The VigilanceVoice
Monday-- April 29, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 230

One Woman's Choice To Face Terrorism With Vigilance
Cliff McKenzie
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

       GROUND ZERO, New York City, April 29--Each day my friend Emily has to face the horrors of reliving the September 11th Terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. 
        She's a high-tech senior computer engineer and her company is responsible for installing the destroyed computer networks at the heart of America's financial district where the Terrorists attacked America's wallet in hopes of crippling our stature as the world's financial power.
       Few know the destruction they caused.   Cables, telephone wiring, power supplies were ripped and ruptured deep in the earth, splattering decades of work and installation of systems and back-up systems, and back-ups of back-ups into gnarled, twisted, broken memories of a well oiled electronic message system--the main arteries of information that supports our massive economy.
       Emily lost many friends and coworkers that day, the Second Tuesday of September, 2001.  She also lost one of her closest friends--her older brother.
       Immediately following the disaster, she was called upon to institute repairs, and went to the heart of her brother's graveyard, trying to ignore the stench and horror of the rescue operations and subsequent clean-up of the site.   She tried to separate her professional job of reconstructing the message systems and not let the daily reminder of the horror cripple her emotionally as she tried to shove the ugliness and waste of the attack, and the loss of her older sibling and her friends from her mind.
      But anyone who was there that day, or was a victim of the fallout of the event, cannot shove the memory of it from their mind.  I can't.   I can still see faces of pained, horrified victims.  I can still see bodies leaping from the buildings.  I can still smell the death in the pall of the debris clouds that showered upon us, and the Voices of those next to me crying: "We're all going to die...we're all going to die."
       Emily and I ran into one another yesterday afternoon.   I asked how she was doing.
       She has been suffering heavily the post traumatic syndrome of losing her brother to the senseless attack and also losing some of her friends.  Daily she faces the challenge when she  returns to work at the death-site where thousands died unexpectedly, and now heavy equipment chews at the earth to reconstruct the destruction, to reface it.
       She told me about a hallucination she had recently experienced, or thought she had.  Her brother loved sailing and kept his boat at Chelsea Pier.   She was driving north along the West Side Highway to meet with a client about a new computer system and when she glanced over at the docks where her brother's boat was kept, she saw it.  Or, at least thought she did.
        She knew it was in dry-dock, and thought the vision was her mind playing tricks, creating reality out of illusion.  She shook her head, gripped the wheel of her car and told herself it wasn't possible, yet was gnawed at by the reality of her vision--sure, but not quite sure, the sloop she had seen was his.
         Over the months she related she would see the back of someone who resembled her brother, and for a split second there would be a surge within her of electric excitement that he was alive, only to have the next nanosecond reveal that the figure wasn't he, but someone who appeared like him.
        She and her brother met two to three times a week to talk and enjoy one another's company.  Accepting that he was gone was overpowering to her, and that he had died a senseless death by the hands of Terrorists, further ground her emotional well being down.
        Emily, however tough she might seem on the outside to shoulder the responsibilities she assumed to help her sister-in-law walk through the maze of her brother's death, was Jell-O inside.  She was considering quitting her job because she was the only top qualified expert with vast experience who knew how to reconstruct the damage at Ground Zero.   No matter what the problem, her company asked her input on its solution.   There was no escaping the need for her to be present at Ground Zero almost daily, or to face the challenges of unraveling the destruction with the new systems being installed.
       Her fragility was exposed recently when a bug flew into a conference room.   It buzzed her head and she recoiled.  The other members of the management team--knowing her loss and her pain--immediately attacked the bug.  Clumsily they all swatted and slapped at it, smashing it finally in front of her.  
       She broke down.   It wasn't the bug that bothered her.  It was the madness of others trying to kill it, and the violence with which its life was ended--hands swatting, slapping, crushing it.  She knew the bug was only a symbol of the pain roiling inside her, the pain of grief and suffering, the pain of not being able to forget the horrors of that day.
