The New York City Fire Department suffered a tremendous loss this past week when Twenty the Dalmatian died.
For nearly 15 years, this dog has been a proud member of FDNY. Shortly after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2oo1, two sherriffs from Rochester, NY, delivered a dalmation puppy to Ladder 20 company. Ladder 20 Company needed a morale boost — the kind that only a puppy can bring — after seven of its members perished on the 35th floor of the World Trade Center’s North Tower.
This beauty served alongside her human counterparts and provided a bit of hope in the dark days that followed 9/11.
On FDNY’s Facebook page, Lieutenant Gary Iorio wrote about Twenty: “She really helped to build the morale in the years following 9/11. I can’t say enough about what she did to help us. She went on all the runs, she’d jump in the truck, stick her head out the window and bark. She became a local celebrity.”
Dalmatians have been affiliated with fire stations since the 1800s, and I’d venture to guess that none was as beloved as Twenty. Because early fire stations used horse-drawn wagons as fire engines, they also employed Dalmatians. It seems that Dalmatians are able to bond closely with horses, and because horses tend to be afraid of fire, Dalmatians were essential. Early accounts tell of horses being afraid to approach a fire and of Dalmatians distracting and comforting those horses, which allowed the fire wagons to get closer to the fire.
Lieutenant Iorio posted this sweet send-off to his colleague Twenty: “We offer our heartfelt thanks to her for being a loyal companion to FDNY members and the community for nearly 15 years. Today, Twenty has taken her final run to Heaven. Rest in peace, man’s best friend.”
Upon learning of Twenty’s death, FDNYdispatchers transmitted a specific message: 5-5-5-5. The fire code, which has been used in New York fire stations since 1870, signals the death of a firefighter.
5-5-5-5 for Twenty means she has been officially released from duty, and that her job has been done.
Want more stories of hardworking, hero dogs? Read this.
Remember seeing this photo in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001?
Marcy Borders, who came to be known as “the Dust Lady” survived the WTC attack after fleeing her office on the 81st floor of the North Tower. She was 28 years old. That terrible day set off a chain of events that ended tragically: on Monday, Marcy Borders died, at age 42, from stomach cancer.
Borders suspected a connection between the terrorist attacks and her cancer. In an online interview, she wondered if her experience on that terrible day caused her cancer: “I’m saying to myself, ‘Did this thing ignite cancer cells in me? I definitely believe it because I haven’t had any illnesses. I don’t have high blood pressure … high cholesterol, diabetes. … How do you go from being healthy to waking up the next day with cancer?”
That’s a question many of us have asked. Whether young or old, the question of how one goes from healthy to cancer-ridden remains, and that question can haunt those of us who have stared into the eyes of the beast that is cancer.
For those who were at Ground Zero, that haunting question becomes a common refrain. It’s hard to know just how many cancer diagnoses resulted from events surrounding the terrorist attacks, but we do know that first responders and civilians fleeing the towers were exposed to a nasty combination of carcinogens. This toxic dust is likely responsible for the fact that people present in the terrorist attacks have gotten certain cancers — skin and prostate cancers as well as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and mesothelioma — at significantly higher rates than people in the regular population. Even now, more than a decade later, the lingering health effects remain unknown, but experts suspect the full extent of cancer and 9/11 will begin to emerge, as it has with Marcy Borders.
Photographer Michael McAuliff was also at Ground Zero on September 11, covering the events for ABC News. He too wondered how his health was affected by the dust that covered Marcy Borders and everyone else in the vicinity. He collected and saved the dust that covered him as he worked on September 11, 2001, and recently submitted the dust and his computer bag he carried that day for testing. When the test results arrived, McAuliff discovered:
“About half the material was ‘non-fibrous’ including polystyrene foam, vermiculite mineral, combustion product (carbon soot), mineral dust of gypsum, calcite, dolomite and quartz. The other half was fibrous material including “cellulose (wood and paper fragments), fibrous glass such as glass wool with yellow resin coating, Fiberglass, colorless mineral wool, refractory ceramic fibers, limestone, calcites, carbon fibers, synthetics (including fragments of cloth) and chrysotile asbestos associated with the lime and carbonate insulation debris. Also found were ‘additional chemical signatures of silicates, kaolin clays, pigments (TiO2), calcites, dolomites, carbonates, metal complexes (sub-micron chromium, aluminum/iron matrices) and chrysotile asbestos.’ Metals included small amounts of lead, chromium, zinc and cadmium.”
