a bit of Chapter 3 – No Surprises: navigating tragedy with faith, family and the FDNY.

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Chapter 3

Manhattan, Meetings and Memorials –  first draft (unedited)

Tuesday September 18 was the first time I ventured into the city since the attacks.  Squad 41 notified me of a FDNY meeting and their offer to pick me up and take me to one of the various gathering spots from where I would be moved to the actual meeting. It was all quite mysterious. I supposed the intention was two-fold – one keep the media away and to protect the identity and privacy of the family members. I decided that we would get ourselves into the city. Manhattan had been my stomping grounds during my teens and twenties. In recent years trips into the city were for Christmas decoration viewing or museum trips with my girls. I didn’t see the need for a FDNY escort so Tony, Carol’s husband, drove me, Christine and Emily in. Meghan stayed at “Auntie” Carol’s house.

As much as I didn’t feel I needed a FDNY escort, I felt the need to represent my firefighter husband in an honoring way. I carefully choose my attire to show respect for the importance of a meeting that would be attended by the governor, mayor and other city officials. I was shocked when we arrived and there were people wearing t-shirts, shorts and flip-flops.

The drive into the city was surreal. Men in full military garb with the biggest guns I had ever seen were guarding the George Washington Bridge. I felt like I had been transported to another country.  We don’t have military on our bridges. This is the United States of America.  Looking at the skyline, I had no idea where the towers had stood. They were south of the Empire State Building but where?

Christine commented “I thought I would know where they had been. Like there would be a cardboard cut-out or something?”

We chose the Fire Zone at Rockefeller Center as our meeting spot. We were met by concerned faces, offered cups of water, cookies, restrooms and assurances the buses would be arrive shortly. Plain clothes police or security or whomever directed us to the buses as they received instructions in their earpieces and spoke into their sleeves.

As we crossed the closed off street, Emily said “Mom, I think we are in a bad movie.”

“Me, too.”

Boarding the bus, I saw faces with the same dazed look I am sure my face had. Most people had family or friends with them, my heart was deeply saddened at the sight of a young man who was all alone. Is he representing his dad? He is too young to have to be the man of the family.

The bus drove a few blocks to a large hotel where we were directed to a ballroom. We found four seats at a table and introduced ourselves. The one young woman was the fiancé of a firefighter. The other three people were the wife and grown children of an FDNY officer.

I glanced around the room to see if I knew anyone. Since my interactions with the other wives from Squad 41 was only at the yearly Christmas party and annual dinner dance, I didn’t think I would recognize anyone. Over the past few days, I had spoken to one of the other Squad 41 wives whose husband was also listed as missing.  I had promised her if/when the time came to declare them dead I would take that first step. I would take the lead.

Mayor Giuliana, Governor Pataki, Chief Thomas Von Essen from the FDNY and the Medical Examiner spoke. The purpose of the meeting was to inform us that the mission was going from rescue to recovery. They had found no one alive in days so it was time to change the focus. The heavy equipment was going to be brought in to move the debris. There was discussion about DNA samples and opportunity to give 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.” The formal meeting part was followed by a question and answer time during which time many people myself included wandered around looking for familiar faces.

I eventually saw the other wives from Squad 41. I didn’t really know these women as personal friends. Our husbands worked together but I didn’t know them. So here we were navigating this terrible event together but not together. I remember hugs, brief conversations and the promise to pray for each other. At one point, I said “why don’t we pray right now.” Did I just say that out loud?

I found Tony while the other wives gathered their families. The scene is so vivid in my mind. I’m standing in this large ballroom, the noise level was high, there were people all around, the commissioner of the FDNY was onstage answering someone’s question and we are holding hands in a circle. And for a moment the other voices in the room fade away and there was only this circle of people and Tony’s voice offering a prayer of hope. More hugs and promises to stay in touch.

The next morning, I informed Christine that it was time to have a memorial service. It was time to pronounce Bruce dead. I decided that there were three groups of people that I needed to know were okay with the idea before I made plans – my daughters, my mother-in-law and the Squad 41 firefighters. In a phone conversation with my sister-in-law, I realized my mother-in-law had scheduled a meeting with her lawyer to change her will. I took that as a sign that she assumed Bruce was dead. I mentioned to Charlie that I wanted to have a memorial service. He assured me that it is up to me when and where but that the fire department hadn’t given up hope of finding the guys.

That evening, Christine and I sat on the living room floor with Emily and Meghan.

“Where do you think Daddy is right now?”

“Heaven.”

“Then it is time we plan a memorial service.”

“But what if we are wrong? What if they find Daddy?”

“I would like nothing better than for Daddy to walk into his own service. I don’t          have to be right, but it is time.”

Symmetry

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Nature-Symmetry-4

Symmetry is the word that popped into my head as I drove home from Quincy, MA. In the truest sense it probably isn’t the right word but in my mind it fit the bill. Let me explain…

The voice on the other end of phone asked “I was wondering what your plans are for Kids’ Day?” ” Excuse me, Reverend Bergers I have no idea why you are asking me that question.” Reverend Jay Bergers was the director of our district church camp. At the time, I was the Sunday School Superintendent in my local church and had met him on several occasions during women’s retreat or family camp. My husband had worked alongside “Jay” clearing land at camp but why I was being asked about a district-wide event was a total mystery. At Reverend Bergers’ suggestion I called the district office.

