April 19, 2013

God Bless Boston and the BPD, FBI and other law enforcement

On April 15th, I had the TV on when the news broke of the Boston Marathon bombing.  My husband and I immediately turned to each other and bet on who was responsible.

I did not get sucked into the pain and suffering because after living through it, I don’t want to go to that place.  That was until my friend called me and needed counseling because his son was at the marathon.  He finished the race at 3:10.  He was okay, but for many hours, he did not know.  He did not know his son’s finish time, and he did not know anything.  I remember that feeling, and I could relate to him.  Sometimes it just helps when we can relate to someone who knows how we are feeling.

I knew immediately that it was a terrorist attack.  Whoever did it, whether it is a homegrown psychopath or a foreign extremist, the carnage and fear produces the same results for us survivors.  Experiencing the horror and destruction and feeling the cold breath of evil on the back of your neck is the same.  Unfortunately, this is our common bond.

I accepted that this is the world that we live in.  I like to travel internationally, and the threat is real every day.  I don’t think that it is entirely preventable, and if a sick man or extremist wants to cause harm, it is possible.

Then I thought of London, Israel, Afghanistan, and other folks like me that are forced to live with the carnage, destruction, and fear that is permanently burned on our souls.  If this is the world we live in, how do we as Americans differ from the rest of the world who also experiences things like this?

That answer came to me tonight as I watched the impromptu parade for the Boston Police Department and FBI after they captured the second suspect.  We are stronger for it.  Watching the citizens of Watertown, Mass. cheer the law enforcement and first responders brought a stream to tears to my eyes.  This is who we are, and this response is how the terrorists’ act defines us.  We are united, and we are strong.  God bless our law enforcement and military.

Image: People gather around a police officer after the arrest of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in Watertown, Mass. on Friday night.

Photo from nbcnews.com of people of Boston celebrating in the streets.

September 10, 2011

The FDNY

Today, the St. Louis Fire Dept and other first responders were conducting their annual parade, and this year, I was invited to walk and carry a picture of one of the 343 fallen NYFD firefighters who died on 9/11/01.  It was such an honor for me to carry one of their faces.

On Sept 11th, when I was urging the woman on the stairs to walk down, she insisted on staying and waiting for help.  I did not believe that help was coming.  Who was going to save her?  In that moment, I thought it was her responsibility to save herself.  Then when I reached the 4th floor, firefighters were ascending my stairwell.  They were in full gear and walking up the stairs.  I stood in amazement for a moment and watched as they passed me.  I could not believe that they were walking up, and I was surprised to see them.  I entered 2WTC plaza and the firefighters were directing the traffic and collapsing the revolving doors.  I was mesmerized by the way they were taking control and keeping order as we evacuated.  There was such a stark contrast between us, the evacuees, and them.  We were scared and fearful, and they were determined and resolute. 

In the days immediately following, you knew that the hardest hit were the FDNY.  I decided on Saturday, Sept 22 that I was going to wallow in my pity by shopping for some shoes so I grabbed some cash from the ATM and was walking on the Upper West Side to take the subway downtown to SoHo.  On my way, I saw lit candles, flowers, and pictures lining a side street, so I followed this detour to take a look.  As I followed the trail, it led to a firehouse around the corner.  The door was open, and they were displaying pictures of seven of their fallen brothers from their firehouse.  They had a book you could sign to express your condolences.  I signed my name Angela Brock, 2WTC, 61st Fl.  It was the first time I acknowledged that this was my new identity.  I then gave them the couple of hundred that I was going to spend on shoes.  I couldn’t move for quite some time, and I sat there and cried with the firehouse.  The firefighters came up to me crying, giving me hugs, and patting me on my shoulders.  They were just as broken as I was, and without saying anything, we sat there for some time just comforting each other without words. 

     Today in the parade, I carried the face of Michael Boyle from Engine 33.  He was 37 years old when he died, which is how old I am now.  I have so much of my life to still live, and his is gone.  Engine 33 is located at 42 Great Jones St., which is 3rd street in the NoHo/NYU neighborhood.  10 of the 14 firemen from this engine died on 9/11/01.  Michael was off duty and jumped on a rig while still in his civilian clothes.  His body was found intact approximately 5 months after the attacks, and he was laid to rest on April 19, 2002. 

