A peek into Chapter 2 – No Surprises

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Sharing portions of Chapter 2 (unedited) over the next few days –

September 12 & September 13, 2001

Chapter 2

Joy comes in the morning

This was role reversal. Christine, my baby sister, coming to help me. I was her big sister by almost 13 years. I had changed her diaper, taken her to Disney World, driven her to school, been her ballet teacher. When she was in high school, I was her employer. She graduated from high school just weeks after my first child was born. Through college she had continued to teach for me. Law school ended our employee/employer connection.

At times our relationship had been more mother/daughter than sisters but here she was standing in my kitchen early on Wednesday September 12 with her suitcase in hand stating,

“I have come to do all those things you can’t do and to stay for as long as you need me.”

I knew without a doubt there were things she could do that I couldn’t – navigate the legal system, ask the right questions, identify a body.

As I hoisted myself up to sit on the kitchen counter I asked “but how? Don’t you have any cases?”  After a brief stint as a corporate lawyer, Christine had become an assistant district attorney in Schenectady, New York.

She sat down at the table. “It’s weird. I don’t have any cases. Everyone pled guilty.” Confused and not sure if she was lying, I was grateful.

My daughters and Christine had a great relationship, so my sister’s presence was not only a blessing to me, but it gave me confidence that my girls were in good hands. To see Meghan and Christine greet each other with their elaborate combination dance/handshake created a sense of normal on a day very little was known. The telling of the very little we knew “he is unaccounted” was told and retold as family, friends and acquaintances called, showed up on my door step or emailed.

Throughout the day the television was turned on to glean information. Real information was a much-needed commodity. The television was not a reliable source as it seemed to me that stories were broadcast without verification. I don’t fault the media for that because the need for information was frantic. It was a rollercoaster that wasn’t beneficial, so the television was off more than it was on.  School was canceled for the day but reopened on Thursday. We hung close to home waiting for news, waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting to know what to do next. Every time the phone rang I held my breath as I lifted the receiver would it be Bruce’s voice on the other end?

By mid-morning I called Squad 41 to see if there was any news. A young firefighter answered the phone. I smiled as he commented that he was all alone and didn’t know anything. I could imagine his fellow firefighters telling him stay here (at firehouse) and answer the phone but offering no other guidance to a newbie who had no clue. I requested we set up a schedule that they (Squad 41) would call us (wives of the unaccounted) twice a day whether there was anything to report or not. He thought that was a good idea and promised to pass it along. Firefighters were showing up on my doorstep. The brotherhood whether FDNY or GWL or wherever were fulfilling their promise to care for the families. Many were covered in ash, looking exhausted, offering bagels, cold cuts, assistance in whatever form I requested and the assurance of “voids.”

From that first night when “joy comes in the morning” kept running in my head, I knew God was the only sure thing. I sought guidance from the Bible and each time God gave me what I needed and more than I expected. I wasn’t doing any intense Bible study. Since my ability to concentrate was gone, I was only looking up verses I knew. I didn’t trust myself to remember even the simplest verses correctly, so I read them slowly and deliberately.

A well-known verse in our home was “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable –  if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”Many times, Emily and Meghan had heard me quote Philippians 4:8 as a qualifier. Does the movie you want to see, the thing you want to do pass the test? Is it true, is it right, pure and admirable? On September 13 as I looked up that verse, my eyes drifted up the page to the verses above.As I read Philippians 4: 4 – 7, it was as if God had written those words for me for this moment.  “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again Rejoice”– there was no stipulation you don’t have to rejoice if your husband is laying at the bottom of the World Trade Center. There was just Rejoice! “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”The Lord is near. He is near to me and my girls and Bruce. “Do not be anxious for anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”Do not be anxious for anything – God has got this. He is in control. He promises His peace. My heart won’t be totally broken, and I won’t lose my mind because God will guard my heart and mind. Thank you. Thank you. As I reread the “whatever” verses I noticed another promise “And the God of peace will be with you” I marked the date in my Bible. The Bible Bruce had given me for Christmas in 1992.

 

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.

