Monday, September 19, 2011

Coming Home

Last week I had the opportunity to travel back to my home town of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. It always gives me pause returning, as so many memories come flooding back whenever I am there. What I find interesting; it is not just memories of my being a little girl growing up in this lovely little town but also my more recent memories, the reconnecting with friends again. I have not lived in this town for over 40 years and have barely returned except for high school reunions. Something happened in 2009 when I returned for my 40th reunion, something wonderful. I felt a sense of belonging, a sense of a closeness that only people that are the same age and grow up in the same town can experience. It is a rare experience to find such camaraderie.

I arrived on Sunday, September 11th, such a somber day. There were my friends, Bill and Dave waiting to take me out to dinner and help me get my books ready for the next day's upcoming events.

I returned to speak to the entire student body of Cuyahoga Falls High School. This would not have happened if it weren't for the persistence of my high-school friend, Bill. He made it happen.

He asked me what he could do to help and he didn't rest until he got the speaking engagement for me.

Three of my class of 1969 friends also came to hear me speak,Jerry, on the right, (who filmed the entire speech), Dave (my neighbor from a long time ago) and Bill (the organizer of my event!). I spoke about my experiences in New York at Ground Zero after 9/11 and encouraged and challenged the students to think not just about themselves but to also think about helping others, The message came through loud and clear and I had many students stop by after to talk to me and ask questions. Several purchased my book, First Aid For Heroes.

My high-school friend, Monica, suggested that I have a book signing at a local bookstore in Hudson, Ohio. After many phone calls we finally got it to happen and that very evening after my speaking engagement I held a book signing at The Learned Owl. My friends descended on the store and some of them titled themselves the "flashmob."

There was laughter and a strong sense of support. I will never forget my "cheerleaders" being there for me and making me feel as if I were a celebrity!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Flight 93

Yesterday as I drove back to Northern Virginia from a speaking and book signing event in my home town of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, I decided to take a detour. Actually I decided to take that detour several days before, September 11th to be exact. I decided that I could not drive past this area without stopping, I was drawn to it as if it was out of my control, as if auto-pilot had taken hold of my car.

The area around Shanksville, Pennsylvania is filled with rolling hills, farms, roadside stands, just the inordinate beauty of our back country USA. Signs were posted everywhere guiding me to the Flight 93 Memorial. Pride for our country was everywhere with the flying of the American flags, to signs sharing our country's sentiment "We will never forget."

I made the turn to the Memorial and kept driving and driving down a curvy newly made road. I knew I was in the right location, I just didn't know how far I had to drive. I kept going and going, but the more I drove, the more I understood. This was an area far removed from main roads (until ten years ago). The only way to observe the site, was to build a better road.

I exited my car, after pulling into a gravel parking lot and walked towards three signs. There were a few people there. I thought that was a bit odd, where was everyone. Didn't people come to pay their respects? I later found out that this was an entrance to view the area from above the crash site, this was the area the plane flew over prior to crashing. I continued on my journey in my car to the memorial area, just a short 1/2 mile or so to the area below.

Where was the site? I couldn't see anything that would identify it. Then I heard why. A few years ago they filled in the crash site and planted wild flowers. And then I saw it.. just peaceful flowers with the large evergreen trees framing the top of the area. They have moved a boulder to the exact area where the crash occured and family (I assume) left flowers and flags surrounding it. We were not allowed to walk on those hallowed grounds, but observe from a distance. I wish I had a better camera with me, as I only have pictures from my cell phone, but it can give you the sense of what it was like.

What I felt was peace and a palpable feeling of calmness which seemed to fill the entire area. There was a slight breeze with the smell of fresh wildflowers permeating the air. I felt sadness, how could one not? But mostly I felt an inner peace. This was a place to go and reflect, to go and remember what courage took place on Flight 93, September 11, 2001. The courage of the flight 93 heroes and their fight with the terrorists to protect our country.

I continued my walk, in the direction of the flight path and came to the names carved in marble. The designer built the wall so as you looked down the length of it you would be observing the flight path. The hill to the right was the hill that the plane flew over. The opposite end is where the crash site is located. The white marble wall was magnificent. I had to look for Todd Beamer's name. His last audible words were "Are you guys ready? Let's roll". You can find out more information about this hero by checking out his Wikipedia page Todd Beamer.

This past Monday, September 12th, after I spoke to the entire student body of Cuyahoga Falls High School about my 9/11 experiences and my book , a group of students took a few minutes to talk to us about the Flight 93 fund. This group is encouraging students to just donate 93 cents. Eventually, it will make a difference. Check out the article that was written about them: Falls High students laud courage of Flight 93 with donations

In closing, I will add several more pictures that I took that day outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What is a Hero?

I wrote this while working in New York at Ground Zero after September 11, 2001

What is a Hero?

This is a question that has been going through my mind ever since I arrived here in New York. My friends email me and say ‘You are my hero’. I read it and laugh… I am no hero. I am a Red Cross Disaster Relief Nurse that is taking care of people, sometimes just Band-Aids, sometimes just cold medicine, sometimes just talking. It is a very small part in a much larger picture. It is insignificant. My real heroes are those that have died such a terrible death, the ones trapped inside the World Trade Towers, the victims in the airplanes that were hijacked, the victims at the Pentagon, the families, trying to cope with such a loss, the city of New York and their wonderful people that are trying to cope, the city of Washington DC and their wonderful people that are trying to cope, those that are working after their duty hours at their regular jobs to come to volunteer, those firemen, iron and steel workers, policemen, OSHA, FEMA, National Guard, truck drivers, crane operators, bulldozer operators, and the list goes on and on. They are exhausted, they are sick, they are overwhelmed, but yet they are out there day in and day out trying to make sense of such a terrible tragedy.

Every day working is different and I find new heroes creeping into my life. We are all part of a circle… without one of us, the circle doesn’t seem to be complete. My part may feel insignificant, but when it is put together with all of the parts, it becomes very significant. My fellow Red Cross workers, all doing different jobs to create that bond.

I meet several heroes every day. The other day, a Red Cross volunteer touched my heart. He was working in the Trade Towers on the 54th floor when the planes hit. He got out of the building in time and now does not want to leave the area. He feels he needs to help in any way he can. He calls it his ‘penance’. He serves food in the kitchen for the workers.

The smell is back

I have been frantically gathering information for my upcoming speaking engagement next Monday in Ohio. I pulled out three large white boxes and a large blue plastic bin, the one that housed my Red Cross Disaster Services aprons, my respirator, and my hard hats from 9/11. As soon as the lid was cracked open, the pungent odor was released into the air and slammed into my nostrils. I paused, Really? Could I really still be smelling the smells of 9/11? I kept thinking it was impossible. This has to be all in my head, how could this smell still be recalled so quickly? Is it because of the ten year anniversary and all of the media blitz? I don't know, but it has permeated my olfactory senses today and has no desire to go back in the bin.