“You made my day” responded Reverend Ken Blish as I explained the confusing telephone call from Reverend Bergers. Obviously a breakdown in communication had happened and no one had informed me that I had been appointed District Children’s Ministries Director. “So how do you feel about that”   “Like I should pray about it” Well, to be honest I was stunned, confused, overwhelmed and not sure if I should laugh or cry. My husband was thrilled, supportive and encouraging. Thus began my stint as Children’s Ministries Coordinator for the Metro New York District Church of the Nazarene.

And on Saturday as I checked name tags at the Eastern Field Children’s Bible Quiz at Eastern Nazarene College, a woman walked up to me, introduced herself and said “I think you know my father, Jay Bergers.” We had a lovely conversation. She explained to her spouse and teenage children how she knew me and how the 9/11 memorial at camp was for my husband. Later as I drove home the word symmetry popped into my head. Nineteen years ago a telephone call from Reverend Jay Bergers started it all and on Saturday at my last official act as Children’s Ministries Coordinator Reverend Bergers’ presence and influence was made known again.  A beginning and an end suddenly tied with a bow that only God could add.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” Hebrews 12: 1-2

time & treasures

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Due to recent weather events in my part of the world, my original plans for the past few days have been canceled – no district wide children’s Bible quiz on Saturday, no tours for the 9/11 Tribute Center or ladies small group on Monday and no teaching ballet this afternoon. I see that type of change in plans as having extra time. Laundry, cleaning, answering emails, finishing books for book club all fit into my regular schedule. So when extra time presents itself I try to think of something I don’t think I have time to do and get it done or I fall into the “binge watching” trap.

On Saturday I organized paperwork I will need for my 2014 taxes. I shredded stuff I don’t need and filed the rest. With a sense of accomplishment I then binge watched most of the first season of Parenthood. Sunday was a regular day. On Monday I organized my address book which consisted of very old addresses of family and friends and lots of little return address labels that I had stored in the book. I tossed out most of the written pages and simply taped the labels in the book. Yes, I do have contacts on my phone and computer but I don’t need to carry all of those people around with me. 🙂  Then I watched a couple more episodes of Parenthood finishing season one and starting season two.

On Monday evening I decided I should accomplish something else as I had extra time due to no ladies group. So I decided to clean out the small drawer in the cabinet that sits next to my favorite chair and has become the catch-all for this and that. Since it is a small drawer I always assume what I place in there well be safe because it won’t be swallowed up as it could be in a big drawer. I wasn’t surprised to see post-it notes, small pads of paper, rubber bands, paperclips, cleaning cloths for my computer, my amazon credit card and my checkbook. I was surprised by a few treasures:

  • a box of rose petals – a friend had collected the petals from the yellow rose that was placed in Bruce’s name  by the National September 11 Memorial on Veterans’ Day. Friendship is an amazing treasure.
  • a small metal kazoo – “a dad gift”. After September 11, my daughters and I purchased a gift for each other that would have been something Dad would have bought or something that reminded you of Dad. We continued that tradition for 10 Christmases and then decided to make it an optional Christmas tradition. Meghan had purchased the kazoos for Emily and I in 2013. Many years ago while on a long road trip from NY to KS a stop at Cracker Barrel had resulted in Bruce (Dad) buying kazoos for the girls. Thankfully it took a few miles for them to get the hang of it. Family and memories are treasures.
  • business card from Dith Pran – In 2005 (?) I had a telephone interview with a New York Times reporter and that reporter asked if a photographer could come to my home. A few days later a gentleman arrived at my home and began to take photos. In the course of the photo shoot, I realized that the photographer was Dith Pran, the man whose life the movie the Killing Fields is based on. We spoke of his passion to tell the next generation the story of the Killing Fields because one time was too many.  It was a totally surreal experience. There is a You tube video of his last words. Passion and purpose are another treasure.

Extra time and random treasures have been a blessing the last few days. Tomorrow is back to real life if Mother Nature allows. 🙂

I have to be honest I watched a few more episodes of Parenthood. Not sure why I never saw the show in real time. 🙂

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It’s not just about me

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Over the last week or so I have had a similar conversation with different friends. They stumble through saying something like : “so does September 11 get easier?” “well, I know it doesn’t get easier but …”

Personally I think  it has gotten harder because now September 11 isn’t just about “my personal loss in the midst of a national tragedy.” Last week I had a delightful lunch with 7 fellow docents and friends  – a mom who lost her son, a widow, three downtown residents, a firefighter and a Port Authority employee. I know their stories and struggles. I thought of them and others on September 11. They commented that this year was harder and they couldn’t understand why. I shared my theory that it was harder because we carry each other’s stories in our hearts.

So does September 11 get easier with the passage of time:

Yes, because I don’t worry about people’s expectations.

No, because I realize how much Bruce has missed and how much I miss him.

