It’s coming…

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It seems to lurk in the shadows but I always know when it is coming. I bet you didn’t know that it  falls on the same day of the week as Christmas. So in January when I look at the calendar to confirm what day of the week Christmas is, I know what day of the week September 11 is. This year it is a Monday. Next year it is a Tuesday. Those years are practically hard because September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday and it is too easy to relive the moments as they fall on the same day of the week as they fell in 2001.

As the first anniversary approached there was a sense of what was the right thing to do, what were the expectations, my dear friend Carol said “do what you want to do?” That was the best advice anyone could have given me. In the first years that meant Emily, Meghan and I were together just the three of us. In the years since “do what you want to do?” is still my standard. I don’t go to the National Memorial on that day because personally I don’t think I can take on the grief of all those people. This year first thing in the morning, I am speaking at a Jewish school in Manhattan, then venturing up to the Bronx to Squad 41 for the memorial mass and then home for Greenwood Lake Fire Department’s yearly ceremony. All of those are things I want to do, all of those things seem like the right thing to do.

There was a time when the anniversary felt like a large dark being waiting to pounce on me. I came to realize what I was fearing was a shadow. Bruce dying in the line of duty couldn’t happen again because it already happened on September 11, 2001. I also came to understand that if I was looking at September 11 the sun/Son were behind me so the shadow was in front of me but if I looked at the sun/Son the shadow was behind me. Walt Whitman expresses it this way:

“Keep your face always toward the sunshine – and shadows will fall behind you.”

Since I have been volunteering with the 9/11 Tribute Museum, the weeks and days leading up to the anniversary are a time I worry for lack of a better word about my fellow docents. Those that had experiences that I can’t imagine. Those that saw things no one was ever supposed see. I hold them and their stories close. I pray for peace, rest and healing for friends whom I never would have known if it hadn’t been for September 11, 2001 and our determining to tell our stories. In the Broadway show, Come From Away, there is a line towards the end that states how I now view September 11, 2001:

“We honor what we loss, but we commemorate what we found.”

On September 11, 2001 “we” lost many people and many dreams but “we” found that together “we” could go on. In the past week or so the people of Houston have lost much but they have found each other. At this time in our nation we need to find our way back to being “we” instead of us and them. So as September 11, 2017 approaches, could we honor what has been lost (opportunities, lives, dreams) in our country and strive to find a way to move forward together not as clones or mindless beings but as human beings who disagree on issues, who look different, who believe different things but stand together to educate our children, feed the hungry, aid the sick, shelter the homeless and at least offer a cup of water or a listening ear as needed.

I ask you to never forget and always remember the way we treated each other after September 11, 2001. My apologies to those who were not treated well even then but I believe we can do better.

coincidence??

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At the beginning of last week a couple of cancellation notices for Tribute Center tours appeared in my inbox. I decided to take those two tours as I wasn’t scheduled to give any walking tours this week or next. But let me give you a little back story that plays into this story. A friend who is now a Pastor in Irwin had invited me to speak to his congregation. So on September 12 I drove from my daughter’s home to the Irwin, PA which is just outside of Pittsburgh. My friend had mentioned that maybe on Saturday afternoon, we along with his wife and three young children could drive to Shanksville, PA to the United 93 Memorial. I agreed that I would like to visit the Memorial again as I had been there in August of 2011. I had seen the Memorial Plaza but the rest of the Memorial and the visitor center were not completed until this September.

I arrived in Irwin a little later than originally expected but after a lovely late lunch we drove the hour to Shanksville. My friend and his wife asked if I could explain a little bit about United 93 so their children would understand where we were going. Their adorable children are very young – 2 1/2, 6 and 7 years-old. In the simplest of terms I spoke of bad men taking over a plane and how the people on the plane knew the bad men were going to do something really bad and hurt many people so they tried to stop them. I said the plane crashed and that was very sad. We talked about what a Memorial is.  I mentioned also that it is safe and fun to go on airplanes.

When we arrived we walked through the new area. A National Park Ranger informed us we had arrived too late to go in the visitor center. Since I am not one to “play the 9/11 card” it was sometime later when I realized this may have been the occasion to say “I am a 9/11 family member.”  The weather was not the best and we were getting cold. Anyway we drove down to the Memorial Plaza area. My friend again asked if I could explain so his children understood. In the Memorial Plaza area there are posters that show photos of the 40 people killed on United 93 as well as other information. I called the children over to show them the photos of the passengers. I pointed to Todd Beamer and Jeremy Glick and commented that these were two of the men that helped to take the plane back. I comment that all the people were brave. I mentioned that these two people went to my cousin’s church (actually my husband’s cousin’s church).Look! All the people in the photos are smiling that is how their families want to remember them. My friend’s 7-year-old  daughter, Sarah * said “this lady is wearing flowers.” I looked and realized the woman was from Hawaii. And upon further investigation we realized there were two ladies wearing flowers, two ladies from Hawaii. I talked about leis and how beautiful the ladies looked. How far away Hawaii is. I mentioned let’s look for this lady’s name when we go up to the wall. Sarah read the name “Christine”. As we walked towards the wall we stopped and looked on the shelves where people left remembrances. “How many flags?” “How many bracelets?” At one point the children were running ahead. My friend was concerned that they weren’t showing respect or were disturbing other people. I said “They are being children. Children are our hope. As a 9/11 family member I am fine with the way they are acting. Now if they were 10 or 12 years old that would be a different story.” When we arrived at the wall we found Christine’s name there were flowers in front of her name.

