Twenty Six Days More..

How I wish this was a countdown to Christmas, a birthday, a special occasion.

It is not.

If you know me, you know what twenty-six more days mean.

I found some solace yesterday on a tour of the 9/11 Memorial with visitors from the 9/11 Tribute Museum. It was not a very large group but it was a very healing 75 minutes.

I have made it a point to do two things when I give tours: Wear my sunglasses and don’t look at any one on the tour who is crying.

Why?

  1. I don’t want them to see me crying and
  2. If I see them crying, then …… refer to Number 1

I did both. But it didn’t work.

Once again, I try to keep some emotions in check but human feelings will always be powerful, no matter the situation. And yesterday was  one of those days where, the universe insisted that I let those emotions out.

By the end of the tour, I usually get hugs. I was now the one giving them. That’s fine too. The feelings are the same. Doesn’t matter who makes the first move.

One of the visitors waited a bit. She was in tears. She walked up to me and hugged me so tightly and began to sob uncontrollably. I wondered if she had a 9/11 story. When I asked, she said,

“No I don’t. I saw it from my television. But now it’s real. I’m so sorry you are dealing with all of this.”

“I’m not the only one,” I said.

“I know and I only know this because of what you shared with us today. That day was so hard for all of us but it was even harder for all of you. How can you do this every day? I couldn’t.”

“Yes, you can. You came here today. You just did it. Talking about it is as healing as hearing about it. You know you are not alone when others share their stories. ”

She began to hug me again and this time she put her head on my shoulder and cried even more.

“I don’t want to let you go. I feel I need to help now even after all this time. I don’t want to go back home and not do something after knowing all that you and so many others do.”

I now felt as if I was holding my own child. This would be the second time in two months that I was overcome with that emotion.
I began to cry with her.

Soon, two others joined us.

It was more than a group hug kind of thing. We held on to each other not wanting to end the moment. Finally, she moved back. All her makeup was gone.  The others, I noticed were men. Two grown men, crying just like we were. Men hurt too.

Pain, hurt, bad memories, does not discriminate. It hurts us all equally.

They asked if they could say a little prayer with me. We held hands. This was a first for me in my eight years of doing this. I never say no to a prayer moment.

Shaking, she held my hand as the others connected with me.

“Dear Lord, heal my friend here. Heal her husband. End this hate that we seem to be living in every day. Help me to be a better person. Help me to help others.”

The gentlemen then began to speak.

“Dear God, I haven’t been a good person lately. I’m angry all the time. I don’t find happiness in anything but today, my plans were cancelled and I came here. I know why now. Please heal those that are sick. Please forgive me. ”

I cannot put into words what I was feeling at that moment.

The third man spoke. But this time he took my hands as the others circled around me.

“Father, I have not spoken to you for three years. I blamed you for taking my wife. I’m sorry. I know it was her time. But it wasn’t their time.” He points to the memorial waterfalls. “I don’t want it to be Sonia’s time. Heal her dear Lord. Give her peace for the next few weeks. I promise to be a better man. I promise to make those phone calls Sonia suggested we make to make amends. I promise I will be a better person to others. Today I release my anger. I am filled with your blessings and I thank you for putting Sonia in my path today.”

Suddenly, in the 82 degree temperature, I felt a chill. I raised my head and began to let the tears flow. I didn’t care any more about having to be strong. I didn’t care any more that some people think I should get over this. I didn’t care any more if those not affected couldn’t stand to hear one more story about 9/11. I felt a sense of peace. Tranquility. I felt love from strangers. I felt connected.

We hugged one last time with the woman telling me she still couldn’t let me go.

“I want to hold you. I want to comfort you. You will go home today and still have to face the unknown and all your nightmares and I can’t help you.”

“You came today. You helped me. Believe me you did. Go home and practice random acts of kindness. Do not let anger control you. Let love guide you. Be a friend to someone you haven’t been a friend to in a while. Call the person that hurt you and begin a dialog. And then you will know that you have indeed helped me as well as yourself and most importantly others.”

As I walked back to the Tribute museum, I began to realize that I too had the same emotions they had for different reasons. But in the end, it was about healing. I’m not that caught up in my own 9/11 world that I can’t realize that other people hurt and while I find healing and some peace in what I do with my volunteer work, I do believe with all my heart that there are many out there that did not experience 9/11 like my friends and I did, but they hurt as well,

They hurt for their country, our world. They hurt because they felt helpless. They hurt because they believed that now that we had a memorial and a museum that we could move on and they know we can’t. They hurt because they are human beings.

As I got into the museum to turn in my headsets and pictures, I was told I had a visitor upstairs. I was expecting no one.

The visitors were in the lobby. I did not know any of them.
“We apologize for intruding like this. We didn’t mean to eavesdrop on your tour or conversations but we saw the women crying and we moved closer. We prayed along with you even though you didn’t see us. We didn’t know that this was the museum that had the stories. We wanted to hug you but didn’t want you to think we got on your tour for free. Please accept this from us. And know that we will be praying for you and your family and all your friends.” They put something in my hand. I thought it was a prayer card. I get a lot of them.

“Thank you for your kind words. Please don’t feel bad about eavesdropping. If you took something away from what you heard, then I’m happy. I invited them into the museum, ready to cash in my discount for entry. They had to leave as they were late for another tour.