It was a privilege to honor his memory today.  I wish I could honor all 343 firefighters who died.  On 9/11, their bravery and duty was just another day at work.  All firefighters and policemen/women do this everyday.  God bless our fallen heroes.  They are braver than I could ever be.

  

FDNY 343 refers to the 343 firefighters that died that day.  It does not represent the number that worked at Ground Zero for the months and years that followed and who have since developed health issues due to the toxicity of the site.

August 28, 2011

Reliving the footage

I never know what possesses me to I watch the reports on 9/11.  Tonight, we channeled surfed for about 20 minutes, avoiding the National Geographic channel, and finally, I give up and tell my husband to turn it on.  They have three hours of 9/11-related shows on tonight.  The truth is, I want to watch it.

For the most part, I am watching what the world saw that day, not my perspective.  You don’t see the people close up, you don’t see the horror, you don’t see any of the details of that day.  You just see a high-level timeline of the events from a very far away, safe distance.  A safe distance– this is a key.  Not feeling the sense of urgency, the panic, the fight to survive.  None of this can be expressed through words or images.  It is a fear like no other.   Sorrow overcomes me, and I feel for those other people as they speak of their experience.   Tears  stream down my face.

Then they show the cloud of smoke as it tunnels up Broadway, and I was one of those people running.  This is a slice of my reality, and I am immediately transported back to that moment.  I am filled with so much sadness and sorrow, and I can’t shake it, even after we decide to put in a movie.  My heart is heavy, and I spend the rest of the evening feeling sorrow for myself.  And once I realize that I am feeling sorry for myself, I accept that this is just the way it is.  It happened, it was awful, and life goes on.

 

August 5, 2011

My grandfather

I had the privilege of having John Bosko as my grandfather.  I wasn’t allowed to call him grandpa, only Pope, and I didn’t even dare test him on that.  He wasn’t the kind of guy you tested. 

In WWII, he was in the Merchant Marines and circumvented the globe two times.  He had great stories of going to port, and he knew how to tell a story.  After the war, he opened a machine shop and was the first person to use titanium, in which he designed the landing gear and hinges for the Gemini space shuttle.  NASA referenced him in text books and sent him Christmas cards.

He was dynamic and charismatic, and he could take command of any crowd at a party.  He was always the life of a party and always hosted the best parties.  Before my time, my mother would tell me stories about Julian Javier and other Cardinal players who would drop by his house for fun in the 1960s, but I’ll never forget watching my 65-year old grandfather party with Terry Pendleton, the Cardinal’s 3rd baseman who docked a boat at the marina next to him in the 80s.   My favorite memory though was at our pool-filling parties.  We had to drain the pool every year because we never put a cover on it.  It was concrete, and we would paint it every other year.  Then we would put a slip-n-slide on the bottom and have a water slide as we filled it up.  My grandfather would join in the fun and go down the slip-n-slide with a glass of Budweiser in his hand. 

It was so much fun to be a part of his life.  It was completely defined by the things he loved: My grandmother, God, country, his art collection, his boats, and his Budweiser.  I think I got the order right.  He put all he was into these things that he loved, and you could see his passion.  He was completely alive. 

He never talked about any of this though.  I would ask my mother and grandmother stories, and they would show me the beautiful and amazing cards from NASA.  I loved hearing the stories because he never talked about himself.  He completely lived in the present moment.  The weekend after 9/11, he came up to me and just said, “I bet you have a story to tell.”  I just responded, “You’ve seen it, you know.”  I was referring to his WWII experience and figured I would just do what he did and not talk about it.  That didn’t end up working out for me, but that’s ok too.  But what I do share with him is my love for life.  Every day, I wake up and truly have a deep appreciation for being alive.  I didn’t get this from 9/11; I always felt this way.  From being out on the soccer field or taking the subway to work, I have always loved being alive.  It’s the greatest gift to be alive, and I carry this appreciation in my heart every day.  I feel it.  I contribute surviving my childhood (in which my sister didn’t), discovering my damaged heart by a freak accident, or surviving 9/11 to the fact that I love being alive.  No matter how bad things seem at any moment in time, it’s just a moment.  Life really is great.

