Pay it forward


Yesterday was the 28th anniversary for lack of a better word of the Space Shuttle Challenger exploding as it lifted off for a journey to space. I remember where I was. Most of us if we are of a certain age know where we were and what we were doing. It was a national tragedy but wives lost their husbands, husbands lost their wives, children lost their parent, parents lost their grown children and friends lost friends. It was their personal loss in the midst of a national tragedy.

On September 11, 2001 I would become a member of that club no one wants to be a member of. The “I have had a personal loss in the midst of a national tragedy” club. I mentioned this in reference to the Challenger anniversary because one of the most profound, generous things that happened in those days and weeks after September 11 was the daughter of the Commander of the Challenger space shuttle wrote a letter to the children of the September 11 attacks. I have included it below. She paid it forward. As I thought about that today I realized I was blessed and inspired by her actions. My children were blessed by her actions.

I had opportunity to pay it forward when I went to Japan to speak to families of the March 11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear tragedy. Wow!!! God truly doesn’t waste anything. 🙂

“A Letter to the Youngest Victims of the Terrorists Attacks
Dear Children,
The thunderous explosions that rocked the whole world last week have shattered yours.

Why does the TV show the crashing plane, exploding and collapsing buildings over and over? Where is my Mom or Dad? Why can’t the rescuers find him/her? Who could have done this terrible thing? Why is the whole nation crying?

Yours is a small voice in a crashing storm of questions arising from an act of war on the American people. But no answers will bring you comfort. And no answers will bring you closer to understanding, save one: Your Mom or Dad was in harm’s way.

While our great nation bulks up for the first fight of the century, we, the Challenger children and all the children of public disasters, are hearing your hearts break, holding your hands and hugging you from afar. You are not alone. We want you to know that it will be bad ­ very bad ­ for a little while, but it will get better.

You see, 15 years ago, before some of you were even born, I watched my father and his crew die in a horrible accident. Our loved ones were astronauts on board the space shuttle Challenger, which blew up a few minutes after take off. It all happened on live television. It should have been a moment of private grief, but instead it turned into a very public torture. We couldn’t turn on the television for weeks afterward, because we were afraid we would see the gruesome spectacle of the Challenger coming apart a mile up in the sky.

My father died a hundred times a day on televisions all across the country. And since it happened so publicly, everyone in the country felt like it happened to them, too. And it did. The Challenger explosion was a national tragedy. Everyone saw it, everyone hurt, everyone grieved, everyone wanted to help. But that did not make it any easier for me. They wanted to say good-bye to American heroes. I just wanted to say good-bye to my Daddy.

Our nation mourns with you, for itself and for you. But yours is also a personal loss that is separate from this national tragedy. We hope this letter will bring you some comfort now or in the future, when you are strong enough ­ old enough ­ to read it. We want to prepare you for what’s to come and to help you deal with this burden you never asked to bear. No one asked the people in the World Trade Center, in the Pentagon, or on the airplanes to give their lives in a war they had never volunteered to fight, against people they did not even know were plotting their deaths. Your Mom or Dad was innocent. They were just doing their jobs or traveling to see friends or family, but someone decided to make their everyday lives – and yours – a battlefield.

You’ve discovered by now that you won’t be able to escape the barrage of news and the countless angles of investigation, speculation and exasperation. The 24-hour coverage will ebb and flow, but will blind side you in the weeks, months and years to follow when you least expect it. You will be watching television and then, suddenly, there will be those pictures – the plane, the towers, the cloud of dust, the fires, the people running. For other people watching, this will all be something called “history.” To you, it’s your life.

Just know that the media and public perception of this catastrophe aren’t the same as yours. They can’t know how painful it is to watch your Mom or Dad die several times each day. If they knew how much pain it caused, they would stop.

You imagine death like it is in a fairy tale or like at Grandma or Grandpa’s funeral. They look asleep and peaceful in their coffins. Their earthly bodies are tangible and recognizable. You can say good-bye to someone who looks like your loved one. But the physical proof ­ the recognizable person that was your Mom or Dad ­ is gone or not whole or not recognizable. Your mind can’t accept it, even though your heart knows it. You know their spirit has gone to Heaven, but it’s hard to say good-bye. You will find your own way to say good-bye in your own time.