I took a deep breath and walked back in.

I remembered the prayer card they placed in my hand.

It was not a prayer card, it was a hundred-dollar bill wrapped in paper with words of peace.

I don’t take tips. I don’t take money. What I do comes from the heart. By the time I realized what I had in my hand they were gone. I didn’t want them to think that we took money. I became a bit upset at that thought.

I handed the money to one of our managers, picked up my belongings and headed for my car. I read the message again. On the bottom was this:

“We knew you would not take this money for yourself. We know that education is important to you. Please use this money to educate others. And thank you for keeping the memories alive for all who were taken from us.”

They knew! Suddenly I felt so much better that these kind people didn’t walk away thinking I did this for money. They got the message with what little they saw and heard. It is always a heartwarming feeling when even just one person tells you, that they got it. They understand better now.

For the first time in days, I didn’t think of that number. I didn’t feel that sadness. Today was a good day. I was light on my feet. I was even humming my favorite song. I came home, tossed my stuff in the corner basket. Got into my comfy clothes, turned on the computer to check my email.

Another First Responder died .

Twenty six more days.

It just never ends.

But I am so grateful for the blessing I received earlier. I am so very grateful that the good Lord sent these people my way. I am so thankful that I can still tell my story with hope and faith.

And that’s what I held onto until I could no longer keep my eyes open.

God sends us messages all the time. Whether it’s a beautiful butterfly that stops along side you, a kind smile from someone you don’t know to brighten your day or visitors that wanted to understand 9/11.

Be good to yourselves these next twenty-six days. Be kind to others. Do not let the hate that came into our back yards sixteen years ago  overrule all the good that is in your heart. Make that phone call you’ve been meaning to make to speak to the friend that you had a falling out with.  Be mindful of the things you say to others as you do not know what they may be going through at that moment. Always always believe that today is the best day and tomorrow will be better. Let Go and Let God because trust me, he does work in mysterious ways. Do not be deceitful to any one. If you can’t be a friend, then at least be cordial and respectful. It takes less energy than to be spiteful and dismissive. When you find yourself caught up in the drama of others, do not let that change you in any way. It is not your drama, it is theres.

What someone does to me is their path, how I react to it, is mine.

You are loved.

Blessings,

Sonia

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Where You There?

Many of us that experienced September 11th on a personal level know exactly what we were doing and where we were before 8:46 a.m. For us, there is 9/11/01 and then there is 9/11/01-8:46. It’s as simple as that. Before that hour began we were living in a world where we knew there was danger but somehow we still felt safe. I have forgotten how safe feels.

Many of us live with that horror to this very day and I suspect for many more years to come. And when we come across someone who has a personal 9/11 story, we stop, we listen and we connect. We have become members of a club we never asked to be a part of. That’s the way it is so we make the best of it.

But….

Then there are those that for some reason want to be connected to the 9/11 story. And to that I say, “Take my story if it’ll make you feel relevant.”

I don’t quite  know why people do this but when I’m a witness to it, I have to bite my tongue because the things that I want to say would probably cause a more difficult situation that quite honestly is so not worth it. But I always walk away asking myself, “WHY?”

Did you see the horror personally?

Did you go there and hold people as they fought thru their tears?

Did you lose a personal friend? Not someone who knows someone, but a personal friend? Someone you saw regularly, someone you had a connection with?

Did you begin to have nightmares after 9/11? Do you count down the days every year until September 11 arrives?

Did you put up your Christmas decorations, three months after 9/11? Did you have a good Thanksgiving? Did you feel any guilt listening to holiday music that first year?

Where you there?

Do you shudder every time you see an airplane? Do you think it’s too low, too close? Do you wonder when you go away, if the plane you are on will be the one hijacked that day?

When you take the train, do you wonder if that’s the day a gunman will spray the car you are in killing everyone? Do you panic every time you hear of another shooting, another bombing, another beheading?

Those that don’t get this tell those of us that do, to get over it. But we lived it so how does one get over it? How does one move on when a sound, a word, a picture triggers fear within us?

Are you ill? Do you know someone who is sick because of the toxins they breathed in on that day and thereafter? Have you seen someone you know, someone you love, turn into bones because of the illnesses they have poisoning their bodies?

I know how my story will end. My husband knows how his will end. Our daughter wonders which one of her parents will die first and which one she’ll have to care for after. Do you experience that?

If you haven’t, count your blessings.

If you haven’t, embrace those around you that are healthy.

If you haven’t, then don’t judge those of us who have and can’t seem to get past something because of a trigger.

If you haven’t, don’t think for one minute because you know about September 11th, 2001 that you are entitled to use the 9/11 card.

Those of us who lived it, don’t use it. You shouldn’t either. And shame on you if you do.

 

9/11 doesn’t define us, we define 9/11.

 

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This is for all my brothers and sisters who live with this every single day of your life. We stand together because together we are stronger. May you find peace in your day today. May the next few weeks be kind to you.

It’s been an honor and a privilege to know you.

Sonia

How Can We All Feel The Same Thing -Yet Feel So Alone?

I didn’t think that I would feel so lost this early in August, and yet here I am.

I feel ungrateful that I had a few months of traveling to different places and can’t focus on those amazing experiences to get out of this dark cloud.