McAuliff seems to have dodged a bullet and has received a clean bill of health. Unlike Marcy Borders.
Surviving the terrorist attack was just the beginning of a long battle for her. In an interview, Borders said “it was like my soul was knocked down with those towers.” Her battered soul endured depression and drug addiction. “My life spiraled out of control. I didn’t do a day’s work in nearly 10 years, and by 2011 I was a complete mess. Every time I saw an aircraft, I panicked. I started smoking crack cocaine, because I didn’t want to live.”
Ten years later, Borders decided she did indeed want to live, and in April 2011 she entered rehab. She worked hard to reclaim her life and move forward. She got sober and committed herself to putting that terror behind her, saying “The anniversary of (9/11) gives me no fear. I’ve got peace now. I’m not afraid of anything. I try to take myself from being a victim to being a survivor now. I don’t want to be a victim anymore.”
Rest in peace, Marcy Borders, and know that you are much more than “the Dust Lady.” You are proof that we can endure terrible things and come away with peace.
Yesterday I wrote about the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks and my friend M, who I met through this little blog, sent me this photo. It’s the new Freedom Tower, built on the site on which the former World Trade Center stood. M and her son visited New York City this summer and happened upon this beautiful convergence of the financial district skyline and the new building as the sun was setting. The result: a stunning light shining from the new tower.
Looking at the play of light suffuses me with warmth, and it calls to mind the visual my yoga teacher uses while instructing us to concentrate on our breath. She says to imagine our slow, long, belly-tightening exhale as a plume of breath exiting through a small hole in the top of our heads. A concentrated ridding of toxins and stale air. That’s what I think of when I see M’s photo: out with ruin, in with new life. Signs of life.
The Freedom Tower stands 1,776 feet tall and, according to the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation,”serves as a beacon of freedom, and demonstrates the resolve of the United States, and the people of New York City.”
Surrounding the tower is the Reflecting Absence memorial, which pays tribute to the 2,986 men and women who died on that terrible day. I visited the memorial in February while on a girls’ trip with my bestie Yvonne, and I still haven’t found the words to describe the experience. It was a brutally cold, insanely windy day — I think the temperature was 27 degrees, which is this Texan’s version of hell — but the discomfort the weather provided seemed fitting as I began my trek toward the memorial. I walked from our Times Square hotel to Lower Manhattan, freezing my tail off the entire way. This idyllic shot of Central Park blanketed in snow looks tranquil, but within that tranquility were some mighty cold temps.
As I reached the Financial District, I noticed an increased police presence around the memorial — a sad reminder of the lasting effects of the terrorist attacks. Ditto the incredibly long process of getting through security to enter the memorial.
The memorial contains two giant pools of cascading water, each set where the Twin Towers used to be. The walls of water are the largest man-made waterfalls in the United States, and the deep, dark pit in their centers are an incredibly powerful symbol. The brochure from the memorial says that the pools are intended to be “a reminder of the Twin Towers and of the unprecedented loss of life from an attack on our soil.”
The names of those killed that day in New York City, Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon are inscribed onto waist-level granite surrounding the pools. The six victims of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing are included as well. Seeing all the names is powerful, especially upon the realization that the names stretch all the way around the massive pools. Seeing multiple references to unborn children is crushingly sad.
I wonder if the friends and families of those who perished gain some smidgen of comfort from seeing and touching the names. I wonder if those friends and families are at all buoyed by the fact that random people like me, who never knew their loved ones, are moved so deeply by seeing those names etched into the panels.
I also wonder why we need signs such as the one pictured below. Do people really have to be told not to scratch or sit on the panels containing the names?
And do people need to be told not to throw anything into the pools? Were I to see someone scratching, sitting or throwing things in this sacred place, I’d be sorely tempted to push them into one of the pools.
The Survivor Tree, pictured below, is yet another symbolic piece of the memorial. (Apologies to the unnamed tourists who ended up in my photos.)