Fast forward to Thursday as I finish my tour a woman comes up to thank me. She is obviously upset and I ask if she is okay and she mentions she lost a good friend on flight 93. In conversation I realize her friend is Christine. I tell her of a little girl named Sarah who paid respect to her friend Christine. We hugged. And not for the first time and I pray not for the last time I was blessed by the amazing “coincidences” God allows me to experience.

*Sarah is not her real name. FYI: I was able to share this story with my friend and we are all amazed and will never forget Christine.

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The Star Spangled Banner

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Today is the 200th birthday of the Star Spangled Banner. There is very interesting information to be found at http://amhistory.si.edu/starspangledbanner/. Whether I hear the Star Spangled Banner sung live at an event or on television, I always cry. It doesn’t have to be sung well. From the first notes my eyes are welling up then the goose bumps start and by the time the words “the land of the free and home of the brave” are sung I am “done.” I have the privilege of living in the “land of the free” but that freedom cost many men and women their lives. “Home of the brave” carries a new meaning for me because my hubby was one of New York “bravest”. Well done, Francis Scott Key!

 

 

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The class of 1964

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Last fall I received an email from a Facebook friend of my sister-in-law’s. After a brief introduction of who was emailing me, the sender explained that her husband is a 1964 graduate of West Point and she would like to schedule a tour of the Memorial during their 50th reunion weekend. She also mentioned it would be 100 people. I quickly suggested she contact the Tribute Center and forwarded her the information. I did say that I was more than willing to be one of walking tour docents but 100 people will require more than one guide. Through the months arrangements were made for the group to visit Tribute but because of the opening of the Museum the group was told that the Memorial may not be open on May 17 but they were welcome to meet with a docent in gallery 5 instead of a walking tour.

So this morning I traveled into the Tribute Center to speak to 100 people in 2 groups of 50. As I thought about who this group was, I realized as 1964 graduates of USMA at West Point these men most likely went to Vietnam. As graduates of the USMA, they had served their nation, my nation. I realized as I was growing up they were servicing our country.

Well, due to traffic and more traffic I arrived at the Tribute Center at 10:28 for a 10:30 group.Just in time for the group but these folks had arrived early so they were waiting for me. I quickly put my jacket and purse in a locker, grabbed some photos and walked into gallery 5. The gentleman in charge of the group pulled me aside and said “before you start speaking I would like to introduce you to the group.” Okay, I had never met this man but his wife was the one who had emailed me and set everything up. He got everyone’s attention using some military jargon and proceeded to introduce me. He mentioned I was an email friend of his wife, that Richard* had been a firefighter and had been killed on September 11. He commented that he had found a YouTube video of me speaking at a Christian college and suggested everyone watch it. 🙂 One of the things I had said in that video had really stuck with him. He stated that I had said “Bruce’s decision to enter the building on September 11 had been made long before September 11. Just as Christ’s decision to go to cross was made long before the Garden.” He went onto say that “23 members of the class of 1964 had died in Vietnam and 1 had died in the Dominican Republic.” He also said “that their decision to serve their country had been made on the parade ground on July 5, 1964 as they (we) raised our right hand and took the oath. Actually it had been made before that.” He also commented that duty is a form of love. He then introduced another man who handed me their class coin and announced I was an honorary member of the class of 1964. I was overwhelmed and humbled. I thanked them for their service, made reference to the fact that Bruce had been a firefighter at West Point before being FDNY and then told my September 11 story.

When I finished, I did it one more time. The man who introduced me the first time, introduced me a second time and joked there wasn’t another coin. Wow!! I can’t believe I got one coin. I am ever amazed at the opportunities I am given. I am ever humbled by meeting the class of 1964. I am also very glad that the class of 1964 did actually get to go onto the Memorial after they finished at Tribute and they had a beautiful weather to boot.

*Richard Bruce Van Hine was my husband’s full name. People who knew him referred to him as Bruce. The gentleman today referred to him as Richard and even mentioned to the second group that I called my husband Bruce but he would refer to him as Richard. I thought that showed respect.

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.

Travel Tuesdays S1E21 – National September 11 Memorial and Museum

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052It seemed appropriate to write about the National September 11 Memorial and Museum today. I do want to clarify a couple of things. First the National September 11 Memorial and Museum is currently just a Memorial. The projected date for the Museum to open is Spring 2014. Secondly even though it is called the National September 11 Memorial and Museum it is not funded by or overseen by the government. It is a private entity and funded by donations. The Memorial recognizes all who were killed at the three attack locations on September 11, 2001 – World Trade Center, Shanksville, PA and the Pentagon. It also recognizes the 6 people including the pregnant woman and her unborn child who were killed in the Feb 26, 1993 terrorist bombing at the World Trade Center.