       As she told me the story of the bug, I listened intently.   A few days earlier I had seen a twisted steel girder on a truck and it triggered in my mind that day nearly nine months ago when I stood at Ground Zero watching the buildings collapse, taking what I thought might be my last breath.  I understood what she was talking about.
      Emily and I have a special bond about that day.   She was with me when I elected to rush down to the site just after the first plane flew so low overhead I could see the gleaming belly of the plane and knew that something was wrong.  She had given me a giant hug and told me to be careful, to come back in one piece.  We had been sitting at Starbucks, having coffee.   Perhaps I symbolized the hug she didn't give her brother, who, not far away, was rushing down to the site as I was to record it for history.
     As she talked, I thought I saw tears welling in her eyes.  She was fighting the urge to run away from New York City, from the daily reminder of a tragedy that cost so many their lives, and provided her with the turmoil of a loving sister visiting her brother's grave each and every day.
     She told me she had decided to stay and work.   She had come to realize that no matter where she went the memories of September 11 would not be left behind.   She was fighting to live with them.   She said her life would never be the same again, and had explained that to her bosses--that she was far more fragile now than before--and that she might break down on occasion as she had over the bug--and if they could accept that, she would continue.  But she was no longer going to try hide her deepest emotions, or falsify the pain she felt with bravado that only stuffed the pain.  
      Her bosses had agreed.  Few of her co-workers wanted anything to do with Ground Zero.  The pain for them was too great.
      I thought about the Heroes of Nine Eleven.   There were countless of them.   But Emily had to rank at the top, or among the most Vigilant.
     She didn't have to do what she did.  She could transfer her job as many others did, or cross over to another field.   There was no requirement for her to put herself in emotional harm's way each day, to test the limits of her psyche.
      But she chose to continue her work, even at her own emotional expense.  
      She was telling me she had resolved the facade, that she wasn't going to "stuff" her emotions any longer.   She had joined World Trade Center Group, others like herself who had suffered countless traumas and needed to learn to express the pain so that it didn't drip like acid on their souls until they found everything in their lives unbearable.
      I thought about her Courage, her Conviction and her Actions to face her Fears, her Intimidations, her Complacencies.   Even though her Voice trembled at times, and the tears of sorrow swelled in her eyes, they were cleansing emotions.   I knew Emily wasn't the kind of person to be afraid of anything.   Or, to find the easy way out of any challenging situation.  That probably made her the best at what she did, and was the reason why her boss's gave her the toughest assignments.
      But what I thought was powerful about Emily's reconstruction of her emotional self was her facing off of her fears, her addressing them eye-to-eye not only to herself, but to the world around her unashamedly.
      "I realize now, Cliff," she said, "I'll never be the same.  I have to learn to live with that.  I thought maybe it would go away. But I know it never will.  I will have to deal with the pain when it surfaces, and not feel guilty or ashamed when I break down or cry, or become angry.  I'll just have to accept those feelings as part of me now, forever."
      I gave Emily a big hug.   She had a strength about her, a maturity that only a survivor of any disaster can understand.   She had faced the Terrorism within and come out with her own version of the Shield of Vigilance.
    No longer was she trying to bury her pain.  She realized it would be with her the rest of her life, and she needed to live with it, co-exist with its presence, but not in a Complacent manner, but rather with a Vigilance, a concern for its marrow, now part of her being.
    "I found out the boat was real," she said, cracking a smile.  "I wasn't hallucinating.  My nephew had taken it from Oyster Bay over to Chelsea.  I called my sister-in-law after a day and a half and told her I had this hallucination.  She laughed and told me I wasn't imagining things.  It was my brother's boat.  I was glad.  I thought I was going overboard there for a while."
      We laughed lightly about it.   I was glad for her.  I was glad she wasn't going to leave the shadows of Terrorism, but had chosen to stand tall and face them with the Light of Vigilance.

 Go To April 28--Mirror, Mirror On The Wall...Who's The Biggest Terrorist Of All

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