Budding Naturalist

At twenty months my granddaughter has not been still for a long time.  But today she was recovering from a tummy bug, not up to full speed.  After we had drooped around the house a bit, doing next to nothing, I decided we needed some fresh air.  We sat a spell on the front porch, as in days of yore. This time, though, rather than perch upon my knee she chose a low chair close to the bench where I sat.  Ah, she’s growing up!  She examined the dirt on the bottom of her feet.  She twirled a yellow leaf from a gum ball tree.  Then she came and sat by me on the bench.  Again, a whole lot of companionable nothing.  Time passed. A dark swallowtail butterfly fluttered by.  She said, “Hi.”  After a pause, she aimed an air kiss at where it had been.

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photo by Amelia’s aunt Katy

A fish crow called its group together with a doubled-up nasally caw.  I said, “That right there is the voice of a fish crow.”  She solemnly repeated, “fish crow.”  We practiced the nasally caw. We watched the congregation wing by.

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Wikipedia

Then, high above, I heard the wondrous sound of  Mississippi kites.  I could just make out the two of them, pinpoints swooping in front of a brilliant white  cloud.

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Wikipedia

I explained to Amelia that although the high pitched call of a kite is something like a broad winged hawk’s, the two birds of prey are nothing alike. The kite is small, dashing, elegant.  The hawk is bigger, darker, stockier. The kite catches insects, such as grasshoppers.  The hawk catches small creatures such as mice.  She registered this in silence, then got down and sat on the doormat with her back against the front door.  So we went inside.

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“May we ever enjoy Your consolations.”

This morning I arose with a powerful need for some lecture notes from 2001.  Once breakfasted and into my files, I knew I was in trouble: Years and years of notes, in disarray.  Undated documents.  Dated documents scrambled.  The good news?  In making what year-stacks I could, the exhilaration of lectures past suffused me.  It was so wonderful, such a privilege, to be in all those decades of lecture halls. I’m so grateful for the fierce compulsion to learn.  I’m confident there will be more! The bad news? The very notes I need are not there.  Loaned out, I suppose.  But still, a trace of their excellence lingers, in my files.

One thing I’ve learned is the futility of attacking memory head on.  Memory needs to be approached obliquely, with clear breathing,  with easy expectation.  If Memory sees I’m moving casually about my business, she just may appear, with a wink and a nudge.  Or not.   I’m still waiting!

And the wait can be such a delight.  After much rain the backyard is drenched with sun. And activity.  What sounds like the corner of the roof being broken off is merely a squirrel, convinced he’s the one to master the baffle on the birdfeeder.  No, he is not.  A wild rabbit is easing along the hedgerow. A rollicking wren breaks cover, allowing a heart-stopping glimpse of his tiny self.  The teenage cardinals are pestering their parents.  All’s right with the world.

But where are those notes, and what did they say??

Darling Trickster

 

I spied her on the patio at twilight, standing on the brick edge of the fountain, hands on the edge of the jar, having a nice drink.

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In that moment my long afternoon at the computer dropped away. Perhaps this creature with her guard down was my reward, my breathing space for deadlines met and then some?

She dropped to the pavement, ambled over to the birdbath. She leapt nimbly up, rocking the concrete bowl a bit with her weight, recovering, steadying herself to stand astraddle. She took another long-ish drink.

Then she hopped down as if to head back to her private queendom.  But then she saw me looking at her.  I thought she would run.  But she locked eyes, then to my surprise meandered over to the foot of the glass door, where she stood looking up at me.

What magic is this? I dropped to the doormat and there we were, eye to eye.

Here’s what I saw, and it won’t take you long to guess.  A “short and wide facial region” fronting a “voluminous brain case.”  A pointed snout, with black nose aquiver at my proximity. Curious, intelligent black eyes, which never once dropped my gaze.  Gray fur. Slender black forepaws.  And – surely you know her by now! – an adorable black mask.

