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9/11

The Invitation

The Invitation

Bringing Hope: A Disaster Relief Journey, is finished. Well, I've finished writing it. Mostly. 

This book is a memoir about my national disaster volunteering after 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, flooding in Northern New Jersey, and Hurricane Sandy. It is the daily journals I kept after each of these events. At these disasters I came across some poems and put them in my journals. Since I want these poems in my book, I needed to obtain permission from the authors to use them. Fortunately all of the poets did provide their permission. 

On my day off while volunteering in New York City after Hurricane Sandy, I had the unexpected opportunity to visit St. Paul's Chapel. This small church at the base of where the World Trade Center buildings collapsed in Lower Manhattan, remained unharmed despite the ruins crashing nearby. The new 9/11 memorial is located just across the street. This chapel became a place of respite for the thousands of volunteers doing search and clean up in the months after terrorists brought the buildings down. Today, in addition to this being a Chapel it is also a museum recognizing the heroic work of thousands of volunteers.

After 9/11/2001 one of the volunteers wrote a poem, about the chapel, which has made its way into my book with his permission. Through our email contacts he has invited me to the upcoming memorial for the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11/2001. I am honored to be able to attend this event. I'll be in New York City this coming weekend to participate in what I imagine will be an emotional, solemn, and moving experience. I will be bringing the names of some of the individuals whose families I assisted, so that I can look for their names on the ledge surrounding the reflecting pools that stand in the footprint of where the World Trade Center building stood.

While in New York, I am thankful to be staying with a friend and colleague who I worked with many years ago at Marquette University. It will be great to have a chance to catch up with where our lives have taken us over the past thirty years.

Once I'm home, I will write the last chapter of my book - Remembrance. In this chapter I will reflect on what this memorial experience means to me now and for the future. I will look back and remember all of the families I helped after 9/11.

Now that I've completed the majority of the writing, my book is in the editing process. Which means my editor is making suggestions for some content changes and corrections. It is then up to me whether or not I want to follow her suggestions. Then she will look at it again and probably have some more changes and edits. Once the editing process is complete, I will then see if I'm able to find an agent who will find me a publisher. This may take a while. I'll keep you informed as the process progresses.

It's August Again and I'm Crabby

It's August Again and I'm Crabby

It has been almost fifteen years since we were all stunned and shocked by the events that happened on September 11, 2001. We will always remember where we were and what we were doing. When the topic of 9/11 finds its way into our conversations we are compelled to share our own stories. We patiently listen to each other as we relate what we were doing that day. It's a sad moment of remembrance and then we move on to our next topic of conversation. 

Fifteen years ago, after 9/11, I went to Falls Church, Virginia (on the outskirts of Washington, D.C.) and spent three weeks at an American Red Cross call center. I spoke with loved ones of family members who died in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the airliners that crashed being used as weapons of mass destruction. I listened to the stories of what happened to their spouses, siblings, parents, and children. And, then I brought them a tiny measure of hope by providing much needed financial assistance, which had been generously donated by people from throughout the United States.

The stories of these family members remain with me; and continue to affect me each year.

It begins in August. I start getting crabby easily. In the early years after 9/11 I wouldn't understand why this crabbiness happened. Now, I'm used to it. And I have to work hard to hide it. Though, I'm not always successful; and Craig will point it out to me. I get irritable because petty annoyances seem so insignificant to what happened to almost three thousand families in one morning. It's a poor excuse. When I remind Craig it's because 9/11 is coming again. He kindly mentions that it might be helpful for me to talk to someone. Maybe I should seek out a counselor. But I know I'll be fine once September 12th arrives.

It's not just the crabbiness. I also begin to have nightmares. Not really bad ones, just unsettling, haunting memories of unhappy dreams that wake me in the night which I quickly forget as soon as I get up in the morning. But I know they were there.

Then the tears begin. I will spontaneously begin to tear-up for no apparent reason. Mostly my eyes just water, and I quickly divert my unhappy thoughts to something different and uplifting. Less often its full out crying and sobbing as I think about the many families suffering loss and sadness. I have many good things happening in my life right now; so maybe the distractions of my busy life will help to keep these emotions at bay this year.