I forced myself out of bed this morning. I still have no idea what to do but I’m looking forward to six o’clock so I can justify getting back in bed.

My husband is still asleep. He feels it too but he doesn’t say much. He never has. I know he is thinking of the friends he worked with that are now gone because of that horrible day and because of illnesses they contacted when they were in the pit.

We walk on eggshells now because this 9/11 cloud is slowly brewing. This is the time when we can’t find the right words to say. This is the time when we fear going out, for no apparent reason.

I’ve got lots to do to keep me busy but I have no motivation to do any of it.

I know I’m not alone. Still, trying to reach out to those that feel what I feel prevents me from reaching out to them. I don’t want to add to their depression.

I know they feel the same way.

We say to each other all the time that we are there for each other. It’s true we are. But we also know the way the mind is working and so we feel guilt in reaching out for solace. It’s funny how I would have no problem picking up the phone to help a friend during this time, but I can’t seem to do that for myself. I wouldn’t know what to say. It’s all to mixed up in my head.

Artie Van Why is a friend. He knows what is in my heart, in my head. He knows what we all go through during this time. And yet, we’ve never met. We are connected because of this horrible tragedy. He has a heart of gold. But he has the same demons we all have because of 9/11. He puts himself out there so we can all not feel this solitude. I want to be Artie when I grow up.

How can all of us feel the same thing yet, feel so alone?

I remember the power talk I gave to my daughter who was sixteen years old when 9/11 happened. She didn’t want to go to school. She wanted to be with me. I needed her to be 16, so the power talk began.

“You must do all that you can do not to give into this fear. You have to continue living because those that did this to us would want us not to do just that. You must be the very best that you can be. So go into your classroom and be a student. Be a friend. Be you. And we will be okay. I promise.”

Off she went.

I did not believe one word I said to her that Monday morning when things were trying to get back to normal. So I drove my car underneath some trees and sat there until she got out of school, six hours later.

I would do this for about two weeks and every day she got into the car and asked, “How was your day mom?” And I’d make up something and we’d go back home and do the normal stuff we always did.

I couldn’t keep up this pretense. It was slowly eating me away. My husband would come home every night and say nothing. I could see his hurt. I could feel his helplessness. But he wouldn’t let us talk to him about his day.

I had to be a wife and a mom. I had no time to be Sonia.

Two weeks to the day that I began my story telling of how I spent my days, my daughter would ask me again, how was my day? As I began to spin yet another tale, she put her hand on mine and said, “Mom, you do know I can see you out the window, right?”

Busted!

I lost it then. It was the first time I allowed myself to cry in front of my daughter. I put my head on the steering wheel and cried. I apologized for my deception and told her I just needed her to be 16.

“I stopped being 16 mom, on 9/11”

That is a painful thing to hear as a mother. I had sent her the wrong message.

Two days later, I became a recovery worker at Ground Zero. I had to erase the negative message I had given her and show her that we all had to do what was needed at a time like this. But we all had to continue to live, not in fear but in faith.

I saw then what was haunting my husband. It began to haunt me.

He wasn’t too happy about my doing midnights at the Respite Center but he understood that as a former EMT for the city of New York, it was in my blood. I had to be there. I had to help.

I would do it again in a heartbeat, minus the nightmares. But we all know that’s not possible. You can’t un-ring a bell.

Today, there are so many feeling what I am feeling. I am not alone. After sixteen years, one would think this would be a sad memory but not a paralyzing one.  It is both for me.

Today, I will make the effort to get out of my way and do something productive. The thought of feeling this way for 31 more days is too much to deal with. Today, I will share a smile, a kind thought, a happy memory with anyone that cares to listen.

Sixteen years ago, nineteen men stole 2,977 voices, but they did not take mine.

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You are loved.
Sonia

 

Thirty – Two Days and counting…

Getting on the plane, August 1st, was a bit nerve-wracking. I wanted to get away and not be in NY for at least two weeks. Every year, I expect things to get better, to feel better, but it doesn’t happen. This year, I told my family we would get away to do absolutely nothing. We would spend time together, get silly, go wherever we wanted to, eat what we wanted to and beat our own music on our own drum.

That sounded amazing. And it was a pretty excellent time we had.

But you cannot escape September 11th, 2001, no matter how far away you run.

As I was reading my book, a gentleman noticed my tattoo and asked, “Is that a meaning for something in particular or is it just a favorite quote?”

And so it began.
The reason for my tattoo.

“Where you there? Really?”

“Yes sir, I was. I was a recovery worker, but I was the wife of a NYPD officer who responded that day to Ground Zero.”

“What? Seriously? I’ve always wanted to go to NY to see the memorial but may I ask you a few questions?”

Now mind you… I wanted to get away from all that but there is something inside of me that pushes me outside of that hiding spot and always, always, says “Yes, sure, of course.”

The story telling began. Then the family wanted to meet us. Then they told their friends and each day we were at the pool, someone else approached us.

You can’t run away.

I’m counting the days till that one nightmare comes to visit with me each year. It is always the same:

Standing on a pile, surrounded by smoke, I’m yelling at no one in particular but as loud as I can yell, “Go away. Go home. Don’t come to work today. Please, stay away.”And then I look around me and realize it’s too late. They came to work and I didn’t get to them on time.

And each year, I go to bed thinking – will I wake up tomorrow and know that this was all a bad bad dream?

