Wednesday, April 17, 2013

In the Aftermath of Boston: Lessons Relearned By the Wife of a World Trade Center Survivor

Given that my husband, Greg, is a survivor of terrorism, I am unable and unwilling to  immerse myself emotionally and intellectually in any news about acts of violence. To that end, I am limiting myself to reading about the massacre in Boston to just once a day, in the morning, on my New York Times newsfeed. 

Last night I took a half hour walk in the dark here in Palm Beach County, Florida, where I am visiting my parents from my home in New Jersey. My heart was full, missing my husband and our now-teenaged sons and grateful that I am still blessed with the presence of my octogenarian parents.

Stepping into the dark, with only the stars and pelicans overhead as my companions, I prayed for the souls of the newly lost and the beloveds they have left behind. I prayed too for those who witnessed the attacks; they will forever be like panes of glass that have been shattered in small places you can only see if the sun hits them in a certain way.

Those of you who know my family know that Greg not only survived the attack on Tower One within 11 minutes of it collapsing, (he escaped from the 68th floor, step by step by step) but also that he worked that very day and for three years in the aftermath of the attacks, doing his job in media relations for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. He wrote about the attack's victims, one by one by one, and he also handled media relations for the reconstruction of the World Trade Center site. 

What I learned from our long years of immersion in trauma is that terror can find a home in your heart if you enable it.

I learned that evil is real. I learned that the worst kind of terror is the kind you welcome into your heart and let settle in.
 I learned there is little that separates us from the "bad guys." We all wake up every day with the capacity to give in to despair, and to violence. 

I pray we understand that evil is real. And that love and hope are far more powerful.  

I learned this lesson yet again yesterday afternoon, when I accompanied my mother to a health clinic that was set up 20 years ago to meet the needs of migrant workers in Palm Beach County. The Caridad Center is staffed by volunteer physicians and dentists and interpreters. At 83, my multilingual mother is teaching herself Creole in the hope of volunteering as an interpreter for the Haitian refugees who have found themselves here. 

The work of the Caridad Center isn't going away; it is deepening as Haitian refugees resettle here and the economy in South Florida still falters. Families still reach out for help and strangers keep showing up to grab their hands. 

This is how we build a human society. This is how we knit ourselves to one another in the presence of the immeasurable love that called every soul into being. This is a presence much more powerful that a pressure cooker turned into a killing and maiming machine. 

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a talk at Rutgers University by Father James Martin, S.J. He's written a book about the need for joy in our spiritual lives. A graduate student friend of mine asked him the one thing we can do to welcome joy. He gave a broad smile and said we need to keep one thing in mind: "Christ is risen. So what do we have  to fear?"


  1. That little boy...that poor little boy. He is all I see in all of this. Such hope and promise.

    But, Christ is Risen. Despite all of this, He is Risen.

  2. Oh my gosh, what a post. I have to say, your gifts are apparent, and you put them at the service of healing in the world through Christ.

    As Paula wisely says, Christ is Risen, despite it all.