A bright, sunny New York morning quickly turned to chaos as the clear, blue sky was suddenly flooded with smoke, ash, and screams of desperation. In the moments it took for the iconic New York skyline to be forever altered, the stories of the thousands of people that I’d met in my 30 years at the World Trade Center rolled ferociously through my mind. I knew who was in those buildings that day, I knew who had passed by me on their way to the office, who smiled as they hung up the phone or laughed as they clamored about last night’s events. And the ones who wore a look of somber distress or carried the burden of life’s stressors on their shoulders that day. I knew too well the ones who were experiencing the valleys and the ones who were having the mountaintop moments of life’s ebbs and flows. I knew. I saw it all. I had been there through good times and bad times and today, would mark not only the worst day of my life, but one of the worst days in the history of America.

As the world crumbled to ashes, the heat of the flames singed my skin, the white blanket of concrete, paper, dirt and remains covered me as the color of my life quickly faded into a misty shade of grey. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t cry out to save myself or anyone else, I couldn’t muster the courage to uproot myself from my post and run to free the familiar faces trapped inside the cage of imminent death. All I could do was trust the foundation of my life, that I had taken root in something that was solid, that I had built my life upon the knowledge of truth, absorbed the lessons that life offered, learned from the stories of all of lives that passed before me each day and hope that I would make it out alive.

The weight of the world rested on my limbs that day as I went down with a swollen heart of pain, heartache, uncertainty, and terror. For all I knew, life was over.

Unlike many of my dear friends that fateful September day in 2001, I stand alive. Removed from the rubble, nursed back to health and repositioned in a place of humble importance, I now stand as a Survivor. One who was there before, during, and after the tragic happenings of 9/11 – one who has been able to relive the happy memories of those friends that I lost and also, one who is able to form new experiences and memories from the loved ones that visit the 9/11 memorial.

You probably wouldn’t notice me if it weren’t for the scars and the bandages that hold me together, but at 30feet tall, I proudly spread my branches and sprout my leaves in honor of the great men and women who have blessed me with their lives, their unique stories.

If you learn anything from my story as the Survivor Tree, may you understand that life gives us experiences so that we may learn from them and give back to others. It’s not only what you have been spared from that matters, it’s also what you have been faced with and survived that counts. It’s BECAUSE of what you have been through that you can reach out and help another person. Life’s experiences, both good and bad, are your tools for making this world a better place.

As I once stood firm, in a foundation of sweet life, taking in the stories that passed me by, I can now give back hope, determination, perservence, optimism and stregth to all those who come my way. May you do the same with all of the life experiences that you have been given.

Lessons from the Survivor Tree

– Kaci


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