According to the memorial’s blog, The Memo, this tree endured the terrorist attack at the World Trade Center. A few weeks after the attack, the blackened, leafless tree was discovered in the rubble in the plaza of the World Trade Center. The ornamental pear tree was originally planted in the 1970s between buildings in the World Trade Center complex. Before September 11, the tree was tall and full. When it was uncovered after the attack, it was an 8-foot-tall stump with broken roots. “The tree is a testament to our ability to endure,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. After the attack, the tree was nursed back to health at a nursery in the Bronx, where caretaker Richie Cabo said “It looked like a wounded soldier. When I first saw it, I thought it was unlikely it would survive.”
By the spring of 2002, though, the tree showed signs of life, and Cabo knew the Survivor Tree would survive. “It represents all of us,” said Cabo. and the then-8-foot-tall stump with broken roots is now a 30-foot tall thing of beauty and is a popular site at the memorial.
Like most of us, the Survivor Tree has faced hard times and has seen better days. Uprooted and damaged, yet showing signs of life.
As I left the memorial on that frigid day in February, I took one last look at the Survivor Tree and smiled as I noticed the tightly-closed buds forming on the branches. While it was still too cold and too early in the year for those buds to open and unfurl their renewal, they were there. Showing signs of life.
Leaving the memorial, the wind whipped in between the Financial District’s buildings. The sun dipped out of sight, and the temperature seemed to drop even lower. My feet hurt from my cross-town walk, and my face ached from being the only part of my body exposed to the cold. But my heart was warmed by the Survivor Tree, and by this random tourist in her chicken hat.
September 11, 2001. A day that changed our lives. It’s been referred to as this generation’s Kennedy assassination — everyone remembers where they were when it happened. As the unbelievable images flooded the TV and the tragedy unfolded, our brains struggled to comprehend the horror of what was happening in Lower Manhattan.
Four planes hijacked and intentionally crashed into three buildings — both towers of the World Trade Center in NYC and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. That third plane crashed into a remote area of Pennsylvania before it could reach its intended target.
I was pregnant with my favorite girl on this fateful day. My #1 son was a toddler in the throes of the terrible twos, and life was hectic. The day before the attack, I suffered what I thought was a terrible thing. I had my ultrasound to check the development and health of my unborn child. We wanted that child’s gender to be a surprise, as it was with my first pregnancy. So many things in this life of ours are structured and scheduled and planned to the hilt that the idea of hearing my OB-GYN say “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” very much appealed to me. My sweet mama, however, did not like that plan because it thwarted her shopping efforts for my unborn children. That motivated YaYa wanted to buy pink or blue, not gender-neutral colors. She disapproved, but I held firm, and we were indeed surprised and delighted to learn of that first baby’s gender at the moment he entered the world.
The men in my husband’s family like to close ranks, and produce lots and lots of boys. My hub is one of four boys, as is his dad and one uncle. There were 14 boys born in a row in that family. Girls seem to not be on the menu, and the hub’s family predicted yet another boy for the clan. When my #1 son entered the world in 1999, they likely smiled smugly at the interloper (me) who insisted there was a 50/50 chance either way. Boy or girl didn’t matter to me; either one would be great.
Fast forward a couple of years later and again I pursued my surprise. Despite the family history of lots of boys, I still didn’t want to know until that child’s birthday. At the ultrasound on September 10, 2001, we peered over my big belly to peek at the fuzzy image on the monitor. The baby on the screen appeared quite clearly and cooperated fully in our efforts to count fingers & toes while avoiding glimpses of the boy- or girl-parts. That baby cooperated fully, but did it with his/her right arm laid across his/her face, as if to convey the inconvenience he/she suffered as he/she afforded us a quick glimpse into that underwater world. Little did we know that this dramatic gesture in utero would prove to be a harbinger of things to come.
We laughed about the dramatic gesture but did not speculate as to the gender of the child-to-be who would act that way, even before being born. We were clear about not wanting to know. We reiterated our wish to be surprised. We said it multiple times in multiple ways. And still, the doctor slipped. My heart was broken.
I went to bed with a heavy heart and a perhaps misguided anger toward that blabby-mouthed doctor. I awoke to images on The Today Show that made no sense. My pity party was officially over.