Our vacation went well, no nightmares, no sadness but no sleep.

Watching my frail husband getting in and out of the pool made me want to scream at the world – “WHY? All he did was try to save people! WHY? All he did was protect and serve! WHY? Why is he sick? Why is he disappearing from me little by little?

I didn’t ask myself those questions when I got sick. Not sure why. I guess seeing someone you love change right in front of you is different. The reality is different. And now…

Now he wants to move. He wants to go places. He wants to sit with us and watch television as he fights to stay awake. Now he wants to do it all and we join him because these will be our memories one day.

 

We met a woman whose husband was at Ground Zero. (See, you can’t escape it.) He has emphysema. She didn’t know about the WTC clinics and that she could get help for her husband. He came from North Carolina.

And so it began…

“Have you heard of John Feal and the Fealgood Foundation? Have you heard of John Stewart? Look them up. You will find all the information you need to get your husband the help he needs.”

And so it continues….

9/11 just doesn’t end for us.

 

May all who witnessed 9/11, May all who came to help, May all who lost a loved one on 9/11 know that you are in my thoughts and prayers these next few weeks. You are not forgotten. We may have never met but we are connected because of this tragedy. May you find peace in all that you do. May you smile a little bit each day. May you laugh or giggle for a few minutes each day. May those that share your pain know that they are not alone either. And may one day, all of us find the peace we have been searching for, for sixteen years.

You are loved.

Sonia

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Welcome to Alaska – Cabot Creamery Style

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A few months ago, Joe and I decided to redo our bucket list. We had lost a few friends due to 9/11 related illnesses and reality was hitting us hard. Years before we had said we wanted to go on a cruise, either to Alaska or the Caribbean. Then our daughter came along and those dreams were put on hold.

We made another bucket list and those two places were still on it. But things have changed since the first time we made the list plus we were much younger back then and could do all the things we had written down. Then life has a way of throwing you curve balls and we had too many we could not catch, so the list was now a far away dream.

We knew, without saying the words, that life was becoming increasingly short, and we should revisit that list. I kept the Caribbean cruise on the top of the list and moved Alaska to the bottom because I just didn’t think we’d get there and to be honest, the Caribbean cruise was something we wanted to experience with our daughter, so that remained on the top of the list with Alaska earning an asterisk. (Just in case the stars were aligned just right for us.)

Our daughter added to that list and off we went to la la land to dream of these not so far away places.

Then about two weeks later, I’d get an email.

It stated:

Congratulations! You’ve  won a cruise!

(It said more than that but…

I thought…”Ha ha.. whose the joker who did this?”

I didn’t say anything that first day. But in cleaning out my mail box, there it was, the email I had ignored. This time I read it all the way to the end.

“Carissa? Can you read this for me? I think I won a cruise.”

Carissa ran to the computer.

“Mom, you did. But it doesn’t say where.”

Well we are believers that if you put it out there, it will come to you. Of course we also believe you’ve got to work for it as well.

I searched and searched and I saw on the site that there were cruises from the past but it wasn’t clear where this cruise was going.

A while after that, another email.

“Hi Sonia, my name is Cheryl. I’m from Cabot Creamery.”

I knew without reading any further that this was not a joke. This was real. Cabot Creamery is very real. It’s an amazing organization/co-operative family. It does some astounding things for people all over the world. And farmers, (yes, you read that right,) Farmers, the folks that work hard so we can have the best tasting food in life, are behind it all. (More on that later.)

We were going to Alaska.

We held our breaths. Do we choose the date? Or is it a set date?

We didn’t dare think about it again.

Carissa would say, “As much as I’d love to go with you and dad, if I can’t, this is a sign that you were meant to go. Remember that first list you made? I wasn’t born yet. It’s a sign mom. Don’t say no because of me. I get to have the place to myself for an entire week!” she smiled but I’ve never been that far away without my baby girl. (Well on vacation that is. I’ve been to Japan.;o)

The dates were set. She couldn’t go.

But she was okay with it.

“Mom, the same way you do things to help others, I do that as well. I can’t leave my students for one week. Not this close to the end of school. Please don’t say no. Go!”

And before I knew it, phone calls were made, arrangements were made, I was packing up suitcases and then unpacking them because the clothes didn’t work for me.

And then I’d “Meet” online a few of the other winners.

This was really happening. Soon we began asking questions, sharing tips and before I knew it, I was walking into a hotel in Seattle.

Roberta would greet me first.

“I knew it was you Sonia. Just like your picture.”

I thought, “Ugh. That fishbowl picture that Nate asked me to resend. Now everyone would see it. Ugh ugh ugh.”

Roberta had cow pants on. Yes she did and I believe she might be the only person on earth who could wear them and look good. And don’t get me started on the red plaid shirts of which I have a few and the black T-shirts the staff wore. Cool comfort. Stylish and not in my suitcase!

Right behind her was Cheryl. Ready with a newsletter, two name tags and the biggest smile.

This was for real.

When I woke up from this dream, I was on a bus, getting sashed. I saw the ship I would spend 6 nights with my husband –  suddenly get bigger and bigger as we got closer and closer.

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Then something splendiferous began to happen.

“Hi where are you from?”

“You must be Ramona! I recognize you from your pictures.”

