Chronic Wellness Journal
As those of you following us on Facebook have seen, I traveled across the country with my family to the 911 Memorial in NYC.
My husband is a firefighter and his father and grandfather were San Francisco firefighters before him. It has been a long standing goal to travel to “ground zero” and pay our respects to all the fallen, as well as to contribute our positivity and gratitude to the process of rising up again.
Traveling is hard enough for most, but as you all know, traveling with chronic illness (ha! sounds like a “carry on” item….I wish) is incredibly challenging. But landing in NY during a heat wave presented added challenges I couldn’t have imagined. Braving the subway, lines and security in 100 degree heat was intense.
There were many things about this trip that brought my “illness” to the forefront of my thoughts. It would have been impossible just a couple of years back. Just navigating airports and crowded public situations was unbearable. Really, I haven’t taken a trip in 10 years where I didn’t GET some kind of acute illness along the way as well. Colds, flus, you travel all this way and end up in the hotel, in bed, thinking how I could have just stayed at home if I was going to be in bed anyway.
But this trip was different. Still hard, but I was able to keep up. The kids and I kept up in the heat, in the humidity, with unfamiliar road foods, inconsistent sleep schedules and all the unpredictability that come with travel. Hard as it was, it was inspiring to see the progress we’ve made with our health.
I found that inspiration powerfully reflected back at me when we visited the 911 Memorial Park at Ground Zero.
The fountains, the new building advancing in the background, and the crowds were all powerful in their own right, but the thing that touched me the most was totally unexpected. Off to the side of the memorial is the “Survivor Tree.”
This unassuming little pear tree planted among the oaks lining the memorial park became known as the Survivor Tree after surviving the extensive damage of the collapse of the towers. In October of that year, the tree was nearly lifeless, just a stump with no limbs, snapped roots and a blackened trunk. It was rescued from beneath the piles of smoldering rubble and nursed back to health.
The pear tree was first planted in the 1970’s between buildings four and five in the World Trade Complex on Church Street. But the damaged stump measured just 8 feet when it was taken from the rubble and transferred to the Arthur Ross Nursery in the Bronx . In 2010, after 9 years of care and repair, the tree was replanted at the 911 memorial. Now the tree has regained it’s health and has grown to over 35 feet with a bright and brave canopy.
The only pear tree in an orchard of swamp oaks, the Survivor Tree symbolizes not only the reliance of the city and the country but symbolizes the resiliency of the human spirit itself in the face of adversity.
So when we encountered the Survivor tree I will tell you, my breath hitched and the tears started to flow. With all the grief and loss swirling around that place anyway, I was surprised to experience my own deep grief coming up to the surface in the face of a…tree.
Here was this tree – this symbol of survival and regrowth, despite crushing odds, despite experiencing the terrible attack. I stood beneath that tree for quite some time before I realized there were others like me. Others who weren’t just there to visit the tree out of curiosity or respect – but others like me who were drawn to the tree because it resonated with their own survival.
I was awash in a combination of emotions. Gratitude just to be standing at all despite all we had experienced. Hope for continued healing and recovery. And prayers for a future that, like this tree, would find us growing, thriving, and providing inspiration to others that the deepest type of healing and recovery are in fact possible.
But what rocked me to the core more than my own emotional process evoked by the Survivor’s tree, was the reaction of my toddler. My healing journey is closely linked to my youngest child, who was born with neurological issues. Lost in my own process I took my attention off Ember, and when my awareness returned I found that she had snuck under the protective railing of the tree, and was placing her hands and her head on the trunk.
She was head to trunk – arms wrapped around the tree. And the exchange of love and mutual understanding between this tree and the young child was palpable.
Long after the rest of the group was ready to move on and leave the memorial, Ember was still holding her ground beside this tree. She found a leaf that had fallen to the ground and tenderly placed it in her pocket. And as the crowds approached the tree, she invited people to really pause and connect in a deeper way. In her innocent 3 year-old way, she seemed to know just who would benefit from touching the tree – and would invite them to do so. “Right hee-ya….go ahead,” she would say, “touch it,” “gentle,” “it’s good.”
And they would. And you could see the shift on their faces. Opening. And I believe I saw Hope. There was a genuine hope and wonder that dawned on the faces of these people invited by Ember to touch a bit of Survivors’ Hope first hand.
It was hard for Ember to tear herself away and say goodbye to *her* tree. She had found some kind of camaraderie, some kind of shared experience at the foot of this amazing living example of resiliency and hope.
I feel such gratitude for the blessings that spring forth from the very worst of our collective human experience. It is from this devastated soil that the most enlightened and inspiring elements of our human journey are born.
I’m so thankful to be able to share this story with you. And so thankful to Ember for bringing it home with us in our hearts – good medicine. Grief and release. You never know where healing is going to creep in, but go ahead and touch it when it does. We invite you.
If you know anyone in need of some survivor’s hope – please Share.
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