We just ended two wonderful weeks with my Florida daughters and grandkids visiting. There were lots of fun family events, much laughter, go carting, water parks, shared meals, and many games of scrabble. I have also recently finished my book. Now it will be edited and I will be improving it. I'm busy preparing our home in Allenton for sale. And, we are almost finished with building a new home in Mauston. With all of these great things happening, I hope I will be distracted enough to avoid thinking about the events of 9/11/2001 and the families I was able to assist. I imagine my minor reactions as September 11th approaches are as nothing compared to what each of the families who lost loved ones face.

Remembrance - The last chapter of my book will be written after I return from New York in mid-September. While in New York City, helping after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, I had the opportunity on my day off to visit St. Paul's Chapel. This quaint historic church sits at the base of where the World Trade Center buildings collapsed. It miraculously survived unharmed. For over a year it was a place of respite for the many volunteers helping search for people buried in the rubble.

When I visited this church in 2012 I came across a poem that I included in my daily journals that I kept while deployed after Hurricane Sandy. In order to put the poem in my book I needed to get permission from the author. Once I found him, he not only gave me permission to use his poem, he graciously invited me to New York for the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11 at St. Paul's Chapel, just across the street from the 9/11 memorial. I'm honored to be attending this memorial service. When I return from my trip I will write the final chapter of my book titled Remembrance. Hopefully this final act will be cathartic and allow me to move on and avoid my emotional mood fluctuations every August.

Every September 11th since 2001, my daughters and other family call me to see how I'm doing. I deeply appreciate their concern.

My Blog writings provide a peek into my book "Bringing Hope: A Disaster Relief Journey." I will try to keep you updated with the next steps. I know the editing process is just around the corner. Then I will try to find an agent who will help me find a publisher. If things don't work and I don't end up with a publisher, I know that I have a strong story for my grandchildren and will have copies printed for them and other family and friends.

Thank you for being a part of my journey as my book progresses through its process.

4th of July Reflections

4th of July Reflections

Just a few short weeks ago I enjoyed a wonderful 4th of July with family and friends. We shared good food and good conversation, coming together to celebrate the birth of our nation. As dusk approached the many kids began the long-held tradition of lighting sparklers. They ran around our large yard with their arms waving in circles to watch the sparkling and glowing patterns. I observed with dread, knowing the dangers that could happen. I'd insist shoes be worn by all. Elli got a bad burn on her foot a few years ago from stepping on a recently dead sparkler. I restrained my words of "be careful, don't run too fast," allowing them the fun that I enjoyed in my youth, watching the enchanting sparkles.

Living in the country, we have our very own personal fireworks display in our yard. My husband Craig, provides a half-hour of entertainment. With glittering jets reaching hundreds of feet into the air, the fireworks would sizzle then burst with a sharp bang, into kaleidoscopes of gold, green, red, and blue. Accompanying the fireworks was a selection of patriotic songs. We watched in wonder and awe at the mesmerizing beauty, only occasionally being hit on the head by falling debris.

As a disaster volunteer in both Milwaukee and Washington counties, I responded to hundreds of house fires to make sure the families would have food, shelter, and clothing. One 4th of July afternoon years ago, my pager began beeping. I had recently arrived home from marching in our local parade with other volunteers on my disaster team. Another team member and I responded to the fire as quick as we were able, to see how we could assist the family.

The homeowners had left for a romantic get-away, for just a couple of days. Their almost teenage sons were safely staying with neighbors.

Readily available fireworks are alluring, especially for young boys. It's exciting, with the pops, hisses, and loud bangs created after the lighting of a short fuse. Like many kids, these boys were not allowed to have or use firecrackers.

After obtaining their contraband, they left the safety of the neighbor's house to light off fireworks inside their home. No one would ever find out since the parents were away, right? Hiding indoors and playing with fireworks is never a good thing. One small firecracker found its way into the sofa. Oh my, what a tragedy it turned out to be. Fortunately for the boys, they escaped the house unharmed after trying to extinguish the growing flames by beating at them with rugs.

The fire department arrived and extinguished the flames from the now blazing house. The parents were contacted and ended their get-away to return home. My volunteer partner and I waited for the parents return. Once they arrived we provided them with a hotel room for a couple nights, a voucher for some groceries, and a few comfort kits filled with items like shampoo, toothbrush and toothpaste, etc. We left the parents, police, and firefighters to deal with the boys, while we returned to our own 4th of July celebrations.

In addition to my national disaster responses of 9/11, hurricanes, and flooding, local volunteering will find its way into a chapter of my book. I will share what it was like for me to serve on a Disaster Action Team and the many types of fires and emergencies I was able to assist with.

