By Mikki Baloy, LDRNY Coordinator
Lisa Fenger, who was in New York for a business trip on September 11, 2001, felt isolated from others who had shared her experience of that day until she discovered the WTC Survivors Network. “Being able to talk candidly with people who immediately understood and quite often shared the same emotions has helped enormously in coping with aftermath of the attacks: it was a lifeline for me.” Lisa has since moved to Queens, and believes that those who don’t live in New York still need to feel a sense of connection. In her words, they need “to have a resource that is not bounded by the constraints of geography.” It’s for that reason that she feels a bond, a particular empathy, with those who survived the Oklahoma City bombing, and that she continues to be a member of the WTC Survivors> Network some four and a half years after the attacks.
The WTC Survivors Network has enabled Lisa and countless other Trade Center evacuees to support one another and share resources. The Network has recently made the Comfort and Renew Center their home base to continue their work. Among their projects is the fight to preserve the Survivor Staircase, the last above-ground remnant of the Trade Center plaza at Vesey Street where so many made their escape from the destruction. While those who used that staircase are certainly survivors of 9/11, Peter Miller, another Network member who also survived the 1993 attack on the Trade Center, prefers a broader view. “It's a matter of degree and context. In one sense everyone on earth except those who died on 9/11 and the terrorists is a survivor. Then you can winnow it down to those who were actually in the WTC at that morning, but in doing so you miss too many survivors--such as recovery volunteers and many responders, residents.”
The Survivor Staircase at Vesey Street
While those who used that staircase are certainly survivors of 9/11, Peter Miller, another Network member who also survived the 1993 attack on the Trade Center, prefers a broader view. “It's a matter of degree and context. In one sense everyone on earth except those who died on 9/11 and the terrorists is a survivor. Then you can winnow it down to those who were actually in the WTC at that morning, but in doing so you miss too many survivors--such as recovery volunteers and many responders, residents.” Peter remembers being at an early planning meeting for the Network. “Five of us got together to brainstorm, and all of us talked about wanting to be active in building safety and protecting communities, anti-terrorism stuff. But only Gerry (Bogacz) voiced any sense of need to heal. A year or two later, and most of what we do has something to do with healing!”
It’s that quest for healing that has helped so many. The Network facilitates several support groups and even a writing workshop. Portraits of Life is the proposed title of an anthology of survivors’ stories. Several Network members are also docents at the Tribute Center, leading tours of Ground Zero and telling their stories firsthand. Manuel Chea, a steering committee member, feels that part of his personal mission is to encourage the community “first to make a difference among our own survivors of the 9/11 attacks and now also to reaching out and make a difference amongst victims and survivors of any disaster, natural or man-made. (The Survivors) keep me motivated to keep my focus on making a difference in people's lives.”
To that end, the WTCSN Common Ground Initiative and Speakers Bureau convey messages of solidarity and shared humanity regardless of religious or ethnic differences. Because people of so many nationalities, backgrounds, and faiths were the intended victims of the attacks, the Network assembles diverse teams to speak at religious and cultural venues in the tri-state area with a focus on dialogue and understanding: indeed, common ground.
With the approach of the fifth anniversary of the disaster, the Survivors are already planning their commemoration events and considering what that milestone will mean to them. Peter wants to remind everyone “how enormous (9/11) was and how it changed so much in this country. It should not be something we fix and forget about.”
“Survival goes beyond the act of escaping the physical experience, for surviving the aftermath becomes the greatest challenge,” said Elia Zedeno. “I would like to remind people of the great damage and pain our actions can bring about when we close our eyes to the infinite number of choices. I would also like to have the opportunity to demonstrate by personal example that the process of healing does exist.”
“Surviving is an ongoing process,” said Lisa, “and not just a label which applies only to those unfortunate enough to be forced to go through a harrowing escape from death and/or injury. Events like Sept 11 can have a devastating effect on all aspects of an individual’s life, even if they weren’t in immediate physical danger, and it is the process of recovering and growing from that disruption over the course of years, that to me signifies a survivor.” Lisa has her own message for us as we remember 9/11: “That the brutal actions of a few were and continue to be far surpassed by the compassion of many; that out of horror can come amazing acts of courage and strength and love.”
“I want people to remember that out of an act of sheer hate there rose a spirit of unity, of resolve, and a spirit of hope,” Manuel added. “It is a living hope that doesn't perish but is eternal. It is a hope that gives us confidence in the face of evil and the dark powers of this world. It tells that ultimately evil will never win. It will never overcome the power of the human spirit and that which is lovely, noble, pure, just, and good.”LDRNY is proud to work closely with the Survivors Network, and offers a warm Comfort and Renew Center welcome to their membership. To learn more about the WTC Survivors Network, go to www.survivorsnet.org.