I would suggest you start your visit to the Memorial and the Tribute Center, 120 Liberty St where you can view 5 small galleries that tell the timeline of September 11 from the attacks to the rebuilding and sign up for a walking tour. http://www.tributewtc.org/walktours. The Tribute Center is a project of the September 11 Families Association and opened in September of 2006. Walking tours led by volunteers who have a personal connection to September 11 started in the fall of 2005. Each walking tour is led by either a family member, first responder, downtown resident, survivor or someone who volunteered at the site. The basic concept behind Tribute is person to person history. You will hear the facts of September 11, the development of the original WTC will be discussed, the rescue, the recovery and the rebuilding will be explained. But by far the most amazing part will be hearing the stories of the two docents leading your tour. I have personally been volunteering since February 2006.

The tour starts at the Tribute Center, proceeds to Greenwich Street where you see and learn about the FDNY Memorial. This is also the “Photo Op Spot” to get the great photo of 1 WTC and 7 WTC. Once you are on the Memorial you are too close to 1 WTC to get a photo of the whole building. The tour then continues through security, under the south bridge which is the last remaining above ground piece of the original WTC. One more security checkpoint and you are standing on the Memorial Plaza. If the buildings were still standing, you would be in the lobby of the Marriott (formerly the Vista) Hotel. The Memorial Plaza is and should be considered hallowed ground. Of the 2,749 people who were killed here on September 11, 2001, 40% of their families have never had any human remains. One of the first things you will notice is the trees. When the Memorial Plaza is completed there will be 400 trees. If you look north to south, the trees appear to be random. In a few years the trees will have grown to their full height, as you look east to west the tress will be arched to form the look of an arbor or the entrance to a cathedral. As you approach the South Memorial pool, you will hear the sounds of the waterfall and the sounds of the city will drift away. Once you walk past the last row of trees, you are standing in what would have been 2 WTC or the South Tower. The last row of trees before the pool is where the outside walls of the South Tower used to stand. The trees mark the acre in size. The black granite in front of you contains the names of the 595 people killed in the South Tower, the passengers and crew of the flight that crashed into the south tower, the passengers and crew killed on the plane and in the Pentagon, the passengers and crew of United 93 and all first responders – 343 FDNY, 23 NYPD, 37 PAPD as well as a court officer, FBI agent and WTC security people. There names are etched out because they are gone. Below the granite panel there is a shelf of water that will become the waterfall then pond and then become a waterfall again disappearing into a void that you taken see the bottom of. You can touch the water. You can rub water over a name. And whether it is very hot out or very cold out you can always touch the names because the panel is cooled in the summer and heated in the winter. The north pool is similar in design but has different names etched into it. The names of 1360 people who were killed in the 1 WTC or the North Tower, the passengers and crew of the plane that crashed into the North Tower and the people who were killed in the Feb 1993 bombing.

There is all kinds of interesting facts and stories I could tell you about “meaningful adjacencies”, the rebuilding, the survivor tree, the surrounding neighborhood, the new Museum and St Paul’s Chapel and an urban legion but then you won’t need to take a tour. 🙂 You can go to the Memorial by yourself but trust me you will get so much more out of the experience if you do a Tribute Center walking tour.

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http://www.911memorial.org

Travel Tuesday – S1E19 – Japan PhDs & MDs

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282During my recent trip to Japan, I participated in and attended three different university conferences on mental health and disasters. It was slightly intimidating. I had joked with a fellow Tribute Center docent that I would be lucky if I made it out of the conference without being “locked up”. Seriously when we walked into the first conference at Fukushima Medical University The Center for Medical Sciences I thought wow, what am I doing here? The table was very formally set with the 12 members of “our” team on one side and the 12 members of the university staff on the other. It was what I imagine the Paris peace talks must have looked like. There was a presentation that explained the extent of the March 11, 2011 disaster and the immediate after effects. Then the two doctors traveling with us from Mount Sinai Hospital offered a presentation about September 11 medical health programs and findings. Both presentations were very informative.

The next day we attended a conference at the International Research Institute of Disaster Sciences at Tohuku University. Due to space and time limitations just two of us would speak at this conference. One of the doctors from Mount Sinai would explain the work the Japan Society has done and then the concept of “9/11 meets 3/11”. My fellow docent and I would briefly tell our personal September 11 stories.

One of the doctors asked me “what did I think the two disasters had in common and how were they different.” I responded “They were different because 9/11 was an act of terrorism and 3/11 was an act of nature. And I feel they are similar because people died. And loss is loss whether it is your family member or your home. Loss is universal just has hope is universal. I have often said “I have had a personal loss in the midst of a national tragedy.” I loss my husband but America as a nation was changed. In Japan there are people who have lost their family members so their loss in personal, but as a nation you have loss something as well. My heart is sad for Japan.” There was one more conference to attend at the same university and all of us were able to share at that venue. We would also visit mental health clinics and two relocation centers.

Often on my tours I mention “I have had a personal loss in the midst of a national tragedy and there is no handbook to tell you how to do that”. Well, it seems there are MD’s and PhD’s in Japan and the USA who are trying to write that handbook. I am glad for that but I also hope it is a handbook no one will ever need.