“I saw your post on Facebook while you were waiting for the plane.”

It didn’t matter if we all had just met. Cabot worked their magic, again, and we were friends that just hadn’t met in person yet. The excitement on everyone’s faces were contagious. The stories behind each smile was inspiring.

At one point, I turned to my husband and said,”We are among the best of the best. What are WE doing here? Have you read what they have all done?”

My husband said, “You think they made a mistake? Cause I’m not getting off this ship.”

They did not make a mistake. And we were among the best of the best. And  there are so many more like us out there and Cabot Creamery Co-operative puts us all together.

There was one thing that bothered my husband and I. How could we accept such a gift for our volunteer work? We don’t volunteer for attention, we don’t volunteer for gifts, we just volunteer. It’s what we need to do to give back to a community that has lost so much.

And then…

Our first workshop… the third item on the list for all of us to do/remember was to be proud. Be proud of your work. Be proud of what you do. When you are proud you honor your community. And it’s okay to be proud.

I smiled.

I let go of that uneasy feeling.I had an entire day to make up.

There are no words for the magnificent folks from Cabot Creamery. The entire staff does phenomenal work and not just putting the cruise together but what they do each and every day. And they do it for us, for you, for me, for all of us that give back to our communities. Many of you who have read my posts daily have seen me post my volunteer time on Facebook. Did you know that you could do the same thing as well. Again, not just for you. It’s not really about you, it’s about the work you do. (But Cabot does make it about you. They spoil you. And it feels oh so very good.) But in posting my volunteer hours, I am actually highlighting the organizations I volunteer for. I’m bringing awareness to the cause I believe in. And that in and of itself is what brings others to volunteer, not just for my organization but for others that post their hours as well. It’s a win win situation and I can’t see how this can’t work. It has and it does and it continues to do so.

So here’s how it works.

Go to RewardsVolunteer.

Sign up, enter the name of your organization(s).

Every time you volunteer, go to the site, clock in your hours, report and share and VOILA! You are done!

It’s that easy. If I can do it, so can you. And most of you know I am computer challenged. Every time you report and share, others get to see it. You are bringing awareness to your organization and that inspires others to do the same. And isn’t it what volunteering is all about? Giving back!

I have to admit though, I do get a lot out of volunteering.
I meet great people. I educate. I honor and remember and at the end of my day,  I know I’ve made a difference.

Thank you to all the wonderful people who have given so much time of themselves, their hearts, their souls, and their passions have helped make a difference in the lives of so many. If you ever doubt that you have not done enough, just look at all the pictures posted on Facebook. Look into your camera’s and remember how great you felt because of all that you do.

I’d like to thank the farmers who made all of this possible. Your work is hard enough on a daily basis and yet you remember us. You appreciate us. We value you as well.

And last not least, to the Cabot Creamery Staff/Rewards Volunteer Staff. All the work you did to make this trip an amazing one was spectacular, superb, and amazing, We know you have families of your own. We know you do so much more than what we saw but what I’d like you to know is that you made so many people feel the love of the farmers, your love and you gave us all the experience of a lifetime, including a couple who 35 years ago gave up on a dream and got to live it 2 weeks ago.

Thank you! Merci. Prego, Arregat0, Gracias from our hearts to yours.

If you’ve read this far, check out RewardsVolunteer… you are making a difference now for your organization, now show the world who they are and what you do.

If I can do it….So can you!

#CabotCreameryCo-operative @CabotCreameryCo-operative #rewardsvolunteer

 

Hashtag DO IT! You will not regret it.
What you do today will make a difference tomorrow.

Be the change you want to see in the world.

And eat CHEESE! CABOT CHEESE…

Tell them Sonia sent ya!

(More pics to follow. Can’t post them all now. I have some volunteering to do.)

 

 

 

I’m An Islander, I Am An Islander.

About two years ago or so, I read a book. “The Day The World Came To Town.” When I saw the book in Barnes and Noble I was curious. I had no idea that it was about September 11th, 2001. For years, it’s alway been hard for my family and I to read, watch or even converse about anything related to 9/11.

For years, our world was connected to those who were there. That was probably the only time we felt comfortable discussing the day our lives changed. But this book, was different. I brought it home and by the next morning, I had read the entire book.

I exhaled when I was done.

When we were experiencing the worst of humanity, the town of Gander, Newfoundland was showing the best of humanity. I was compelled to read it again the following evening, this time slower and with a highlighter pen. I needed to know each and every character. I lived each and every moment with each paragraph I read.

I exhaled when I was done.

Fast forward to one lovely mid afternoon day. A friend, Vernoy P. was talking to some of the docents on a break. I was reading an email that just came through that needed my attention. As I was almost done with my task, I could hear Vernoy speaking about something that seemed so very familiar to me. When I mentioned that it sounded like a book I had read, she said, “The Day The World Came to Town?” Immediately we began to talk about parts of the book and I told her my favorite character was Oz Fudge, the constable and Beulah Cooper. The conversation went on and on to the point that we both forgot the time which made us a bit late for our assigned posts.

Vernoy was talking about wanting to go to Gander. I was interested until she said it would be for the 15th year of the attacks. I shut down after that. I couldn’t leave NY on 9/11. I had other obligations the day after. As much as I would have loved to go, there was no way I could go. But Ms. Vernoy is one persistent woman: when she sets her mind to do something, it will get done.