You may feel sick when you think about his or her broken body. Your imagination might even carry you to new and scary depths and unspeakable images. You will be afraid to ask what happened because the answers might be worse than what you imagined. You’ll torture yourself wondering if they felt pain, if they suffered, if they knew what was happening. They didn’t. In the same way your brain doesn’t register pain immediately when you break your arm, your Mom or Dad didn’t know pain in their last moments of life on this earth.

You may have strange dreams or nightmares about your Mom or Dad being alive somehow, trapped in a pocket of the wreckage of the building or stranded or lost in some remote location after parachuting out of the plane before it crashed. They may call to you in your dream to come find them. You will wake up with such hope and determination, only to have the clouds of reality gather and rain fresh tears of exasperation and sadness on your face. These dreams are your subconscious self trying to make sense out of what your conscious self already knows.

You will think about the last things you said to each other. Were they loving words or actions? Did we speak sharply to each other? Were we too sleepy or rushed to even have one last look at each other’s faces? Rest easy. Their last thoughts were of you ­ the all of who you are ­ not the Tuesday morning, Sept. 11, you. And they were happy thoughts, all in a jumble of emotions so deep they are everlasting.

Everyone you know will cry fresh tears when they see you. People will try to feed you even though you know it all tastes like cardboard. They want to know what you think ­ what you feel ­ what you need. But you really don’t know. You may not know for a very long time. And it will be an even longer amount of time before you can imagine your life without your Mom or Dad.

Some people, working through their own grief, will want to talk to you about the catastrophe, the aftermath, the rescue and recovery, or the actions that will be taken by our nation. Others will whisper as you walk by, “Her dad was killed in the attack on the World Trade Center,” or “His mom was in the plane that crashed into the Pentagon,” or “His dad was one of the firefighters who died when the buildings collapsed.” This new identity might be difficult for you. Sometimes you will want to say to the whisperers, “Yes, that was my Dad. We are so proud of him. I miss him like crazy!” But sometimes you will want to fade into the background, wanting to anonymously grieve in your own way, in your own time, without an audience.

When those who loved your Mom or Dad talk with you, cry with you, or even scream with frustration and unfairness of it, you don’t have to make sense of it all. Grief is a weird and winding path with no real destination and lots of switch backs. Look on grief as a journey ­ full of rest stops, enlightening sites and potholes of differing depths of rage, sadness and despair. Just realize that you won’t be staying forever at one stop. You will eventually move on to the next. And the path will become smoother, but it may never come to an end.

Ask the people who love you and who knew and loved your Mom or Dad to help you remember the way they lived ­ not the way they died. You need stories about your Mom or Dad from their friends, co-workers and your family. These stories will keep your Mom or Dad alive and real in your heart and mind for the rest of your life. Listen carefully to the stories. Tell them. Write them. Record them. Post them online. The stories will help you remember. The stories will help you make decisions about your life ­ help you become the person you were meant to be.

Just as a stronger nation will rise out of the grisly cinders and steel skeletal remains of buildings and airplanes, so will you be a stronger person. The events of last week will shape your life in many different ways. You will wonder if you’ll ever be safe again. You will. Our nation will wage a mighty war on terrorism. You will be protected. You can still believe in the future ­ in your future.

Please know that we are with you ­ holding you in our hearts, in our minds and in our prayers.
Kathie Scobee Fulgham”

“Old and Cool”

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Last Sunday a conversation with my friend’s 3-year-old grandson:
3-year-old – “you are Baba.”
me – “no, that is your Baba sitting across the table?”
3-year-old – “you are Baba.”
me – “no, I am not Baba. I am Miss Ann.”
3-year-old – “you are Baba”
me – “No, I am Miss Ann. That’s your Baba. My daughter’s don’t have children. I am not a Baba”
3 old – “you look like a Baba.”
Laughter all around.

Last Monday as I finish leading a tour of the National September 11 Memorial one of the young girls (I would guess she was about 11 years old) on the tour approaches me and she waits until other people have expressed their appreciation for the tour and states “I just wanted to tell you that I love your nail polish!”

So this past week I was old and cool – works for me!!

What I think about the National September 11 Museum fees…

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This morning on Facebook I posted the statement by 9/11 memorial President Joe Daniels on Museum Admission. (included below) A friend of mine wrote “What do YOU think?” So here goes:

1. I think people have the mistaken impression that the National September 11 Memorial and Museum receives federal funds. It does not.

