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.

The Sphere

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Underneath that white sheeting is the Sphere. The Sphere that was sculpted by Fritz Koenig and sat in Tobin Plaza at the World Trade Center from 1971 to 2001. The Sphere that is one of the few remaining pieces of the original World Trade Center that still exist. Personally I don’t have a connection to the Sphere. I didn’t see it everyday as I went to work but I have friends who did. Last week the Sphere was moved from Battery Park where it set since 2002 to its new home in Liberty Park. I have friends who are upset by the media saying it came home because to them it didn’t come home. It doesn’t sit on the National September 11 Memorial as many believe it should.

Last Wednesday as I supported a 9/11 Tribute Museum walking tour and saw the Sphere in its new spot for the first time, I was struck by a few thoughts I wanted to share. I was glad for my friends. Many fought long and hard to preserve it. Well done. I wondered if sitting where it does it isn’t a statement to the fact that we can’t really ever go home? And then again sitting as it does overlooking the Memorial is it watching over or guarding its original home?  Finally once it is uncovered the damage it displays will speak volumes to what happened on September 11, 2001 in a way that the beautiful plaza doesn’t.

So to the Sphere I say “Welcome home to the neighborhood! Glad you could join us.”

According to a fellow docent, it will be unveiled in the near future. I look forward to seeing it.



aha moment!!!

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I have to share this story. I know some people wouldn’t agree with me and that is fine. Some people may not even get it and that is fine, too. But this morning I just witnessed the most amazing example of God’s love for me. An example of his fingerprints all over everything.

As I checked my email, I had my daily 9/11 list server email. I subscribe to this post and most days I glance down the list is see if there is anything I should know. I may or may not click on an article or YouTube video. Some days I delete it without reading anything. It helps to keep me informed about all things September 11 including books, the National Museum, etc.. Today a YouTube video by New York City Ballet was included. I clicked on it, watched a beautiful piece that was performed on the roof of 4WTC at dawn. 1WTC is visible in the background. The music, the choreography, the dancers everything about it is fitting and appropriate as a September 11 tribute which it is. New York City Ballet presented this as a “gift of remembrance”. It is stunning.

I posted it on twitter because I felt it was worth sharing. My twitter account is connected to my Facebook page. So then on Facebook I tagged a few dancers who I wanted to make sure saw it because I knew they would enjoy seeing it. And then a comment of Facebook brought me to tears. Good tears. The kind of tears that remind me how much I am loved by God. I actually had an aha moment!! I suddenly realized what a gift this video was. Let me explain. As you probably know my husband was one of he 343 firefighters killed on September 11. Thus my interest in “all things September 11”. You may or may not know that as a little girl I wanted to be a ballerina. Starting in my teens and through most of my adult life I taught ballet. I taught ballet and other forms of dance for 40 years. For 35 of those years a friend and I owned a dancing school. We retired two years ago and were able to “gift” the studio to a wonderful, talented young woman. I have known that young woman since she was a little girl. Actually I have also known her husband since he was a little boy. Her husband worked on building the building the dancers in the video are dancing on. So here are all these parts that came together in this one video – September 11, ballet, the building. But it was so much more than that. It is hard to explain but I had a moment of clarity where I understood the Bible story of Joseph and I understood “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done…”

Social media connects us is marvelous ways. I believe God is constantly connecting us to each other and to Him. I am grateful and awed.

a few words

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033The question is usually posed in one of two ways. “Would you mind saying a few words?” or “Would you like to say a few words?” My answer is typically “No, I don’t mind” or “Yes, I would like to?” Breath! Think! Smile! Lucky for me the person who asked either question can’t read my thoughts. “Okay now what?!?” “How many words are a few words? ” “What do you want me to say Lord!” “Oh boy, that may have been the wrong answer?”