Weeks later, on another break, she would ask my husband and I to come along. We explained we had obligations to which she responded, “You don’t have to be back on that Monday, it’s a day off from NY schools. You can come!” But we still had the issue that all the hotels were filled to capacity. As she grabbed her phone, she said, “I believe I booked 2 rooms. Let me check.” I looked at my husband and said, “If a room becomes available, it’s a sign.” My husband lowered his head and said, “I don’t know if I can be anywhere else but here on 9/11. It took me so long to come back to Ground Zero and now I can’t leave.” We both agreed that there were a few obstacles in our way that somehow were not  obstacles any more. So we agreed, if Vernoy told us she had the room, we would go.

Vernon walked towards us smiling.

We were going to Gander.

Gander at the airport

(Karen, Jeanette, Joe and me at the airport in Toronto)

We had a few months to plan and before we knew it, we were all meeting in Toronto. This was really happening.

We went to the schools to share the 9/11 story. We brought Stars of Hope to the town, giving them to the businesses that helped all the plane people. While half of the group were giving out the stars in town, some of us were tying yellow ribbons in Heritage Park where we were going to have a 102 minute ceremony to honor the Canadians that were killed along with family and friends who were killed in NY.

 

(Paul and Joe  and Jeanette, speaking to the students. Jeanette, Diane and Joe)

102 minutes was the time it took for 2,977 people to be murdered on 9/11 in all three attacks.

That evening, we were screeched in. We had read about it in the book, but now here we were, with fishermen hats, ready to take the plunge which included, Newfie steak (bologna), eating a piece of salted fish, chewing on a hard roll, tossing back some screech (bad Jamaican rum, which wasn’t bad at all to be honest,) and finally kissing a freshly caught Cod. We almost got away with not doing it but Jeanette mentioned it and Beulah’s face lit up and before we knew it, the cod was ready for us. Now we all had to pass the cod and kiss it, right smack in the lips.

 

Gander, ready to be screached

Gander, drank the screech

gander-911-037-1

 

We were now Newfoundlanders!

Saturday we were at the firehouse greeting friends. Meeting one and all whom we came to say thank you, but they were telling us THANK YOU! Here were these magnificent people who did so much for so many, who showed the best of humanity when we were seeing the worst, were telling us, THANK YOU? Their hearts were much bigger than we could have ever imagined. Those thank you’s filled our hearts with Joy. Their hugs, comforted us.

Paul, Ellen, Jeanette, Joe and I were there. Each of us saw it all, we experienced it and we still live it today. Those hugs were telling us, “You’ll be okay. We are with you. ”

We were indeed Islanders even before we screeched.

(The Brothers Fudge… Major from the Salvation Army… Presenting Plaque to the fire department and a plague to the mayor of Appleton.)

It had rained every day that we were there.

Gander ribbons at heritage park

On the morning of 9/11/16, the rain stopped.

 

ganderimg_0362

Our ceremony was simple. We read passages from poems and songs. We read the names, stopping 6 times to ring bells similar to the ones used in the New York Memorial Services every year. My husband, Joe and Paul I, a former NYC detective rang the bells. After the names were read by each person, they would place a Canadian and an American Flag in a circle I had put together with yellow ribbon. These flags would be presented to the Legion. I presented one of the bells to a Sargent from the Salvation Army. I brought the other one home.

Jeanette G and I had made a promise, not to cry. The whole point of this trip was to say thank you but for Jeanette, Paul I, Ellen, Joe and I, we were stepping out of our comfort box. We needed to do something different but what,how? Gander was it. Later on, watching the video someone took for me, I could hear Jeanette’s voice and mine crack. We inhaled several times. Joe and Paul were standing at attention, so proud in their handsome uniforms. I could see each time they rang the bells, how hard it was for the both of them.

I kept saying to myself, “don’t let go now. Hang in there. You can do it.”

When the ceremony was over, the folks that joined us came to us. The hugs were abundant. They were comforting. They were just what we needed from a town that faced fear, uncertainty but still pushed through it and gave so much of themselves to people they didn’t know.

They were OUR hero’s.

We had gone on a tour of the airport with the Mayor and others. Before we left on our trip I had told Vernoy, I wanted to bring some gifts of gratitude to the town. Our group was called Tour of Gratitude.

Before I knew it I had a bronze stature from the NYPD union, a plaque that was made by one of our docents at the 9/11 Tribute Museum, another plaque made by Paul’s brother. Paul had brought some certificates from the Detectives union. We gave the constables and Beulah a Tree of life wooden box filled with patches from the NYPD, FDNY and pins from each organization along with Challenge coins.

I knew we didn’t have to do this. They were happy just being with us but we wanted to say thank you in so many ways.

One of the visits some of us made was to the Search and Rescue of the Canadian Air-force. It was rather amazing to be inside a helicopter were so many rescues had taken place.

 

That evening would be our last. We were invited to the Ecumenical Ceremony where they had the choir sing, the mayor speak and it was all about unity, peace and honoring the  lives lost. Joe, Paul, Ellen and I were asked to walk in with the Royal Canadian Army. Joe kept saying no, we couldn’t do that but before we knew it, we were in the front, walking arm in arm with them. They told us they were honored to have us in the procession. I didn’t feel as if I should have been there. I pulled the officer aside and said, “Let the men walk, we’ll wait up front.” His reply?” You were there too. You know what many of our families deal with. You deserve to walk with us as well.”