A few months later, a baby girl was born.
The all-boy trend came to a screeching halt, and sugar & spice became the fragrance du jour. Trucks, dinosaurs, and baseballs were joined by fluffy stuffed toys, floral patterns, and giant hair bows.
Twelve years later, my #1 son and my favorite girl will discuss the al-Qaeda attacks in their social studies classes. A lot has changed in the 12 years since the terrorist attacks. My busy toddler is now a 9th grader, and that dramatic baby in my tummy is a 6th grader. Twelve years later, my little darlings are not all that little anymore, and before long they’ll be spreading their wings and setting off on their grown-up lives. The world is a different place now than it was before the terrorist attacks. More dangerous? Perhaps. Less secure? Certainly, at least in our minds.
We will never forget.
Halfway through my second pregnancy in early September, I went for my sonogram appointment. This would be my second sonogram — the one in which the baby’s gender could be revealed. Trevor and I had opted to not find out, wanting to be surprised as we had been with Payton. There are so few genuine surprises in life, and we wanted to hear “It’s a girl!” or “It’s a boy!” at the moment of birth.
Even though we had specified our preference to keep the baby’s gender a surprise, something went wrong at that appointment, and the doctor and sonogram technician let it slip. My surprise was ruined. I was devastated in the manner of a hormonally-charged, type-A mother who was stressed from dealing with a shockingly willful toddler at home. I thought this was the worst thing that could happen to me.
Little did I know that within 3 years, my sweet mama would be taken from the Earth by the vicious beast that is cancer, and that I myself would go toe-to-toe with said beast.
The date of the ruined sonogram was September 10th, 2001–the day before the bottom fell out of our collective world, and showed me in no uncertain terms that I had no earthly idea about the worst thing that could ever happen to me. I went to bed that night sad and frustrated and pissed off at the doctor and technician. How hard would it have been for them to pay attention, follow the rules, and NOT disclose the baby’s gender? Sheesh. I cried self-centered tears and railed against what I thought to be a great injustice.
Then I woke up on September 11th, eyes puffy from those self-centered tears, feeling exhausted from the travesty that had unfolded the previous day. I grumpily said good-bye to Trevor as he left for work, probably thrilled to bits to have someplace to go in which to escape his melodramatic, hormonal wife. Can’t blame him; in fact, I wished I had someplace to go in which I could escape myself.
Two-year-old Payton had spent the night with my parents across town while his cousins were visiting. I was getting ready to go meet them and start our busy day. A trip to the zoo with my rowdy toddler and his 2 young cousins would require me to ease out of my funk over the ruined surprise, and I was gearing up for that challenge.
I turned on the TV to catch the morning news as I dressed and ate breakfast and was confronted with the startling images from New York City. My pity party over the ruined surprise came to a screeching halt.
At first, no one was sure what had happened beyond a plane crashing into the World Trade Center. At first, no one suspected it was anything but a terrible accident. At first, no one could comprehend that someone would do this on purpose.
I called my parents, in shock and disbelieving. I needed another human to tell me they were seeing the same thing I was seeing, even thought I’d already confirmed it was on every channel. Except PBS. My parents, at home with 3 young kids, had Barney on TV instead of the news (that’s the kind of grandparents they were — and my dad still is). I had the unfortunate job of severing their domestic bliss that day. Surrounded by their 3 grandkids, with another on the way, they were no doubt in hog heaven. The bliss was short-lived.
The attacks on September 11th are my generation’s Kennedy assassination. I doubt anyone will ever forget where they were and what they were doing that morning.
I’m a milestones kind of girl. I like concrete things in my life, and I’m not talking about driveways. I like a tangible, structured world, and milestones are a big part of that. Some milestones are happy, like Payton‘s and Macy‘s birthdays; some are poignant and sad, like the anniversary of my mom’s death; some are sobering, like my first cancer-versary.
As Trevor and I looked at the newspaper today, he wondered why we commemorate this event–why would we want to remember and make a big fuss over our defeat?
Good question, but to me, the remembering isn’t about the defeat or even the event as much as it is the people. The innocent victims, the grieving families, the stunned citizens thousands of miles away from NYC, the public servants who rose to the occasion, putting their own lives and health at risk to serve others and do things that fall so far outside of their official job duties as to be unimaginable.