No, because it not  just about me and my family. It is about my Tribute friends and their stories.

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.”

C. S. Lewis

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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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Japan 2014 – part 3

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After my trip to Japan last year I had said to people “even if you learned the language you would still need a guide to help you navigate the customs.”  And that held true on this trip as well, we had wonderful translators that not only translated words but explained proper etiquette and customs. Taking your shoes off and putting the slippers on, placing money on the little tray not on the counter or into the person’s hand, bowing and the handling of business cards were all things we needed to be aware of.

There is a certain rhythm/pattern of speech you need to use when being translated. I found it fascinating that some times the translation would be 2 words to my 10 and other times one little thought seemed to be translated into a novel. I had absolute trust in our 3 official translators. I think because they had traveled with the group on the last trips they understood who we were and what we were trying to do – they got it.

Nearly all of our lunch and dinner meals had assigned seating including someone who could translate which ensured that you could have conversation with everyone at your table. At some events there were name tags on the table and other times in was just a matter of rearranging until we got an arrangement that would work. There was one time in particular that I had to pause when something was said because I wasn’t sure if the person realized the implications of what they said. While having dinner with a delightful young Japanese medical student and his wife, I asked whether his wife was also a student or did she work? This was a very young cute couple and he spoke English very well. She didn’t speak any English. They had been married in March. His response to my question was “she is my housewife.” Having grown up in the USA, owned my own business, having hyphenated my maiden name with my husband’s name when I got married, I really had to just smile. I wasn’t sure if it was a term of endearment or what?

There was one more experience that made me think “Toto, we aren’t in Kansas any more.” When we had our formal meeting with a rather high-ranking government official, a young woman came to escort us to his office. She handed each of us a seating chart (below). My name is listed as Ms. Hine. I do not think Clark-Van Hine is a common name in Japan. I hadn’t been to a meeting where you get a printed seating chart before. This was the big leagues. As we were walking to the office I realized our young escort  was wearing  shorts and high heels. Her look was polished but I thought maybe it is dress down Friday because I can’t believe you can work in a government office and dress like that.  Her manner was professional and polite but her outfit was confusing me. I made note of how everyone else was dressed as we walked down the halls. All the men were in suits and ties. I didn’t see any other women. I thought maybe I am over thinking this but a conversation later in the day with the Mount Sinai female medical student in our group made me think maybe I wasn’t. We have come “a long way baby” but that is not true for our sisters around the world.

 

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Japan 2014 – part 2

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My recent trip to Japan included a four page itinerary. There were 17 people in our group -six Tribute Center docents, three Rotarians, two Mount Sinai doctors, three Mount Sinai medical students, and 3 translators. Our fearless and super organized leader did a tremendous job of keeping us on time and on task. The four page itinerary included logistics meaning what we were doing each day, mode of transportation and what kind of attire was appropriate – casual, business casual, business or formal. Formal didn’t mean evening wear. It really meant suits for the men and our firefighter docent needed to wear his uniform.

Our last two days of our twelve day trip were unscheduled.  In ten days, we attended 6 Rotary Club functions, visited 2 Mental Health Clinics, 1 School for the Deaf, 1 High school, a Memorial Rose Garden, the Sakado Crane Memorial, 1 Temporary Housing site, 2 Shrines, and 2 Temples. We had formal meet and greets with the Mayor of Koriyama, the Minister of Reconstruction, and the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs.  We listened to 3-11 stories and told our 9-11 stories. We exchanged gifts and were treated royally. We had “tea” in some amazing places and we ate a lot of raw fish and rice. We traveled as far east as Kesennuma, Miyagi and as far west as Nara. The best I can estimate we traveled over 1000 miles.  Our modes of transportation were the bullet train, the regular train, cabs, subway and a chartered bus. Oh and we “dragged” our luggage wherever we went.

We had private guided tours of:

  1. Chusonji Temple, first national Treasure of Japan   http://www.chusonji.or.jp/en/precincts/konjikido.html
  2. Kaiseizan Shrine
  3. Kasuga Shrine   http://en.japantravel.com/view/the-stone-lanterns-of-kasuga-shrine
  4. Todaiji Temple http://www.taleofgenji.org/todaiji.html

I stood at the foot of the giant Buddha in Todaji Temple. I had tea in the room only special guests  and  the emperor visit at Kasuga Shrine. I learned that a shrine is Shinto and a temple is Buddhist. I loved seeing Japan and learning new things but my favorite thing was interacting with the people. If you asked me my favorite experiences:

  1. Doing “ballet arms” with a teenager who wants to be a ballerina when she is older.
  2. Having a woman tell me she had traveled two hours to come to the mental health clinic seminar because she meet me last year and wanted to see me again.
  3. Traveling with the most compassionate, selfless group of people who made me laugh, cry and always had my back.
  4.  An amazing dinner conversation with a Shinto priest, classical pianist, Japanese business man and Jewish doctor that started with me asking “I learned today that every 20 years the shrine is taken down and rebuilt. Can you explain that to me?” and lead to me explaining what grace is?

You can’t make this stuff up.  I am so blessed.