The Chart in the Front of the Room

The Chart in the Front of the Room

The chart in the front of the room

The chart in the front of the room

In my book I mention the bulletin board at the front of the room. I also briefly talk about a chart that was posted for our reference. I don't tell about how this chart impacted me every day.

I didn't take many photos at my first disaster response where I was deployed in Washington, D.C.  Inside of a white nondescript office building, I talked on the phone with hundreds of families who lost loved ones. One of the few photos I did take was of a large chart at the front of the room where I was working, in a Red Cross call center.

As you well know, on September 11, 2001, terrorists attacked the United States. The world watched helplessly as suicide attackers crashed two planes into two of the World Trade Center buildings, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. After the horror of that day, many were compelled to help. To do something, anything. Some of us rushed to donate blood and others donated money.

I was already trained to be an emergency disaster responder for the American Red Cross. So I went. 9/11 was my first national disaster deployment. I was honored to be chosen as one of many thousands of Red Cross volunteers who were able to respond.

My function, or job, was casework. When I was trained as a Red Cross caseworker, we were taught how to work one-on-one with individuals or families who lost stuff. Maybe they lost a home to fire, had damage to their house from a falling tree during a tornado, or the first floor of their home might be filled with mud from a flooded river. As a caseworker after 9/11, I did work one-on-one with families, but none of them lost stuff. Instead, everyone I spoke with lost someone they loved.

On October 1, 2001, I left home to go to the Washington, D.C. area. I spent three weeks both calling and receiving calls from families who lost loved ones during the attacks.

In the front of the room where I worked, there was a large bulletin board. This board provided us with information we would need on a daily basis. It had memos and updates about the most recent changes to the forms we used. It had lists of phone numbers of various supervisors, so we could get in touch with them if they weren't in the room. There were phone numbers of contacts in New York City for offices doing in-person casework. There was also a list of churches we could attend in the area. The day and date were written in a very large font. So with only a quick glance we would know what day of the week it was.

My most vivid memory of this bulletin board is of a large four-foot by four-foot chart. This chart had drawings of the two World Trade Center buildings that had collapsed. All 110 floors of the two buildings were depicted. The floors were colored in hues of pink, burgundy, and blue. There were also floors shown in white.

On this chart, the floors in white meant all employees were safe and accounted for. Floors shown in pink had ten or fewer lost that day. Those in burgundy had eleven to one hundred people gone. The companies in blue had more than one-hundred employees die on 9/11.

Occupying these two buildings were people from all walks of life. The companies represented included employees involved in finance, insurance, brokerage, law, communications, futures and bond trading, money management, banking, technology, and more. There were also government offices of New York State Department of Taxation and Finance and offices of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Along with these, there were simple branch bank offices, coffee vendors, and cafe's. There were waitresses, cashiers, secretaries, file clerks, administrative assistants, and police officers of the Port Authority.

Every day, throughout the day, I would look at this chart and think about the almost 3,000 people who died. 

It represented real people. Not only statistics. While I was in Washington, I spoke with the loved ones of people lost in these companies and businesses.

One company lost 38 of their 55 employees. In another only two died of the 91 who worked there. In one business all of the employees who reported to work that day died, there were over 350 lost. In some fortunate businesses all of the staff were able to escape. In one Information Systems company all were able to evacuate, but three had injuries. In another, one-third of the employees died. And the list went on and on.

The one that truly broke my heart the most was the restaurant called Windows On The World located on the 106th floor. None of the employees were accounted for. About one-hundred people who were eating in the restaurant also died. I spoke with a woman whose three siblings met for breakfast. They all lost their lives. These people were at the top of the world enjoying their day until terrorists ended it.

A few years ago, Craig and I traveled out west to see South Dakota, Yellowstone National Park, and Grand Teton National Park. On September 11th, we left Yellowstone driving past the entrance where the United States flag was flying in the breeze at half-staff and drove south to the Grand Tetons. While there, we took a drive up one mountain through winding roads and narrow switchbacks to the top.

There, on this September 11th, I stood at the top of the mountain looking out across the grand vistas feeling like I was on top of the world. I couldn't help but be saddened as I remembered all of the people in Windows On The World. I thought of the brothers and sisters who died on September 11, 2001, along with waiters, waitresses, cook staff, and guests. I swallowed back unshed tears as I tried hard not to let my memories of that day ruin a wonderful vacation. 