Perhaps it’s impossible to separate the people from the event. Perhaps they are so intertwined as to render a separation not feasible.
The bravery shown by the first responders that day defies commentary. Firefighter Mike Kehoe was one of many who put his own life on the line this day 10 years ago. Like a salmon swimming upstream, he was going up while hordes of desperate people fled the South Tower.
There are no words to adequately convey the selflessness, the courage, the principles. The walking wounded must have been overwhelming to these brave souls, yet they kept going.
The images are numerous, and the stories of heroism are legendary — both in size and in scope. On September 11, 2001, when American Airlines flight 11 crashed into the North Tower at 8:46 a.m. ET at 466 mph, between the 93rd and the 99th floors, and when United flight 175 crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center at 9:03 a.m. ET at 590 mph, between the 77th and 85th floors, our world changed forever.
Meanwhile, American Airlines flight 77 took off from Dulles Airport in DC, bound for Los Angeles. With 5 hijackers on board, it crashed into the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. ET. All 59 people on board plus 125 on the ground were killed.
When United flight 93 departed Newark, that same morning at 8:42–40 minutes late–a new group of posthumous heroes was born. Todd Beamer’s command of “Let’s roll” as the passengers confronted the hijackers became a rallying cry for the entire nation. Beamer’s wife, Lisa, was pregnant with a baby girl, same as me. She delivered Morgan Kay two days before I delivered Macy. A simple twist of fate dictated that Morgan would grow up without her daddy while Macy had hers by her side.
With a simple twist of fate, lives changed, and something so unimaginable had happened to the greatest nation on Earth. Flight 93 crashed to the ground near Shanksville, PA, 124 miles away from our nation’s capitol, at 10:03 a.m. ET. The 40 people — passengers and crew — on board that plane gave up their own lives to ensure that the hijackers’ plan to crash into the White House would not come to fruition.
The images we watched that morning on live TV didn’t seem real, and our brains struggled to process what we were seeing but could not believe.
In ways big and small, our world changed. Forever.
Our sense of security, in general, was shattered. Things we’d taken for granted–US superiority, the safety of our skies, the normalcy of life in America–were upended.
We were about to learn that life would never be the same. Even thousands of miles from Ground Zero, the Pentagon, and the field in rural Pennsylvania, and even though we didn’t personally know anyone who died that day, our lives would never be the same.
We’ve all heard the horrifying numbers, yet 10 years later they still seem surreal. Some 3,000 people died from the attacks on this day 10 years ago. 343 New York firefighters. 23 New York cops. 37 Port Authority police officers. 658 people from one company, Cantor Fitzgerald.
More than 1,600 people lost their spouse or partner that day. And more than 3,051 kids lost a parent. This is what is worth remembering.
(all images courtesy of googleimages. com, nationalgeograhic.com, and my iPhotos)
It has been suggested by the author of this little beauty that I orchestrated the death of Osama bin Laden as a bookend to my cancer-versary celebration. He suggested that while I am “a bad-ass bitch” and have kicked cancer to the curb, this may be taking the celebration too far.
Oh, if only I had that kind of power. Oh, the things I could do. And really, who’s to say how much is too much when it comes to celebrating? I was going to write about our trip to the Museum of Fine Arts to see the National Gallery’s Impressionist exhibit yesterday, but this is way more important. Art can wait; the idea of me having that kind of power is intoxicating!
Although I don’t actually have the power to hunt down and kill the mastermind behind our national tragedy, the idea does appeal, and believe me, I have a lot of pent-up energy from my “cancer journey” and would have loved the chance to spew all that on Mr. Pure Evil. Well, it does at least give me an excuse to take a leisurely stroll down memory lane, to the days after September 11, 2001, and the events that changed the world. I’m glad that President Obama finally has some good news to report.
Many things changed when bin Laden brought his personal brand of evil to US shores. The idea that the most powerful nation in the world was not immune to an attack by a crazy man with far-reaching power and an army of jihadists was foreign to us before September 11, 2001. Our sense of security was shaken, and air travel would never be the same.