I begged my tears not to start. Jeanette says I cry ugly. So I’m sparing you those pictures. ;o)

Instead I’d rather show you a picture of what an angel looks like sitting next to me.

That’s Beulah Cooper.
Every request, question or thought we had about our visit, went to Beulah and this splendiferous woman, had answers for all and if she didn’t, she’d find them. Her smile in infectious. Her hugs the best medicine in town.

Gander gift to Beulah

That evening was our last dinner together. It was also my husbands birthday. After 9/11, he made it clear he did not want us to celebrate his birthday. No cards, no cakes, maybe a hug. For him it was the day he lost both partners and we lost several close friends. I was the day so many innocent lives were lost. I tried one year to surprise him with a dinner. He smiled here and there, pulled me aside and asked, “What do I say when they tell me Happy Birthday?” I told him to say thank you.”Why?” he would say. “I’m here and so many others aren’t. I can’t do this.”

The morning of September 11th, 2001, I woke up to a clear beautiful bright blue sky. Our daughter was excited as we would be joining Joe at the precinct that night with a pot of home-made chili which Joe’s crew loved to eat. I had made the chili the night before and fully intended, after I did a few things in Manhattan that day, to meet up with Carissa and Joe to celebrate his birthday.

Instead, the world as we knew it had changed, suddenly and violently. We would not hear from Joe until about 5 pm that night. He told us where he was and how horrible  everything was. We had never heard our spiderman speak that way. Moments after our phone call, we would be told that the building where he was near had collapsed. He was supposed to call us at 10 that evening and he never did. On the morning of September 12th, we thought and discussed briefly of a funeral. My daughter reminded me of what I always told her when things weren’t going well, “Without Hope, We cannot Cope.” I held on to that until Joe walked in later on that morning, injured, in shock and covered in soot. He would never speak of his time there for many years. He only spoke 3 days after 9/11 to read off the names of the people who were missing, or as he said, “Their gone. All gone. Why them? Why wasn’t I taken as well?” I had lost the man I had kissed the morning of 9/11.

He was never the same.

Until….

Our last dinner.

Eating, chatting, laughing we were suddenly silent as Robert, an amazing singer and actor stood up and came behind Joe. With both his hands on Joe’s shoulder, he sang Happy Birthday to Joe. I held my breath.

Joe smiled. He really really smiled.

Earlier that day, Paul and Ellen had given Joe two gifts. One was a pair of sunglasses that Paul had worn before and Joe had admired. Paul found a pair for Joe.

The other was a picture of the both of them in gallery five of the Tribute Center. (Now the 911 Tribute Museum)

 

We  headed back to our hotel, ready to pack and rest before our early morning flight. As we got into bed, Joe said,”This was nice. I haven’t smiled so much in such a long time. These people lived 9/11 like we did. I think I can do this.”

I’m not sure what he meant by the last comment but it didn’t matter to me. He was smiling. He was happy and it was still September 11th, 2016.

But it didn’t end there.

We made life long friends or as the from Gandor, Mayor Claude Elliot would tell us, “No, not friends, you are family.”

Oz kept in touch with Joe all the time and I could hear Joe sometimes laughing so loud. I’d walk into the living room and see phone in hand. He’d hold it up and say, “That Oz… do you know what he said?” And he’d continue to laugh.

Oz calls me the war department but that’s fine because he calls his wife the same thing so I am in good company.

Weeks later, Joe would ask if there was something we could do for the folks in  Gander who were coming to NY. I jumped from my chair and said, “Here? In our hometown? How? Why? And do we have room for all of them? Where can we put them all? Oh this is too cool… What should I cook? Should I cook different dishes made with cod? Oh wait, maybe we should have our own screech ceremony.”

I called Jeanette telling her to help me put a screech ceremony together. No matter what we came up with, we soon realized that our family from Gander would not even blink an eye no matter what we came up with. They’d drink castor oil and eat raw fish if they had to. They were warm-hearted people but they were also fearless.

We soon gave up on that idea.

And then they were here.

The opening of Come From Away. A broadway show about Gander, the people of Gander, the plane people.

How can a story about 9/11 be turned into a musical?

Gander, invite to Gotham Hall

 

Well, they did it. Almost fourteen awards later and Sunday, June 11th, maybe seven more awards to be added to this phenomenal play, they did it. The Tony Awards.

We laughed. We cried. We smiled. We now knew of another story. The story of the plane people. The world would see the book come to life on stage in the most simplest of ways. In a most profound way. There was fear, that turned into comfort, that turned into love, that turned into uncertainty with love still there. And the end… spoke volumes to those of us from the 9/11 Tribute Museum…

Gander comes to tribute center

Our family from Gander visits the 9/11 Tribute Center (Now the 9/11 Tribute Museum.)

Gander,kell and me

(The magnificent Kelly)

Gander Oz Carissa joe and gander man

(Oz, Joe Carissa and Gander Man)

Gander, opening night gino geanette and me

(Jeanette, Moi and Gino, who plays Oz, very very well)

 

Gander opening night paul ellen beaulah and me

(Our angel, Paul and Ellen)

Gander opening night. Joe and me

(Yup that’s us, The Agrons)

(Ahhh Leo, sweet Leo who accepted the circle of flags for the legion and Diane… sweet sweet Diane who has a heart of gold…and always reminds me about responding to quizzes on FB.)