The Moraine Writers Group

The Moraine Writers Group

If you're going to write a book, the thing to do is just write. Stop thinking about it. So I did. With the encouragement of attendees at the fall Wisconsin Writer's Association conference in October of 2015, I finally began to write my book.

I wrote it pretty much sequentially. I started my volunteering with seeing a small sentence on the back of a University monthly newsletter, back when I worked at Marquette. "Disaster volunteers needed at the local American Red Cross office." It sounded interesting, so I called to see what would be involved.

After starting the book with how I began, I wrote about my training. Then, I began to write about all of the single family and apartment fires I had been to in Milwaukee. I wrote about moving to Allenton, Wisconsin and helping to develop the disaster team in Washington County. Page after page, on I went, about everything that lead me to become a national disaster responder.

Are you falling asleep yet?

Finally, after a very long beginning, I started to write about my first disaster response of 9/11, where I went to the Washington, D.C. area and spent three weeks on the phone talking with people who've lost loved ones in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and on the flight which crashed in Pennsylvania.

Back at the fall writer's conference, I had discovered there is a writer's group not too far from where I live. Sweet! Once a month the Moraine Writer's Group gets together to discuss and critique each other's works. It's amazing!! About two weeks before the group meets I email what I've written to all the group members. All the members do this. Then, we print and read what the members have written. We correct typos, grammar, and punctuation. And we provide our insightful comments about the works we have read. Once we get together in person, we take time to share what we think. It's a great way to provide critique and receive feedback about what we've written. So, if you plan on writing a book, get out and find a writer's group.

I go to my first meeting. There I learned that I love the word "that." I use that word over and over and over. I wasn't even aware that I used that word quite so much. Now, I'm finally at that point where I just can't stand that word. See what I mean. That's nine times I've used it in just this short paragraph. Thanks Moraine Writer's Group for helping me to conquer that particular writing problem.

I also had my good friend Elaine read my first stab at writing a book. Both she and the writer's group both let me know I had a good story, it's interesting, but I needed to get to the point. Does the reader really need to know all about my training? Do they really need to know about every single fire I ever responded to? There were hundreds of fires where I helped provide assistance. They all politely let me know to move on. If the book is going to be about 9/11, hurricane Katrina, and hurricane Sandy, then I need to tell those stories. So, I changed my first very lengthy chapter to a short one about how I began volunteering and what led me to become a national responder. Then, I jump right into the events of 9/11/2001 and how I was able to help and respond.

Everything possible that can be written about 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and Hurricane Sandy has already been written. Except my story. It is an opportunity for me to express my inner life, what I experienced. You know me: my exterior, what you see, and the words you hear me express. But now, it is important for me to finally share my inner journey with you. I want my grandchildren, and others, to really know what I experienced, what I accomplished, and maybe most importantly what I was feeling, not just what they see about who I am. My book will provide a glimpse into my inner thoughts and feelings about what I experienced, not just what you see on the outside of me.

Inspiration

Inspiration

I've come to learn that writing a book is both exhilarating and exhausting. It's fraught with highs and lows; one moment sure it will be the next big blockbuster of the century, after that not sure if even my grandkids will find it interesting—and they love me.

Before I attended the Wisconsin Writers Association conference in October of 2015, I had a conversation with my oldest granddaughter Paige, who is now twenty-one. We were discussing 9/11 and how it affected her when she was very young. In a high school psychology class, they discussed people jumping out of the World Trade Center buildings rather than facing their death trapped and unable to escape the burning buildings.

During our discussion, I realized that my ten grandchildren don't know the extent of my journey with the American Red Cross. Some day in school, they might learn of what happened on 9/11, at hurricane Katrina, and during hurricane Sandy. It was this conversation that would be the impetus to bring the possibility of writing a book about my volunteering to the forefront of my mind.

I'm not special, disaster volunteers number in the hundreds of thousands. There are many who have been to more single family fires than I; and, many to more national disasters than me. It kinda gets in our blood and we thrive on the adrenaline rush of being called to disasters. And, we want to help. We're trained to help. I just happened to find a few moments to write in my journal every day.

I'm writing this book for my grandchildren. All of them know that I've volunteered with the Red Cross. Several marched in Fourth of July parades with me as we'd walk in front of our disaster van carrying the United States flag, the Red Cross flag, and a Red Cross banner. Others sat on the curb watching me march past. Even our youngest granddaughter at the age of four is fascinated by my framed poster of Minnie Mouse. Minnie is wearing a dress with a Red Cross on it while she hugs a little girl whose house was destroyed by a tornado.