I imagine everyone has a “where were you on September 11th?” story, much like recollections of where one was when JFK was assassinated. For me, I was chasing a wildly headstrong toddler around and expecting a second bundle of wildness.
Here I am with Wild Thing #1 in my arms and Wild Thing #2 in my belly at the Sesame Street exhibit at the Houston Children’s Museum. Yes, I notice that the 2-year-old child is almost half as long as me. That 2-year-old is fixin’ to turn 12 and can look me in the eye without a step-stool. But this is what he looked like in the days of the terrorist attack on these United States.
Wild Thing #2 turned out to be even wilder than her predecessor, and has shaken things up to a degree not even I, with my wild imagination, could have predicted. We should have known we were in for a wild ride with her, when she caused some much upheaval from the git-go. Her time in utero was not uneventful, and when she deemed it time to come into this world, she did it with a bit of an explosion. And that’s all I’m going to say about that. With her chubby cheeks and impish grin, she fooled us into thinking we were in control.
On the day before the terrorist attacks, I had a sonogram to get a glimpse into Macy’s world. She afforded the ultrasound technicians some beautiful pictures of her swimming around in her own private pool. We didn’t want to know her gender before she was born, preferring to be surprised like we were with Payton. There are so few great surprises in life anymore, and to us, the idea of being able to tell our friends, families, and loved ones “IT’S A BOY!” or “IT’S A GIRL!” was pretty special.
We wanted to have that chance again the second time around, and told the technician and the doctor emphatically that we absolutely, positively did not want to know this baby’s gender.
Sure, no problem, they said, and proceeded on with the sonogram, talking in code to describe what they were seeing without giving it all away.
Everything was working beautifully, until they slipped, and ruined the surprise.
I thought this was the worst thing ever! The end of the world! These idiots had ruined my surprise!
I cried my eyes out that afternoon, and while I knew I was fortunate to have a healthy baby growing inside of me, I was inconsolable about having my surprise jerked away from me. The pity party was in full swing, and all the pregnancy hormones associated with Wild Thing #2 raged on through that evening.
I went to bed on September 10th with eyes swollen from crying, and awoke to the news that terrorists had attacked the World Trade Center. My pity party came to a screeching halt.
In the days that followed the attacks I was tense and restless. Rumors abounded of more attacks, and of Houston being a target because of its energy industry. I was glued to the news and gobbled up every human interest story that came my way. Three days after the attacks, in the midst of so many thousands of lost lives, we suffered another loss as Big Ed, the patriarch of our close family friends, succumbed to the ravages of pancreatic cancer.
The two events will forever be intertwined in my heart and mind. The images of September 11th are burned into our nation’s collective conscience, and the despair of cancer claiming yet another one of the good guys brought my aching heart even more sorrow. US flags flew from buildings, homes, firetrucks, even baby strollers. Patriotism had a renewed vigor, and our nation pledged to never forget the victims and the heroes of 9/11/02. Our smaller circle raised a toast to Big Ed and vowed to remember him always. If he hadn’t been stopped by cancer, I could imagine him packing all his tools and a thermos of Dunkin Donuts coffee into his pickup truck, and driving from Massachussets to New York City to lend a hand. That’s the kind of guy he was, and like the victims of the terrorist attacks, he is sorely missed, all these years later.
It took nearly a decade, but the great karma wheel finally caught up with Osama bin Laden. A lot has changed, in the world and in my own little corner of the universe, since the terrorists came to town. My firstborn continued his wildness, but eventually settled down into a quiet, baseball-loving kid. My second child was born, and the chaos that is Macy still ensues. We moved from Sugar Land to Durham, NC, for a 2-year stint. My sweet mama joined Big Ed in becoming yet another victim of the vicious beast we know as cancer. Maddy, the best dog in the world, thumped her old, white tail, winked at me one last time, then left me forever. My own home was dive-bombed by cancer, and my life and that of my family changed forever. While my “cancer journey” has a happier ending than my mom’s and Big Ed’s, it’s left me shaken and uneasy, constantly searching the sky for approaching planes.
I shudder to think at the number of lives lost and the huge amount of money spent on this war on terror, so for today, I will celebrate the triumph of good vs evil.