Kids and roses

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Last month I had the opportunity to speak in a sixth grade history class in Saddle Brook, NJ. I “enjoy” speaking to students especially middle school students as they ask the best questions. I am pretty sure the high schoolers I speak with have questions but they aren’t as willing to ask.I am confident if they could text me, there would be more questions. Anyway back on September 27, I was fortunate to be able to spend over an hour with two groups of students meeting as one. The teacher had done an excellent job teaching her classes about September 11, 2001. The students had interviewed their parents or other adults. They had lots of questions, lots of good questions, lots of thought provoking questions about the attacks, the terrorist, the Memorial, the Museum. I could definitely tell that their teacher had prepared them for a visitor. 
I had mentioned that after the September 11 line of duty death of my husband, my daughters had asked me three questions. “Will we still live in this house?” “Can we still go to Eastern Christian High School?” “What will happen when we get married?” I shared my responses with the students “as far as I am able we will stay in this house. I will also try to make sure that you can continue at EC. And currently neither of you have boyfriends so we don’t have to worry yet about when you get married.” There was a giggle from the students. I also mentioned to the students that through the generosity of many people I never paid tuition for Emily’s senior year or all four of Meghan’s high school years. I never paid for a field trip, yearbook or prom. I explained to them how simple kindnesses and generosities have helped me, my daughters and so many others. I also said my daughters are married and I have photos I can show them if they would like to see me when I am finished speaking. As my time with the class ended the teacher gave me a beautiful bouquet of yellow roses, I thanked her, the students applauded and with what seemed to be a great sense of urgency one little arm shot up. “Yes.” I asked. “Can we see the photos of your daughters’ weddings?” asked a smiling sixth grade girl. “I glanced at the teacher, she nodded yes and a dozen girls moved forward so they could see the photos. ūüėä

Yesterday two boys at church gave me gifts they had purchased for me while on their recent family trip to FL. The one gift was a Mickey Mouse mug with a spoon. To quote the gift giver “if you cut the twist ties, you can remove the spoon and use it stir your drink.” I commented “thank you. I love the shape of the mug.” The gift giver responded “I liked that too. You don’t see square mugs to often.” I smiled because this exchange was so this child’s personality. His brother gave me a single Lego rose. It took my breath away. I almost started to cry. It is perfect and everything about it reminds me of the child who gave it to me. 
I am so blessed to be able to teach children in all different arenas (Tribute Center, dance class and church) and sometimes I am super blessed to receive roses (and mugs) as well. ūüėČ


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 ‚Äúhis guys‚ÄĚ 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 ‚Äúlittle FDNY widow‚ÄĚ.¬† 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 ‚ÄúWe (FDNY) never called it Ground Zero.‚Ä̬† 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 ‚ÄúWe called it the Pile and as we got lower we called it the Pit.‚ÄĚ

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 ‚Äúand now it is the Plaza.‚ÄĚ 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‚Äôs Storybook: We have published a children‚Äôs storybook of late 12-year-old girl‚Äôs story about strength and courage to move forward and how Sadako‚Äôs Soaring Crane monument came to Fukushima. This storybook is touted as a ‚Äúbook of life‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúHiroshima‚ÄďNY‚ÄďFukushima connected with hope.‚ÄĚ 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 ‚Äúestablish human connection in a non intrusive, compassionate manner‚ÄĚ; ‚Äúsupport positive coping and empower survivors to take an active role in recovery‚ÄĚ; and ‚Äúfacilitate continuity and ensure other sources of support when leaving.‚ÄĚ

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.


Finally Home

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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. ūüôā


Wonderful story about this not being our home.

David Bowie and the Concert for New York City

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When I read the news that David Bowie had died I was saddened not because I was a super Bowie fan because a talented creative¬†human being had died from a terrible disease that kills so many. I am saddened for his family and friends as they grieve their personal loss¬†with the¬†world. ¬†David Bowie was a public figure but more than that he was someone’s dad, business associate and friend. Please take a moment to pray or send a good thought or whatever you do to those who truly knew him.