They know of my volunteering with the Red Cross, but they don't know the extent of my involvement. Will they care? I think they might. I've decided I need to share my story with them. Because no one knows it but me.

While travelling with my husband, I was in the habit of keeping a travel journal. Just bits and pieces about where we went, what we saw, and what restaurants we visited. When I traveled to disaster locations with the Red Cross I decided to keep a daily journal. I'd send the journals back home to my family so they'd know what I was doing. Well, not just my family. I'd send it to distant relatives, all my co-workers, and many colleagues in my profession along with near and far friends. I thought they might be interested. And, they were.

In fall of 2015, when I attended the fall Wisconsin Writers Conference, I was inspired and encouraged to finally dust off the copies of the daily journals I kept and do something with them. The time has finally arrived.

So, I began. I wrote and wrote. I wrote the full history of how I started with the Red Cross, what training I needed, and about my pager going off in the middle of the night to help families as I volunteered on the Disaster Action Team in Milwaukee.

Thoughts filled my head. I'd jump up in the middle of the night to jot things down. The thing to do when writing a book, at least a memoir like mine, is to just keep writing. I kept writing until I wrote everything I remembered about how my volunteering began. Then I started reviewing my journals from 9/11. I reviewed every day of my 9/11 journey. Fifteen years later it's still impossible for me to revisit my 9/11 journals without coming to tears. I updated it into a readable format correcting grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Then I sent it to my friend Elaine, for her to read. And, I sent it to the Moraine Writer's group I had discovered through the writer's conference I attended.

- Debbie

Next blog...
What Elaine and the writer's group thought of the beginning of my book.

The Accidental Author

The Accidental Author

Don't get me wrong. I'm not a published author...yet.

I became an author by accident. 

Writing annual procedure manuals for fifteen years would hardly qualify me for the job, no matter how well written. I guess it really started on Anna Maria Island in Florida where I was inspired to become a poet. As I watched the waves keep coming, coming, coming.

Years later I tagged along with a good friend to a fall writer's conference in Wisconsin. Now, she's a REAL writer. She is actually an award winning author. I guess you'd call her a humor essayist. She sits in her breezeway and writes about her life experiences, her sons, and meetings on the street with non English speaking strangers as she tries to help them.

At the writer's conference people would ask me what type of writing I do, "What's my genre?" Huh? We'll I know what a genre is. I'd say I'm not really a writer. But I have done a little bit of poetry. Then, I'd meekly add that I did keep a journal while I was deployed by the Red Cross after 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy, and other disasters. Their eyebrows would rise as they'd ask "you were there?" Well, yes, I was.

I had a very busy full-time career in the financial aid profession. There truly is no slow time of year. When being called by the Red Cross, they want you to stay at the disaster location for three weeks. It's not worth the time and expense for them to send someone for a shorter period of time. Because it was so hard for me to take three weeks off of work I had to be selective with which disasters I'd respond to. Of course The Big Three were 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and Hurricane Sandy. If there is any time in financial aid that is less busy than others, it's the fall. The current students are already enrolled and the new financial aid season doesn't begin until after January 1st. Coincidental or not, I was able to respond to 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina in fall. By the time Hurricane Sandy arrived I was retired and could respond at any time.

Who couldn't help but respond. We were all stunned on 9/11. We watched in frustration at the slow arrival of assistance in New Orleans after Katrina. And we watched in amazement after Hurricane Sandy as the roller coaster disintegrated before our eyes and fires spread unchecked. Because the media showed nothing but these events for weeks, the drama tore at our hearts. We watched helpless as we sat in our homes unable to do anything but watch and maybe donate some money. 

I was fortunate. I was trained and ready to help. I could really do something. I didn't just have to watch. So I went. I took three weeks' vacation after each of these Big Three disasters to travel to where the events happened.

And then I kept a journal. I sent them home to tell the behind the scenes story. Not what you saw on the news. But, the journey of someone who delivered a glimmer of hope—one family at a time. As I sent these journals to people I know, some would say to me "you should write a book." You have an ability to tell a good story. I'd shrug and reply, "Maybe someday."

The journey of my, as yet, unpublished book possibly titled "A Gift Of Hope - Journals Of a Disaster Volunteer" will be shared in my blog as I progress with my writing.

Please join me as I traverse this unknown journey.

- Debbie