Finally Home

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generations

My mother-in-law is finally home. She passed from this life to eternity early this morning. For years she had been saying (my paraphrase) “Each night I ask the Lord to just take me home and then I wake up in the morning and have another day. I don’t know why God still has me here?” Before she moved to assisted living I would answer that question with “I don’t know Mom but I think it is so we can go to Friendly’s together”. After she moved to assisted living I would say “I don’t know Mom but I think it is because there may be someone here who doesn’t know Jesus loves them.” My mother-in-law was 97 years old last September. She served in her church until she was in her 90’s. She picked up friends and drove them to church until she was in her 90’s which to be honest was always a little scary to me but what an example of servant hood. My mother-in-law truly practiced the gift of hospitality. She was always inviting people over for Sunday dinner. She hosted more missionaries and random people overnight in her home than you could believe.

My mother-in-law lived alone since her husband had died over 20 years ago. She outlived just about every one of her contemporaries. All of her siblings and their spouses are deceased. Many of her friends are deceased.  The one death that she told me time and time again she couldn’t understand was her son, my husband, Bruce Van Hine. Through the 14 years since his death, I would remind her that Bruce was a firefighter and he died in the line of duty doing a job he loved. I would say “It is the wrong order of things for a parent to bury a child.”  I would change the subject to remind her about her daughter and her husband and her 5  grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. Naming each member of the family and mentioning where they lived and any stories I could think of. Showing her photos on FB.

My mother-in-law and I didn’t always see eye to eye. Surprisingly we actually became closer after Bruce’s death. We both lost someone we loved dearly. I realized that after a point you just need to cut people slack so a change in my attitude improved our relationship. Also I think if someone is in their 80’s or 90’s what the heck give them a break.

I had the privilege of being with my mother-in-law in her last days. I held the fort down until my sister-in-law could arrive from Kansas. I have to chuckle because last Thursday was the first day I ever wore knee high boots with jeans tucked in and because I didn’t have time to go home for a change of clothing I wore jeans with knee high boots for 4 days straight. I went to CVS and bought underwear, socks, toiletries and t-shirt. On Saturday my daughter drove in from PA and brought me some clothing but wow! my mother-in-law used to call me that dancer girl and here I am in an outfit she would never approve of or understand.  But on the bright side I played church hymns for her on my iPhone, held her cup so she could sip water, feed her one or two spoonfuls of yogurt and told her “if you see the hand of Jesus reaching out to you, grab it.” I prayed for her and read Bible passages and told stories. I left her on Sunday morning in the care of her daughter and I can honestly say “we” were good.

So today I am saddened but I am also rejoicing because my mother-in-law is home and she is reunited with her hubby and son. I am currently visiting my daughter who brought the clothing and her social work expertise on Saturday. And I had to smile because on her way home from work today she stopped at the grocery store and bought shrimp, cocktail sauce and blueberry muffins. All items in memory of her grandmother.

“Don’t worry Mom we are saving the muffins for breakfast. Mom, God answered your prayer. It took longer than you thought it would but He answered it. I love you. I will see you again. Give Bruce a hug from me.” Love Ann, that dancer girl and your daughter-in-law. 🙂

 

Wonderful story about this not being our home. http://www.ugandamission.net/ministry/teaching/homecoming.html

grateful, culture and Paris

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Gratitude-Henry Ward Beecher

I spoke at a women’s luncheon today about living a grateful life – my September 11 experiences and thoughts from the book of Philippians. I also shared a story I don’t usually share, a story about Paris. As the chairperson of the meeting read my bio, there was an audible gasp as she said “In 1990, Bruce achieved his lifetime dream of being a New York City Firefighter. Bruce was killed in the line of duty on September 11, 2001.” Even after 14 years that kind of reaction gives me pause, I feel bad because in some ways I feel like I have sucker punched everyone and in another way I feel like everyone looks at me differently. I have the sense that suddenly there is a giant flashing sign above my head “9/11 widow, 9/11 widow”. I also have the sense that people’s minds are spinning, the sense that people have lost their bearings so I try to say something to break the ice, something to kick-start their brains, something to interject air back into the room. Today I commented that I wish I could say that September 11, 2001 was the last terrorist attack that the world had experienced but unfortunately that is not the case.

I went onto say that I am saddened that there are more families who can say “I have had a personal loss in the midst of a national tragedy.” All loss is loss and all loss is sad but there is an extra layer of something when your personal loss is part of an event so much bigger than you.

I told my story  and mentioned how the book of Philippians is one of my favorite books in the Bible. I mentioned that Paul was in prison when he wrote it and how the word joy in some form appears 16 times. How Paul doesn’t mentioned changing his circumstances but talks about being contend. I think it all wove together.