Yesterday, I had two amazing opportunities to say a “few words”. As I began my day, I knew I was the spokes person for the Tribute Center at the ringing of the bell at NASDAQ. That whole experience makes me smile because really, what the heck am I doing at the NASDAQ? A few weeks ago, Tribute Center had asked for volunteers to ring the opening bell on September 11. At that point in time, I was sorting through how I would spend the day. I was already planning on attending the dedication of a memorial in Bruce’s hometown of Rochelle Park, NJ but that was in the evening. At first I thought nah, I won’t say yes to the NASDAQ and then I thought why not? So I said “yes”. Then last Friday the volunteer coordinator from the Tribute Center called and asked if I would mind saying “a few words” as Tribute’s spokes person. I chuckled and said “this is so weird on so many levels but why not?”. Then they asked “would you like talking points?” “Yes, please.” Now this whole time I am assuming that ALL the people representing the Tribute Center, Tuesday’s Children, New York Fire & Police Widow and Children Fund, the NYPD and FDNY will be on stage. Not!! It is just me and 4 other people – one from each organization. “Oh, my! how did I get here?” . So much for safety in numbers. Eventually, all those other people join in. Thank you, Jesus!! But the piece de resistance was when we went outside for our tower photos. The photographer took a few photos of the five representatives standing in the middle of Time Square with the NASDAQ tower in the background. And then he took individual photos* and there was my name in huge letters on the tower. Unbelievable. And I had to laugh. I remembered my dancing teacher, Miss Betty, saying “Stick with me kid, you will have your name in lights and your ass in tights!!” But it was my hubby that got my name in lights. Thanks, Bruce. 🙂

Last evening I attended the dedication of the September 11 memorial in Rochelle Park, NJ. When I arrived, I was asked “would you like to say a few words?” The memorial in Rochelle Park has two names on it – Richard Bruce Van Hine and Father Mychal Judge. As I pondered what to say I thought about was there any connection between Bruce and Father Judge besides they were both FDNY deaths on September 11. And then it came to me or probably more accurately God whispered in my ear. They both loved God and they both fulfilled their callings. So my “few words” included that Bruce and Father Judge both loved God. I also stated “I never had the privilege of meeting Father Judge but from what I read about him I can think Bruce and Father Judge have something else in common. They fulfilled their callings. My prayer and hope is that each of us will fulfill the callings on our life.” 034

“Lord, Take me where you want me to go,Let me meet who you want me to meet,Tell me what you want me to say and keep me out of your way” Father Mychal Judge

*I don’t have the photo yet but when I do I will post it.

between Lincoln and Valentine’s Day

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My birthday is between Lincoln’s birthday and Valentine’s Day. It is February 13. To be honest, I don’t think my husband actually ever knew the date of my birthday. He did know it was the day before Valentine’s Day. And if he started hearing commercials for Valentine’s Day he knew my birthday was coming. He was very thoughtful about purchasing gifts and cards – a little last-minute but thoughtful none the less.  One year he had been paying bills before he signed my birthday card and  absentmindedly signed my card  “love your hubby, Bruce Van Hine” I laughed when I read it and asked him “do I have so many husbands that you have to clarify which one.” I still have that card.

A Lincoln story: When I was a kindergarten aide, the students had a coloring page of a young Abe Lincoln staying in front of a log cabin. One of the boys colored Lincoln’s clothes to resemble camouflage. It was difficult to keep a straight face when I collected his paper.

 A Valentine’s Day memory; On the first Valentine’s Day after September 11, Bruce’s firehouse, Squad 41, sent me one dozen red roses. They actually send them to all 6 widows from their firehouse. It was an amazing gesture. I cried and also chuckled. You see those are the only roses I ever received on a Valentine’s Day. I always told Bruce “don’t buy me roses on Valentine’s Day.They are too expensive and we can’t afford it. Buy me flowers any day but Valentine’s Day.” And he did buy me flowers on other days and I am grateful 🙂

a visit to the site


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.

rescue to recovery


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.