No surprises had been my mantra for many years. As a mom, wife, small business owner, and church volunteer, I prided myself on being organized, prepared, in control of my life. Once a month, my firefighter husband and I sat with our calendars to coordinate life. I always ended that sit down with “No Surprises, let me know if it isn’t going to work, but no surprises.” Then September 11, 2001 happened.

Almost nineteen years into a journey I never expected to be on, I am still not big on surprises – the unexpected. However I have learned a few things. God is never surprised. He can be trusted. He loves me. We don’t do life alone. We should always be kind to others and sometimes we need to be kind to ourselves – cut ourselves some slack. This current situation we find ourselves in is different than September 11 but if you don’t mind I would like to share a few thoughts to encourage you.

The Memorial was busy with a gentle buzz of activity.  I noticed faces of visitors from many nations, heard softly spoken words, saw tears wiped from cheeks, selfies snapped and the sound of the south waterfall.  As we headed back to the 9/11 Tribute Museum, Stephen, a gentleman in every sense of the word, carried the bag containing the head sets. On this walking tour, I was the lead docent and Stephen was my support person.  He was new to the program and a little apprehensive but when he spoke of “his guys” you heard and saw his passion, his expertise. You saw the firefighter. 

As we walked along Stephen said “We (FDNY) never called it Ground Zero.”  

We stopped walking and I nodded in agreement. 

Stephen continued “We called it the Pile and as we got lower we called it the Pit.”  

The Pile I saw for myself on September 28, 2001. I remembered the Pit as a massive hole in the ground when I started volunteering at the 9/11 Tribute Center in 2006. 

We continued walking and I said “And now it is the Plaza.” 

He nodded in agreement. 

Our conversation confirmed in my mind something I pondered for a while. This place and I were on parallel journeys since September 11, 2001. The World Trade Center which I had  visited twice before the attacks became a travel companion. We weathered the attacks, sorted through the debris (the Pile), filled the void (the Pit) and remembered and honored those we lost as we journeyed forward (the Plaza). 

First there is the attack. The attack that sets your life in a direction you never expected – a pandemic,  a diagnosis, an accident, words spoken in haste, a job lost, betrayal, death of a loved one, a terrorist action. The event that shakes you to the core. 

After the shock or maybe while you are still in shock in the aftermath of the attack there is a massive pile. A pile of stuff that needs to be dealt with – options for treatments, decisions about the everyday, paperwork to be completed, plans to be canceled or rearranged, funerals to be scheduled, keepsakes to be shared, memories to be cherished. Where do you start? The immediate replaces the important or maybe the important replaces the immediate.

Eventually, maybe after days or months or even years the pile is gone, and you recognize there is a pit. A void left by what was taken, a hole left by finally sorting through the pile. Now what? How do you fill the hole to make it whole? How do you move forward now that the pile is gone or at least manageable? How do you move from the pit to the plaza? 

“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” Robert Frost

The survivor on the Plaza.