In case you are interested, the story I added about Paris is:

In February 2002, Squad 41  called and said “there is an opportunity that made us think of you because you have culture*! The Paris Fire Department has invited FDNY widows and their children to France for one week. You will stay in the home of a firefighter and his family. They assure us that at least one person in the family will speak English.  Do you want to go?”  Yes, please.

The night before we were scheduled to leave for Paris my telephone rang, it was Charlie, Bruce’s lieutenant. “Ann, I want you to promise me you will still go to Paris. I already know your answer to what I am going to tell you next but they made me call you. (pause) We found Bruce’s body. We will come and pick you up if your want to be here when he is carried out.”  “Charlie, I can’t do that.” “I knew that.” “Listen it could take up to 6 weeks for him to be identified so please go to France.”

I didn’t say anything to my daughters because I didn’t want to ruin their trip and the FDNY said it would take 6 weeks for identification. We were treated like royalty – taken up the back entrance into Versailles so we didn’t have to wait in line, a police escort and private tour guide at Disneyland, Paris, a state dinner on a boat up the Seine River, gifts to take home including a bottle of champagne** that had been specially labeled with FDNY and Paris FD. The kindness and generosity of the French people was amazing.

An inside joke on the trip became when asked if I spoke French, I replied “all I remember from 4 years of High School French is “Ou est une bibliotheque?”  Not a very useful phrase. On our last night as we floated up the Seine River, one of the firefighters  pointed and said “Ann, une bibliotheque” – the library.

We returned home on the day before Easter. On Easter Sunday, the day when there is no body I was notified that yes, that was Bruce’s body. For years I didn’t understand the significance of there being a body on the day when it is all about there is no body. I came to realize that my hope is based in the fact there was no body on Easter so whether Bruce’s body was*** found or not on September 11,2001 Bruce was doing his job, whispered he loved his girls and was face to face with God.

When I heard of the attacks in Paris, I thought of those firefighters I had met, I thought of their families and I prayed for them.

 

 

*still not sure what “I have culture” means

** In 2011 the day after my second daughter got married my two daughters and their husbands opened that bottle of champagne and had a special toast to their dad. 🙂

*** I did mention that I am grateful Bruce’s body was found that 40% of families have had no human remains.

April 19 – then and now

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Today marks the 20th anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing. My prayers and thoughts are with the family members, victims, fire responders, all who have always known whether it is the first, seventh, thirteenth or twentieth time April 19 has been the date on the calendar since that terrible day in 1995. My prayers are also with those who served on the jury for the trial of the accused bomber. This has to be difficult day for so many.

Twenty years ago I was in England with my two daughters and my British born mum for a two-week vacation to introduce my girls to the “mother country” of their Nanny. We were fortunate to have family to stay with and who were also willingly to drive us hither and fro through the British Countryside. We had already visited the sights of London – toured  the Tower, heard Big Ben chime twelve as we came out of the underground, visited the stables to see the Queens horses, shopped for English sweets and souvenirs. We had taken the train to Oxford to see the universities and where I was born. On Easter Sunday we had gone to Windsor Castle and had a glimpse of the Queen Mother leaving church.

On Wednesday April 19 we had visited Hampton Court and my daughters had participated in the “Jeweled Egg Hunt”, a scavenger hunt designed to make historical places a little more interesting to a 7 and 10-year-old. Upon returning to Auntie Mirrey’s house while enjoying a cup of tea there was breaking news report on the television of a bombing in Oklahoma City. My dad is from Oklahoma. Oklahoma was far away but not foreign to us. I had lived on the campus of the University of Oklahoma as a little girl. I remember trying to listen to the information and at the same time shielding my daughters from the news. A telephone call “home” would give more information but the sense of disbelief would remain. Sadness for those who were lost, sadness for innocence lost, sadness for lives changed, sadness for my country being bombed.

On that day twenty years ago I didn’t know that 6.5 years later I would become a member of a select group of people those who have experienced a personal loss  in the midst of a national tragedy. I didn’t realize that I would be able to understand in ways I wish I didn’t know what it is like to have a nation remember the anniversary of your loved ones death.  I pray that no one else ever has that distinction.

How was your weekend?

