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The Survivor Tree

September 11, 2018

When we visited the 9/11 Memorial, it was so quiet and somber you could have heard a pin drop. My fingers slid across the names engraved along the border where the Twin Towers once stood tall. Instead only the foundation remains and vast solemn waterfalls stand weeping instead. 3,000 names. Some of these names have a rose held in between their letters to honor birthdays. Shabbir Ahmed. Donald J. Burns. Lillian Caceres. Ada M. Davis. Samantha Martin Egan. Deanna Lynn Galante and her unborn child. Mohammad Salman Hamdani. Zuhtu Ibis. LaShawna Johnson. Helen Crossin Kittle and her unborn child. Juan Mendez Lafuente. Vita Marino. Ginger Risco Nelson. Takashi Ogawa. Angel R. Pena. Ricardo J. Quinn. Susan A. Ruggiero. Jude Elias Safi. Otis V. Tolbert. Diane Marie Urban. Santos Vazquez. Honor Elizabeth Wainio. Suresh Yanamadala. Ira Zaslow. Waterfalls weep.

Behind the first waterfall stood a tall Callery pear tree. A railing lined with ribbons and drawings circled around it. A metal plaque was erected beside it and at the top in bold lettering Survivor Tree was spelled out. The description read as follows: “This Callery pear tree stands distinct from the hundreds of swamp white oak trees on the Memorial. It was discovered amidst the wreckage of the 9/11 attacks, its bark charred from fires at the site and many of its limbs reduced to stumps. Yet somehow, the tree, still bearing leaves, showed signs of life. Recovery workers transported the tree to a nursery in the Bronx to be cared for by the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. With careful tending, the stumps of burned and gnarled bark gave growth to longer and smoother branches. Replanted at the 9/11 Memorial in December 2010, this Survivor Tree bursts into magnificent blossom each spring, embodying a living symbol of resilience.” Sometimes when we survive a fire, we need to be uprooted from where we’ve come from. We need our burns to be tenderly cared for, the dressings carefully changed. We go from being in the ICU to recovery, to rehabilitation. After being charred and uprooted, and nursed back to health, it seems like we are so far from home. But the roots will be planted firmly again. They will fold into the earth’s crevices and snap into place, securely standing. After the fire and the ICU, and recovery, and rehabilitation, we grow new leaves. This is resilience.

I thought about the Survivor Tree a lot as we walked. Often I would zone out while Jessica and Chrystin were deep in conversation. “What are you thinking about, Erina?” They would pause often to ask me this question. The Survivor Tree is my sister. I want to crawl underneath the barrier and hug her. I don’t want to let go.

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