Lessons Learned From A 9/11 Survivor

September 8th was Joe’s birthday, and we headed into NYC to celebrate.  We did the same thing eleven years ago, and on that particular day, the air had the first hints of autumn crispness. We commented all day how especially blue the sky appeared, and how clearly we could see all of the buildings.

Three days later, the world changed – and now, September 11 is a day that still haunts me.  Like so many other people, I have clear memories of where I was and what I was doing — as clear as the sky that day.  I remember conversations that I had and every single emotion of every single second.

Eleven years ago, I was working in a middle school – and while I do not want to go into all of my details that day, there is one moment that I cannot forget.

As the tragedy unfolded, parents arrived in a steady stream.  I was helping in the Main Office, signing their children out of school.  Many of adults had spouses working in downtown Manhattan.  One mother arrived and asked for her son.

“I’m not taking him home,” she said as I looked up her son’s schedule.  “I just want to hug him.”  I caught my breath, my eyes blinking away tears as I focused on the computer screen.  When I returned with her son, they stood in the hallway and just were.  It was an intimate moment between a parent and child, consoling and comforting – and it is a moment that still moves me to tears whenever I think or speak about that day.

The Freedom Tower

Eleven years later, Joe and I are at the site.  Each time we have made this visit, at different stages of redevelopment, I feel I have to brace myself.  I think of that mother and her son, of so many victims and their families and friends, and I think of Kevin Donnelly, a man who hired the middle school me to mow lawns one summer.

Today, the 9/11 Memorial occupies Ground Zero.  Two pools now sit in the Twin Towers’ imprint.  The pools, surrounded by thirty-foot walls of cascading water, eventually descend into a center void.  The bronze rims of the pools are engraved with the names of the victims.

Although the area is surrounded by the sights and sounds of rebuilding, it is amazingly quiet and somber and moving.  It is not uncommon to see people placing flowers on the rim, carbon rubbing a specific name, praying and consoling each other – just like a mother and a son from eleven years ago.

That’s where my mind was when I noticed the tree.  Adjacent to the pools is a garden where all of the trees are Swamp White Oaks – all, except for this one tree; a Callery Pear Tree that is protected by a railing, where visitors line up and pose for pictures, as if this particular tree is a celebrity.

This is The Survivor Tree.

The tree was originally planted on the World Trade Center plaza, on the eastern edge near Church Street, in the ‘70s.  After 9/11, workers found the damaged tree – reduced to an eight-foot-tall stump in the wreckage at Ground Zero.

The tree was removed to a NYC park, where it was nursed back to health.  New branches sprouted, blossoms opened in spring, and the tree eventually reached 30 feet.  In March 2010, however, the tree was uprooted by severe storms – but it still survived with the help of its caretakers and its will, if we could think that a tree has a will.

In December 2010, the tree was returned to the WTC site, where it sits just west of the south pool – a symbol of strength and resilience.  It’s no wonder that so many people wait in line to be photographed next to the tree.  Sometimes we all need a tree – or a parent, a partner, a friend, a stranger – on which to lean, much like we all did on 9/12 and the weeks, months, and years following.

The rebuilt Palm Court.

The more I think about that tree, the more impressed I am.  It fought to live so that we – regardless of our gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, ethnicity, ability, and political views – could enjoy its shade, appreciate its blooms, and find comfort in its hug and wisdom in its story.  It’s unconditional – just being, like that mother and son embracing each other in a school hallway eleven years ago.

And yet, there is still no museum at the site – because of bickering over funding.  Yes, years of bickering.  While I personally do not need a museum to remind me of that day, I know that there are many young people who were too young or not even born to understand the events of 9/11.  On a similar note, this is an election year in the United States, and both parties are going to great lengths to widen the rift between their constituents.

Yes, September 8th was Joe’s birthday and we headed into NYC to celebrate.  We did the same thing eleven years ago, and three days later, the world changed — but have people changed?