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My intention on Saturday morning was to leave the house a little earlier than I needed so I could get cash at the bank and then get gas. My car usually has at least a half a tank of gasoline in it. Mostly because whenever I drive to or through NJ I fill up the tank. Fuel in NJ is cheaper than NY and “they” pump it which is a major selling point for me. I hadn’t driven to or through NJ in the last few days so my gas gauge was registering at less than a quarter tank. I definitely didn’t want to purchase gas in my little hometown. It is too expensive typically gas is at least 50 cents a gallon more than anywhere else. Anyway I left the house a little later than planned and my gas tank was a little emptier than original thought but I realized I had $40 in cash so I could get “some” gas. The part you need to know is unless I get gas in town there won’t be another gas station for at least 10 miles in any direction. Nervously watching the gas gauge and hoping the “you need fuel” idiot light won’t blink on I headed out. No worries, it will be fine! Please, please may that be true. I pulled into the first station in NJ I came upon on my journey. I said “$40 cash, fill it regular.” I hadn’t looked how much it was a gallon so I glanced at the sign and was pleasantly surprised to see it was $2.95/gallon. Wow, I hadn’t seen that price in a long time. Guess what? at that price my tank was filled. The funny thing as I drove rest of the way to my destination and then home every other station’s prices were over $3.03. It was like a secret little Saturday morning surprise for me. 🙂

On Sunday I posted it on Facebook ”

“Apple picking, pumpkin picking and fall foliage bring many people to my area this time of year. Plus the first Sunday in October in Warwick, NY is Applefest. If you don’t know what Applefest is, think Time Square meets lovely quaint village for just one day as the Thanksgiving Day Parade is also happening. I am at the iPray/iThrist booth this morning.”

Applefest is a craft fair, farmer’s market, art show, music event that brings lots and lots of people to Warwick, NY. It is a little difficult to be excited about Applefest due to traffic being horrific mostly because the roads are not equipped to handle the volume of traffic that descent on the area. Actually the streets are wide enough for the number of people walking around. My local church sponsors a booth that has a two-fold purpose. It is called iPray where we take prayer requests and/or prayer with you and we also have iThrist where we sell bottled water for $1 to raise money for building clean water wells around the world. I volunteered to help set up and “man” the booth for a few hours. My goal was get in and out before it got too crazy in Warwick but really two people I met were worth all the traffic and all the crazy.

As a woman was writing her prayer request I asked “is there something I could pray for right now?” She responded “yes” and proceeded to tell me her request and then she said “the only reason I come to Applefest is you are here to take my prayer requests and pray with me.” Wow!! A little later another woman came over and wrote her request and I asked if I could pray with her. She has recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. I briefly shared with her my breast cancer story and in further conversation realized we have the same doctor. We hugged as she left and I will be praying for her. All that said to say I helped at Applefest yesterday and missed church or did I?

How was your weekend? Mine was good! 🙂

doesn’t it make you sad?

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001 The other day a friend asked me a question that I have been asked before, “doesn’t doing tours and speaking to school groups make you relive September 11? Doesn’t being at the WTC make you sad?” I responded “No, it makes me feel blessed. I don’t associate the WTC site with Bruce. It is harder to be at his firehouse because that is where I think of him as being. I am tired after a tour but feel that I have accomplished something but mostly I am hungry.” 🙂 It is strange but I don’t picture Bruce being at the WTC site. I know he was there but I don’t try to imagine him there on the fateful day. I do sometimes think that he may have walked down Liberty Street on his way into the South Tower that thought gives me comfort as I walk that same street telling his story.

In further conversation with my friend I shared what does make me sad or allows memories to seep or rush in is the things I hear on the radio or news. The crash of the Malaysian airliner, the anniversary of the Boston Marathon Bombing, a mudslide in Washington, the death of 2 firefighters in Boston or a police officer in New York give me pause and cause me to pray for the families because on some level the events are a “repeat” of what I have experienced. An event that captures the attention of the nation or even world, a loved one lost but no body, an act of terrorism, a line of duty death, I can identify and so I pray. I pray that their families will have peace and know that there is hope. I pray that people will gather around them as people gathered around me and my girls. I pray that in the not so distant future they will have strength to put one foot in front of other and smile. My heart is sad that another family will know the saddest that I know, that they will have to navigate a journey they never expected to be on. 😦

On another note: when I was in the stall in Ladies Room at the Tribute Center on Monday, the lights suddenly went out and I thought this is not happening, give me a break. Then a voice said “sorry” and lights went back on. Someone had leaned against the light switch. I laughed because I was in fight or flight mode within a split second. No PTSD here. 🙂