We never called it Ground Zero

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

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

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

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

*name has been changed

 

Familiar but foreign

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

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

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

3/11 Great East Japan Disasters

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

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

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

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

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

Japan 2016

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

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

https://missannsays.com/2013/08/06/travel-tuesdays-s1e16-japan/

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

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

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

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

 

little stones

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Many times as I share my personal story while leading walking tours of the National September 11 Memorial, I make the following statement:

“Before I started volunteering with the Tribute Center, I only had my story and that was quite enough. But now I know the stories of downtown residents, survivors, other family members, volunteers and first responders. To me the story of September 11 is like a mosaic, it is hundreds if not thousands of stories that lay next to each other they don’t necessarily interlock like a puzzle to tell the story of that day and years since. We need all of those stories to understand what happened. We need your stories as well.”

Yesterday I read the May 3 entry in Henri Nouwen’s Bread for the Journey. It really spoke to me and I wanted to share it with you.

“A mosaic consists of thousands of little stones. Some are blue, some are green, some are yellow, some are gold. When we bring our faces close to the mosaic, we can admire the beauty of each stone. But as we step back from it, we can see that all these stones reveal to us a beautiful picture, telling a story none of these stones can tell by itself. That is what our life in community is about. Each of us is a little stone, but together we reveal the face of God to the world. Nobody can say, “I make God visible.” But others who see us together can say, “They make God visible.” Community is where humility and glory touch.”

The italics are mine. I want to admire the beauty of each stone but I also want to step back and see the whole beautiful picture. How about you?

mosaic

March Moments

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When I owned my studio March was a slow month. The majority of the prep work for the recital was done before March – music chosen, students measured, costumes ordered, monies collected and choreography started. March was the month I got to concentrate on just one thing, teaching dance. I have been retired almost five years now and you would think my “March” would be even slower than it had been when I worked but alas this March has been a whirlwind.

March 1- 5 – I was in Brussels where I spoke at the EPP hearing at the European Parliament on victims of terrorism. https://missannsays.com/2016/02/12/remedial-class/   I also ventured out to explore with a bus trip to Ghent and Bruges. Speaking at the EP was a first and this was also the first time I traveled alone in a country other than England. I did enroll in the US State Department STEP program https://step.state.gov/step/ which means the American Embassy in Belgium knew I was “in country” and where to find me. In today’s world I would suggest enrolling. I also dressed as a professional woman not a person on vacation. Even though I was in Brussels I used my New York City walk – woman on a mission not wandering. Don’t mess with me.

March 7 – I lead two tours at the 9/11 Tribute Center.

March 8 – I was a panel member at Asia Society 3-11 and 9-11 survivor stories. It was a wonderful reunion with those I had traveled to Japan with in 2013 and 2014. The panel discussion was followed by a delicious dinner attended not only by myself and my Tribute Center family but by Japan’s ambassador to the United Nations. http://asiasociety.org/new-york/events/3-11-and-9-11-survivor-stories.

March 9 – taught two classes, had my taxes done and led Children’s Bible quizzing at church.

March 10 – 14 – flew to FL to visit good friends. I enjoyed relaxing days, yummy food, great conversation and many laughs. We realized in our time together we have known each other over 40 years which makes me feel old and extremely blessed.

March 16 – taught one class, had my hair done and led Children’s Bible quizzing at church.

March 17 – 22 – Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference in CA. I met some talented writers, gracious agents and encouraging editors. The key-note speaker was Carol Kent. If you ever have the opportunity to hear her speak you will be challenged and encouraged by her words. Once I am home I have much writing to accomplish. Exciting. Scary. Taunting. Good stuff.

Terrorist attacks in Brussels bring tears to my eyes, sorrow to my heart and prayers to my lips.

March 22 – 27 – visiting with my daughter and son-in-law in Seattle. Emily and I have done some touristy things. I would highly recommend the Boeing factory tour and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation visitor center. The cherry blossoms at University of Washington were in bloom and we had a delightful walk around Emily’s alma mater.  Also saw My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 which was a fun movie. As we walked to the car after the movie, Emily said she really wanted baklava so a trip to the grocery store was in order. 🙂

The old adage is “March comes in like a lamb and goes out like a lion.” March 2016 for me has been an adventure that will take some time to process. I am truly a blessed.

Twenty one days ago

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Today as I checked in at San Jose airport for my flight to Seattle the Alaska Airline employee commented that the computers were slow. “I haven’t heard any details about the attacks in Brussels. They told us there were attacks so the computers are slow  but what do you know?” I shared the information I knew – one bomber at the airport and one bomb at the subway station in the EU section of the city, 31 dead and many injured. I also mentioned that exactly twenty-one days ago I was in Brussels. I walked through that airport and walked those streets by that subway station.

Twenty-one days ago tomorrow at a hearing on terrorism sponsored  by the EPP and held at the European Parliament in Brussels, I shared my 9/11 story. I explained how the support of my faith community, my daughters’ school community, my little hometown as well as the FDNY, New York, American federal government and intentional acts of kindness from strangers worldwide made a difference in my life.  I mentioned that the FDNY has protocols and procedures in place to deal with line of duty deaths. And that even with “a plan” there were hiccups due 343 line of duty deaths in one day.  I ended by saying “The best thing that could happen is you (EP) develop a plan that is never used because there isn’t another terrorist attack in Europe. Unfortunately that probably won’t be the case. My prayer is you develop a plan that is never used.”

😥

  

My ABC’s from 2015.

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Golden glitter

 

A is for adventures. A week in Florida Keys, a weekend in Chicago and being a tourist in my own city all qualify.

B is for ballet. I taught one class a week at a Modern Dance studio.

C is for Colton James. He was born on April 29, 2015.

D is for Dunkin Donuts. I drank quite a few cups of coffee.

E is for Eagle Rock Resort. Enjoyed my cabin and the amenities.

F is for faith, family and friends. I can’t do life without them.

G is for Grammy. My new title thanks to Colton James. 🙂

H is for hope. My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

I is for interview. I did a couple of those.

J is for Joy.

K is for kindness.

L is for Library Book Club. Still going strong on the first Tuesday of each month.

M is for my Mum. She is doing well even though she is confined to a wheelchair.

N is for nieces and nephews. 7 plus 12 “grand” nieces and nephews. 🙂

O is for opportunities. I am blessed with many.

P is for published. “Unexpected Blessings” in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Volunteer and Giving Back edition and a devotional in The Upper Room.

Q is for quizzing. After 19 years, Eastern Regional Quiz at ENC was my last hurrah as Metro New York Children’s Ministries director for the Church of the Nazarene.

S is for shore. Spent a few days at the Jersey Shore with the Bowers.

T is for tea with Miss Carol. Always a treat.

U is for university. I spoke on two campuses.

V is for volunteering at the 9/11 Tribute Center.

W is for writing.

X is for eXercise.

Y is for year. Hard to believe another has come and gone.

Z is for zero. The number of regrets I have.

In 2016, I want to read and write more. I want to be present and not distracted. I want to be who God intended me to be.