2. I think people don’t realize that the National September 11 Memorial and Museum is not part of the National Park system as Pearl Harbor is. By the way the USS Arizona Memorial is free but other parts of the Pearl Harbor site are not. FYI: Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum is not part of the National Park System either. The Memorial is free and the Museum costs $12.

3. I think it costs money to maintain a museum, or your home.

4. I think people don’t realize that the $24 is for the museum not for the memorial. There is currently a $2 processing fee for the memorial. To the best of my understanding the entrance to the museum will be off of Greenwich Street not off of the memorial.

5. As an educator, I think that everyone should have access to museums, historical sites and all forms of educational experiences.

6. As a ballerina, I think everyone should have access to the arts. I also think children and young people should be able to experience big sporting events and the great outdoors.

5. I think people spend money on what is important to them. To visit the main deck and top of the Empire State Building is $44 for an adult. It costs $29 per adult to visit the Intrepid museum including the Space Shuttle Pavilion. The Newseum in Washington DC is $22.95 for an adult but that does include return visit the next day. It costs at least $10 for admission to the movies. Amusement park admissions are easily twice price of most museums.

6. I think the National September 11 Memorial is well done. See blog post Travel Tuesdays S1E21 – National September 11 Memorial and Museum. I hope the National September 11 Museum will also be well done. In May of 2012, I had opportunity tour the National September 11 Museum. Even though it was nowhere near done it was very impressive. “We” were allowed to take photos but were not allowed to share the photos from the May 2012 visit but I figure since the Museum has been featured on 60 Minutes I can now share one photo.019

7. I think I will continue to volunteer at the 9/11 Tribute Center because telling the story of September 11 is too important not to. 🙂

Statement by 9/11 Memorial President Joe Daniels on Museum Admission

“September 11, 2001 stands as one of the most devastating events in this nation’s history. However, it is also a historic testament to our collective resilience, a time when the bonds between strangers and loved ones strengthened in unimaginable ways. Ordinary men and women demonstrated limitless compassion and our first responders, so many who perished saving thousands, set an unmatched standard of heroism.

The 9/11 Memorial Museum at the World Trade Center will be the global focal point for telling future generations this vital American history.
The stories and the lives of the nearly 3,000 innocent people lost that day will be forever honored at the Museum through artifacts, exhibitions and first-person accounts.

Following a decision made by the Board in April to ensure the organization’s financial health, the 9/11 Memorial will charge an admission to the Museum to help fund the necessary operational costs. The 9/11 Memorial does not yet receive government support for ongoing operations as many other important museums of our national history do. 9/11 family members are free and there will be discounts for various groups, including seniors, youth and NYC schools. Each week there will also be hours set aside for the general public to enter for free.

A general admission ticket of $24 will help fulfill our obligation to commemorate and preserve the history of 9/11. It will also enable educational programming that will teach the nature of and responsibility for the special freedoms we have. Importantly, a Museum admissions will also ensure the Memorial, which has had more than 11.5 million visitors since opening two years ago, will be free and open to everyone.”

Mr. Clueless

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As I was waiting to enter security checkpoint at the National September 11 Memorial this afternoon with the Tribute Center visitors on my walking tour, a man and a woman were heading the wrong way in the “row” next to me. They were both well dressed. The man was very tall. I notice tall people because being tall myself I am aware of people who are taller than me. At first I thought they may be VIPs and had just exited the NYPD command post. Then I heard the man in a rather annoyed tone say “how do we get out of here?” The Memorial volunteers said “you have to go through security to exit the site.” The man responded “I am not undressing to go through security for this? Skip it, we are out of here!” And he continued to walk in the wrong direction. And was gone. I commented to the visitors standing near me ” I guess he doesn’t realize that it is because of what happened here on September 11 that we go through security in so many places.” I proceeded through security with my group and our tour continued without incident.

Later as I thought about the man’s over the top response to the security checkpoint I realized that at first I was dumbfounded. And then I was annoyed. Really, Mr. Clueless do you know where you are? Do you realize that there are security checkpoints all over the USA and the world because of what happened right here? And another think Mr. Clueless do you realize how many people around you were foreign visitors and how you were the perfect example of why people think Americans are rude?

Finally I was sad because Mr. Clueless really should have walked on the Memorial and had a reality check about the events of September 11. He should have seen all the names of the people killed here and at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, PA. He should have read the words “and her unborn child” more than a dozen times. And maybe while Mr. Clueless was on the Memorial there would have been a Wounded Warrior or two so he could remember the price our military has paid since September 11. Or maybe there would have been a firefighter, police officer, sanitation worker, a steelworker, a business person or red cross volunteer who could have told him about one of their friends who have died since September 11 because they have gotten sick from being here.