Perhaps we should let that Survivor Tree be our teacher.  There’s so much we could learn from it – we just have to be willing to listen.

Update: Last night, on the eve of September 11, it was reported that the mayor of NYC and the governors of NY and NJ had reached an agreement on the museum.  Construction is scheduled to resume, with a completion goal of September 11, 2013.

Bloomin’ Update 30: Night Fever

I know.  I know.  This was supposed to be the on-the-road post, the one where I post a picture and you write the caption and Joe and I drive back to New York.  The car, though, had other plans and is now sitting in a repair shop — which means the you-do-the-writing post will have to wait.

As will we — waiting for our car and for the arrival of Saharan dust.  Yes, you read that correctly.  A cloud of Saharan dust is making its way to South Florida.  Forecasters say the most noticeable effect will be a milky, hazy sky — nothing blue about it.  All I know is that it’s a little something extra to make the heat feel hotter.  I guess you could say it’s a dry heat, and how often can that be said in Fort Lauderdale?

So what should a couple of disheartened travelers do on a clear, dust-free night?  Take a walk, of course. 

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I’ve Got A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts

Florida?  In summer?  Are you nuts?

If you’ve read any previous posts, you already know the answer to that question.  But in this case, there is a reason to the madness.  In a nutshell — a coconut shell, that is — South Florida will someday be our new home.  About one month before Hurricane Andrew arrived in 1992, Joe and I purchased a house.  Each year since, we have traveled to Fort Lauderdale several times a year to do the most relaxing of vacation activities: yard work.  And as we go about our palm tree trimming and bundling and bagging of debris, we do a lot of planning and dreaming.

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Bloomin’ Update 18: One Week In Two Zones

One day, you’re on vacation in South Florida, gazing at the pattern of a banana leaf sunlit from behind (above) — and the next, you’re bundled up against the wind chill of Long Island.  After arriving home, I went through some random Florida photos and then walked around the yard on Long Island to make a comparison.  Can you guess which photos came from which zone?

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Bloomin’ Update 15: Greetings from South Florida

Like a good postcard, this one is arriving to you after I made it home.  Joe and I spent the past week in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, where we plan to retire in the near future.  We purchased a small home there almost 20 years ago.  In fact, we made one payment and a low pressure system became Hurricane Andrew.  We also removed all of the shade trees and replaced them with palms.  Since then, the house has been rented and we return several times a year to do yard work.  Yard work?  That’s a vacation?  For us – and probably for most gardeners who have little patience for winter’s dreariness – this is a vacation: the chance to feel the sun, to play in the dirt, and to see all shades of green.

There was some extra fun this time in Florida since I had the chance to play with my Christmas gift, a Canon SX40HS digital camera.  Armed with my new toy, I found every excuse under the Florida sun to snap some garden and vacation photos.   Would you expect anything different from a boy and his new gadget?

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Not-So-Wordless Wednesday: That’s A Wrap

I may be the gardener of the house, but Joe also has his landscape love.  One of his greatest loves is palm trees.  His absolute fave is Cocos nucifera, the coconut palm.  If it were up to him, coconut palms would be growing everywhere.  We often joke that he would be to coconut palms what Johnny Appleseed was  to apples — only he would be called Joey Coconuts, which does sound a little — alright, a lot — like a character from “The Sopranos.”

Sadly, coconut palms will not grow in our Zone.  Nor will most other palms found around the world.  So what’s a palm lover to do?  About 7 years ago, we purchased a windmill palm, Trachycarpus fortunei to be exact, from Stokes Tropicals.  Originally grown in China, the windmill is one of the hardiest of palms, able to tolerate a fairly severe freeze and a light winter snow cover.

But this is Long Island, and winters are unpredictable.  Sometimes mild, but in recent years — cold, snowy, and frozen.  Although the palm receives full sun, there are steps that we must take — or rather Joe must take, with my assistance — to ensure winter survival.