August 3, 2011

Therapy can drive you mad, says study on 9/11 counselling

I saw this headline last week and thought, “Amen!”  Finally, there is some light on something that I have known for a long time! 

At the end of 2004, I actively sought counseling.  I wanted to talk about my experience, but only with a qualified individual, and I had learned after talking with a couple of “doctors” what “qualified” meant.  For me, qualified meant experience and a profound sense of understanding.  I started my therapist search and quickly learned that most therapists were not qualified to deal with the tragedy.  I heard ridiculous statements that what I experienced was like going through a death.  Or that I was experiencing survivor’s guilt.  Let me be adamant about his:  I never once felt an ounce of guilt for surviving.  As a matter of fact, what a completely moronic concept.  Who the hell is sorry that they survived?  Then I encountered the primary care physician who seriously needed her own meds (a read available under the Year 3 page). 

However, I can easily see, as the article suggests, that those who were made to tell their story too soon were actually exacerbated by the trauma.  I wasn’t able to talk about it for years, and I sheltered myself from people.  Time has been my friend in this.  Also, the naive therapists who suggested that I had survivor’s guilt or thought this compared to a death were simply unqualified to treat on the subject.  It is a specialized issue, and I applaud the American Psychology journal for acknowledging their limitations. 

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/therapy-can-drive-you-mad-says-study-on-911-counselling-2328665.html

July 27, 2011

Remembering That Day

Last night and today, I wrote about the details that happened on 9/11.  There is so much to get through, and I tell the story the same way that I wrote it:  short sentences.  My feelings that I had in the moment haven’t changed today.  I can go back to 9/11/01 and feel, smell, see exactly that moment as it happened, and 10 years of perspective doesn’t alter the memories.  Maybe my reaction on 9/11 is why I can keep that moment frozen in time.  I only uttered a couple of sentences from 8:46 am – 1:30 pm.  I moved with deliberate actions and soaked in everything. 

I once found an article in Time that spoke about this “hypermemory” that makes it seem like time is slowing down.  The research was performed by neuroscientist David Eagleman.  I did feel like time was moving so slow but I knew what the actual time felt like.  For instance, I knew that it took me about 40 minutes to evacuate after the 2nd plane hit, and after comparing it to the recorded events, my assessment of time was correct.  However, it seemed to move so slow because my hypermemory was recording more sensory information.  As NPR stated, “You’re getting a peek into all the pictures and smells and thoughts that usually just pass through your brain and float away, forgotten forever.” 

Read more: http://newsfeed.time.com/2010/08/17/why-time-slows-down-in-near-death-experiences/#ixzz1TKy3XiDV

So, not only did my memory record sights, smells, and thoughts but these memories are preserved like a DVD.  They haven’t changed over the past 10 years and are replayed the same way over and over again.

July 26, 2011

The Blog Begins

As the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approaches, I received a phone call from a local reporter today who asked me what the storyline for the 10th anniversary should be.  I wasn’t prepared for this question, and I didn’t know the answer off the top of my head.  What does the 10th anniversary mean? 

To find the answer, I decided that the best approach is to take a look back at the past 10 years and how much I have grown and healed.  I feel completely healed from the tragedy, but the anniversary date still means something profound to me.  I hope to have this defined for my self through this process of going backward as the anniversary approaches.

September 11, 2001 completely changed my entire life.  For the past 10 years, this event has affected every decision I made about my life.  Six months after the attack, I quit my job that I worked so hard to get.  I worked for Morgan Stanley, and I practically lived in my office at the World Trade Center.  I loved my life, but in February 2002, I knew I was done, and I quit.  I realized that all that time I spent in the office was meaningless work, and I would end up as a lost soul if I continued.  Just like the decision I made to quit my life at that moment, 9/11 has been like a fixed constellation in the heavens guiding all major decisions in my life.   This wasn’t the only job I quit.  There are more, and we will get to that. 

I will post the events of 9/11 in a separate menu item.  Thanks for reading.

 

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