Mr. Clueless, you missed it!!! The momentary inconvenience of removing your coat, and may I add not even your shoes, could have opened your eyes and maybe even your heart. 😦

Sorry for the rant but wow that guy (aka Mr. Clueless) missed it!!! Of course another part of me wonders if he was carrying something he shouldn’t have been carrying and the whole scene was a bluff to not get caught. 🙂

New every morning…

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The other morning I was thinking about time and how I view time and I experienced a small “aha!” moment. For years I have held to the theory that time seems to go faster as you get older because 1 year is a smaller part of your entire life. When you are 5 years old, 1 year is 1/5 of the whole but when you are 20 years old 1 year is 1/20. So as I approach a big birthday thoughts of 1 year being 1/60 of the whole seems unfathomable. “Aha” moment was that any single day is even less of the whole. So the fact that I made some less than stellar eating choices the day before was a very tiny part of the whole. Yes, I should make better choices but it was one day out of many so I shouldn’t be discouraged. Later in the week as I was proud of myself for going to the gym I realized the same theory applies – 2 days is a small part but everyday I add is a bigger part of the whole. Each day is a small part of my year and each year is a small part of my life. Small parts matter but sometimes I need to remember that it was one day not a lifetime. And tomorrow Lord willing there will be another day. “The Lord’s love never ends; his mercies never stop. They are new every morning; Lord, your loyalty is great. I say to myself, “The Lord is mine, so I hope in him.”


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A few weeks ago one of the 12 year olds at church made a comment and I responded to his comment and he replied “touché”. Wow! I was impressed. As the evening progressed he said “touché” a few more times but it was totally out of context. The other children also started saying “touché” at random times which was mind blogging to me. Finally I explained to the originator of the expression of the evening (and the other children) that the first time the word was used it was appropriate and a great use of the word but since then I don’t understand why anyone is saying it. The number one touché user replied “It is a cool word”. I responded “Okay, I get that but you need to use it correctly. Do you know what it means?” His blank stare and the blank stare of all the children followed my response. So I pulled out the dictionary, read the definition and we discussed it. Feeling like I had made strides in this area I put the dictionary away, switched gears and was about to continue with the Bible Quizzing lesson (which was why we were together) when “Mr. Touché” said “Touché is the coolest English word.” To which I responded “it’s French!”

*not sure why accent mark was added to touché every time expect when it is the title. 🙂

Respect in the real world: this week’s big news stories

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I have shook my head in amazement more than once this week at the news stories I have heard. There was the continuing NSA stories. Then there was the story of retired fire fighters and police officers and their lawyers scamming Social Security and being caught because of social media. And then midweek there was the story of a top staffer of Governor Christie sending emails stating “that is time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” I am trying to wrap my head around if people are sure they won’t get caught or they don’t think things through before they embark on this kind of insanity or they lack any common sense at all.

Really, don’t people realize than between cell phones, emails and social media our lives are open books. I mean if you are getting disability you should probably be careful what you post on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram. I commented to a friend that the “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” comment would have been safer said in person or on a landline telephone. I wasn’t sure if I was correct about that assumption so I googled it. According to Surveillance Self-Defense website “Speaking generally, just as phone conversations are a safer bet than unencrypted Internet communications, telephone conversations between landline telephones are a safer bet than telephone conversations that involve a cellular telephone.”

I mean think about it Nixon was taken down by a reel to reel tape recorder. Oliver North’s problem was you can’t really delete something from a computer. And Anthony Weiner was taken down by texting photos.

I am not sure what disturbs me most about the current big news stories. The actions of the people who “partook” in the less than excellent ideas or the fact that it is so easy for the media and law enforcement to know what they know. I did have another thought about Governor Christie’s staffer’s “abject stupidity” to quote the Governor. It would have been even a bigger story if she had made those comments during a landline conversation and later it came out that she was being wiretapped by the NSA.

A disclaimer for lack of a better word about my comments: I believe in personal integrity. I grew up in a household where I was taught to respect but question what the government says and does. I was taught to question what I read and see in the media. I have worked with many children through the years and my first question when a child has made a less than stellar choice is “What were you thinking?”. I think a few adults need to answer that question. And lastly “Wag the Dog” is one of my favorite movies.