their website. My sister would be responsible for answering the phone and door and there would be a list of people I would speak to and/or see. There was actually a physical list of people. I would also make a list of people who I needed to speak to – people who I needed to talk to so I could stay strong.  Months later people would joke “that they made the list.”  Pastor Steve also stated that I would take a nap every day.  Each day, my sister and I made a list of things we wanted to accomplish – simple things like take a shower, do laundry.  There was a sense of being in limbo, a sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop, a sense of not knowing what you should do next. Squad 41 would call each day with their updates “nothing to report. We are still looking. There are voids.”

I think we sometimes feel that it is wrong to “circle the wagons” but there are times that you have to take care of yourself and those closest to you. There are times that it can only be about you. I hope you have friends who are so close to you that they will “circle the wagons” for you.  I remember before September 11 being concerned how would I tell Bruce’s mom, or my parents or my kids that something had happened to him. Firefighter, police officer and military families live with the possibility that they won’t be coming home. So you think about “what if such and such happens.” On September 11, Bruce’s sister was visiting their mom in southern NJ which may not seem like a big deal but Bruce’s sister lives in KS. She would be there that day and for weeks to come. In August, my brother and his wife had moved back to NJ from CA so they were there for my parents. So that left me only my daughters to take care of and that was a gift. It was another blink from God that he had it all under control. On September 11,2001 I went into mother lion mode and my goal was to protect my girls no matter what. And I was fortunate to have my sister and other friends would helped me protect my girls and helped to take care of me.

Today I read a very sad article on the 9-11 server that I subscribe to. The widow of the pilot of United flight 93 died of an accidental drug overdose caused by mixing alcohol, anti depression drugs and anti-anxiety drugs. I feel so bad for her family. It is just so sad. I always try to remember when I hear, read or see a story in the news that “everyone has a family” or at least I hope they do.

TV – random watching

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Since I am “recovery” this week from gall bladder surgery my television set has been on far more than usual. oh my!!! Until very recently I only had broadcast cable. I had channels 2 – 14. In my hometown, you must have cable to get television and there is only one cable provider.  For many years I had cable television not HBO and the fancy stuff just your family basic type plan. A few years ago my cable provider was in “negotiations” about Food network and HGTV, it was at that point I went to just broadcast cable.  I realized that the only channels I sat down to watch were ABC, NBC, CBS, ION, PBS Food Network or HGTV.  If I was looking for something to watch I would scroll through all the other channels. I realized television was a good time waster and I wanted to be more intentional about my time. Don’t get me wrong there are times that “vegging out” is totally in order. Also  I wanted to send a message to the cable company. “If you are getting rid of Food and HGTV, I am getting rid of you.” I don’t think my dropping cable made a difference to them but it did make a difference to my cable bill. I remember when I called to cancel the customer service person said “You realize your  internet fee is going to increase by $5” To which I responded “my overall bill is going to decrease by $50”. Still sounds like a savings to me 🙂

The “perfect storm” has caused me to get real cable again. The “perfect storm” included wanting to lower my house phone costs and The Newsroom on HBO. I heard Aaron Sorkin had a new show. I loved  The West Wing and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. The house we rented on vacation had HBO so I got to watch The Newsroom and that was it I had to  see it. I will issue a disclaimer – they use the “f” word a lot. I am personally not use to that in the circles that I travel but I guess in the real world that happens. Anyway I got HBO to watch The Newsroom and as soon as I finish watching the 10 episodes for a second time I am dropping HBO.  I will get in again when second 2 starts. The Newsroom has not disappointed.

So during this time of “recovering” I have had a lot of choices of what to watch but actually not really. Maybe it is just me but there is some weird stuff on television and real news can’t be found. The other morning Princess Kate was being interviewed on one channel as the former Duchess Sarah  was on another channel and the Kardashians were on another channel.  While all those interviews were going on American Embassies were being attacked in the Middle East. Really !?! Don’t get me wrong I like Kate and Sarah. I am not so sure about the Kardashians (who are they??) but wasn’t there hard news we should have been hearing. Even with all the channels there isn’t much to watch. Yesterday Law and Order was on 2 different channels at the same time. I guess that is good for the actors – royalties.  I  have watched a lot of NCIS.  My favorite line of all time is when Ziva asks Gibbs “what did Ducky look like when he was young?” and Gibbs says ” he looked like Illya Kuryakin”. I loved the Man from U.N.C.L.E. when I was growing up. I also loved Richard Chamberlain as Dr Kildaire. Of course my all time favorite TV mini series was The Thornbirds. Thus why daughter #2 has the name she has. Funny thing is she has met other young ladies that have her name for the same reason. Ah, the power of a good television show.

Growing up television actually went off the air for a few hours and then came back on complete with the American flag and the Star Spangled Banner. My siblings and I weren’t allowed to watch the 3 Stooges. My dad said “we were the 3 Stooges and we needed no encouragement.” My dad also used to say “there has been a television invented that ties you to the chair and makes you watch it. Turn it off!!!”