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World Trade Center

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.

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.