As I looked at the posts on FB of people sharing their “personal” Bowie stories, I was reminded that I had seen David Bowie perform at the Concert for New York City in October 2001. After seeing the clip I remembered his performance. To be honest I don’t remember much about that concert partially because it was¬†over 14 years ago but mostly because I¬†believe I was still in shock when I attended it. ¬†I don’t think I was even¬†functioning on auto-pilot as of that point.

Forgive me for jumping on the David Bowie band wagon but here is my David Bowie story:

The FDNY had invited¬†my teenage daughters and myself¬†to attend the Concert for New York City¬†at Madison Square Garden.¬† The Concert for¬†New York City was¬†to be¬†my first¬†“rock” concert. I¬†asked my brother and sister-in-law to come along. My little brother was a rock concert veteran and very tall. Both things I assumed could come in handy.¬† As we walked from the parking garage to MSG the streets were quiet. It seemed all wrong – this is NYC on a Saturday – quiet isn’t normal. Quiet gave way to loud as we entered MSG.¬†Our seats were on side so we could actually see into the wings/ backstage so we could see who was up next. Thankfully my sister-in-law brought earplugs. The concert opened with David Bowie sitting on stage. The word that comes to mind is humble or humbled.¬†

There are three other things that resonate with me  about the concert:

  • The firefighters trying to make sure my daughters were having a good time. Escorting my daughters so they could have a front row view for part of the concert.
  • My 17-year-old and myself having an Abbott and Costello type conversation about “who” is on stage and me saying “The Who” and her saying who???
  • When former President Bill Clinton came on stage the atmosphere totally changed to a mob like mentality that was scary. My brother and FDNY escorts positioned themselves to protect my daughters, my sister-in-law and myself. Thankfully things calmed down but there was a few moments of raw emotion, too much beer, and lack of sleep that could have got bad. The only thing scarier than that was watching the Concert for New York on MSG network years later and hearing the¬†announcer say “the Clintons were cheered.” I was dumbfounded and started yelling at the television. Really we can just change events like that. Not good.¬†To the best of my memory neither former President Clinton or Hillary were cheered. ¬†Wikipedia in their description of the Concert for New York mentions the dubbing in of cheers – what?!?

Thank you Mr. Bowie for sharing your talents and teaching us that we can always reinvent ourselves. Rest in Peace. May your family and friends find comfort in the memories and hope for the future.





to wear or not to wear

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proverbs 3

For reasons I won’t go into here, I am supposed to where a heart monitor for the next two weeks. The heart monitor arrived via Fed Ex late yesterday afternoon and last night I proceeded to follow the instructions for activating it. The woman at the monitoring company was very helpful and “we” thought we were good to go. I did all the required installing of batteries, charging and powering up of¬†the cell phone, attaching the electrodes and attaching the wires. I read how often to change the electrodes and how often to charge the phone.¬†The only issue seemed to be “cell phone coverage”. The cell phone wasn’t happy with the coverage or lack of coverage. I explained to the woman cell phone coverage can be problematic in my area. No, I don’t have Sprint for my regular phone. “No worries, the phone will reset itself. Just start to wear the monitor.” So I slept with my new companion – a heart monitor. The cell phone needed to be charged¬†and to be within feet of the monitor so I figured that out. As I was drifting off to sleep I thought about my schedule for the next two¬†weeks, I realized I am leading a tour for friends on Saturday. Oh, great! I am walking onto the National September 11 Memorial with a metal object hanging on a lanyard, concealed under my clothing, with wires attaching it¬†to my body. Wow! Probably not good. Then my imagination went wild – holy crap this could go bad fast. I envisioned the headline “9/11 widow shot by cops” “9/11 widow mistaken for suicide bomber”.

This morning I was still trying to figure out to what to do – where the monitor or don’t wear the monitor on Saturday? I was still imagining¬†all kinds of drama. A telephone call ¬†this afternoon from the monitoring company solved my dilemma. “We can’t connect with your device. Sprint doesn’t have good coverage in your area duh¬†so we are sending you a Verizon phone. Please send the monitor back. You will get a new device on Monday”

Go figure. ūüôā