(Gino and moi. I told him I adored Oz and well, he just smiled and a Kodak moment was born)

=================================<<>>==========================
Tonight we honor what was lost but we commemorate what was found.And those simple words tell another story.

The story of a community that suffered so much loss coming together in a small gallery to share their stories with the world with the hope of peace, the hope that communities will stand together regardless of religion, political beliefs or cultures. We have all honored those that were taken from us and in our stories, in our sharing the knowledge of what we can all do as a community, we have become friends, sharing each others blessings. We have honored what was lost but we have commemorated what we found: each other. And that includes our family in Gander.

===========<<>>===========<<>>=========<<>>=========<<>>=======

On the northeast tip of North America, on an island called Newfoundland, there’s an airport.It used to be one of the biggest airports in the world, and next to it is a town called Gander.

Welcome to the rock if you come from away,
You’ll probably understand about half of what we say.
They say no man’s an island but an island makes a man,
Especially when one comes from one like Newfoundland.
Welcome to the Rock

Welcome to the wildest weather that you’ve ever heard of.
Where every one is nicer but it’s never nice above.
Welcome to the farthest place you’ll get from Disneyland.
Fish and chips and shipwrecks, this is Newfoundland.

Welcome to the land where the winters try to kill us and we say, “we will not be killed.”
Welcome to the land where the waters try to drown us and we said, “we will not be drowned.”
Welcome to the land where we lost our loved ones and we said, “we will still go on”
Welcome to the land where winds try to blow, and we said “No!”

Welcome to the fog, welcome to the trees,
to the ocean and the sky, and whatever’s in between.
To the one’s who left, you are never truly gone.
Our candle’s in the window and our candle’s always on.
When the sun is coming, and the world has come ashore.
If you’re hoping for a harbor than you’ll find an open door.
In the winter, from the water, through whatever’s in the way,
to the ones who have come from away,
Welcome to the rock!

 

Welcome to the friends who have come from away
Welcome to the locals who have always said they’d stay
If you’re comin’ from Toledo or you’re comin’ from Taipei
Because we come from everywhere,  we all come from away:
Welcome to the Rock!

 

=====================================================

Nine months later, we are still reliving our moments in Gander. We have seen the play six times and will be going as a group from the 9/11 Tribute Museum in September.

We speak to our family in  Gander and have planned a trip back to our home away from home. Or as Oz says, “You can stay with us but I’m going to put you to work.”

We have made the most amazing connections with a town not too many people knew about and hopefully soon, very soon, they will know that there is hope, there is love, there is kindness, there is acceptance, there is another place to call home:Gander Newfoundland.

I’m an Islander, I AM AN ISLANDER.

Sonia Agron

#ComeFromAway #911TributeCenter #911TributeMuseum

This is a copyrighted article as are the pictures. Please do not use without permision from the author.

 

Is This The New Normal?

Last week I attended the wake of a fellow EMT. I did not know her but I didn’t have to. You see, once a first responder, always a first responder. I had to pay my respects. I had to be there.

When I was interviewed after I left the funeral home, the reporter would ask me what it was like inside. I told her, “I mean no disrespect but what’s inside is a story for you to share with your readers. What’s inside for me, are broken hearts, lives that must start to heal and human beings from all over saying goodbye to one of our own. There is a reason why you are not allowed in there.” She said she understood and then proceeded to ask me other questions. I thought about it at first and then I realized, I tell stories of people who have died almost 16 years ago. I do it because I want people to never forget and while I did not know Yadira, I thought this is the moment where a reporter can tell our stories. Stories where we are always in danger, where we have no way out should someone come after us. I told her stories of courage and how we would do it all over again, whatever the call was, because it’s not a job, it’s a calling.

I had hoped that this would be a good way to let the world know that we don’t have the same safety features in place as other first responders do. Instead my comments were put in the obituary section and just a few words were mentioned. Already forgotten.

I’ve been told so many times that the job of a first responder is something we all chose. Yes indeed we did. But it wasn’t for the money, it certainly wasn’t because of the uniform or the city tin we all get called shields. It was because each and every one of us understood the need to help others, to save lives and to make a difference. It’s not a job, it’s a calling.

In the midst of going to the wake, we would hear of 3 more first responders that died due to  9/11 related illnesses. In January, we lost 9, February we lost 9 and March was looking to be the same.

Is this our new normal? Are we to wait, holding our breaths, that today will be the day someone else will die? It seems that way.
There is much sadness in our community and it doesn’t look like it will get any better.

My husband used to put his uniform in the back of the closet because he didn’t use it much and now it seems it goes to the cleaners at least once a month, “to have it ready for the next funeral,” as he says.

I don’t wear a uniform. I don’t want to. I don’t want to wear a suit, a nice dress or a suitable outfit for any funeral. I don’t want to go to any more funerals.

I want my friends to be free of disease. I want my friends to get well and begin to live the lives that were taken from them. In a perfect world..

 

If only….

Today, I have to say goodbye to yet another friend.

Today I have to find the strength to carry on.

Today I have another story to tell.

 

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