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image-copyright Dreamstime

So I’m entranced, absorbed in her bright eyes and her quivering nose and her delicate hands. I’m calling this little trickster my darling, my sweetheart (I call green lizards that, too!)  And my husband is freaking out.   Well knowing her tribe’s propensity for unruly behavior, not to mention destruction, he wants me to come away from the glass. But he settles for my promise not to open the door.

After a time of inter-species gazing, delicious to me and of unknown significance to her, she remembers her to-list.  She strolls to the grass under the birdfeeder, where she checks for seeds, just in case the cardinal family has left any.  Then she saunters over to the grass under the Chinese elm, where she roots around a while for who knows what.  Then she mosies out of my sight.

Did you know raccoons are smarter than cats and only slightly less smart than monkeys?  Would you be surprised to hear they can “use situations to advance their intelligence”?

I’ve heard tell of a domesticated raccoon named Melanie who allegedly can ride a bike, clap, dance, and ring a bell.  Hmmm.

Raccoons are curious, tidy (when not wreaking havoc), and enterprising. They’re determined, playful, and they like to rearrange, knock things off balance even, just to see what they can get away with. The mask and the prison-stripe tail might be your clue that they’re resourceful thieves.

As to their thievery, in my research I found this gem of a quote:

“We can choose to fight against the playful thief, such as Raccoon or Time, or we can choose to play along with them. We can choose to give rather than have a thing taken from us. We can choose to let go rather than to cling without purpose or meaning.”

I’m happy to play along with you, little trickster friend, my adored and now-named Queen of Sheba!  But please don’t shred my fence or strew my garbage.  Just saying.

 

 

 

Finding My Voice

Yesterday I traveled to Houston to attend an all-day class called “Wise Up! Four Biblical Virtues for Navigating Life.”  Our teacher was the delightful, beautiful, learned, engaging, down to earth and very funny Dr. Alyce McKenzie of Perkins Seminary, SMU.  I arrived hungrier than I knew, and she fed us. Did I mention it was a wonderful day?

Among the rich food she served: She told us that when her young preaching students wonder what new thing they can do with such an old, old Story, told so many times, she redirects them to this truth–the Eternal One is waiting for your voice.  Your voice — unique, and never heard before.

Wonderful!

Got me to thinking about the first time I spoke to a large group about something that deeply mattered to me.  The year was 2000 and I was a painfully shy young thing of 46.  Dr. Jim Killen stopped me in the hall at church one day.  He asked me to give a short faith testimony, in worship, before the whole congregation.  Okay then!  Did I mention our service is televised?

Well, I did the usual stammering about inadequacy.  I asked him what in the world I could give the congregation?  He asked me, so very gently, if perhaps my family was going through a time of testing.

Why, yes we were.  And as a matter of fact, I had just had a related experience I could not explain, but which brought me great comfort. Perhaps Jim guessed there was some “new creation” percolating in me? Who knows. Doesn’t matter. All that matters is that I had just received a mandatory opportunity. [Thank you Alyce McKenzie for the new term!]

Well, I am an obedient soul.  Mostly. My testimony flew together.  But still, the dread was there.  These people love me, yes.  But will I do a good job?  The morning came. My heart was burning with anticipation.  And terror.  But I was not without some tools in my toolkit:

And so a trembling Methodist girl sat alone in her living room, played some gorgeous Jewish worship music on the stereo.  And then I began to recite a Zen poem, over and over, all the way to church, all the way up the aisle to the podium.  And lo, my legs held me up, and I preached.  I preached it, sisters and brothers.

As I processed out of the sanctuary with Dr. Killen, now of blessed memory, he said one word to me, which has rung down the years:  “Magnificent.”

Goes to show what the Spirit can do, if we cooperate. I had found my voice.

Would you like to hear the Zen poem, by a long-ago person named Do-gen? I recommend it to you:

“Midnight. No wind, no waves. The empty boat is flooded with moonlight.”

And so it was. I emptied my boat, and it was flooded with Presence.

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Faith Witness to Trinity United Methodist Church, Beaumont, Texas

Sunday, July 16, 2000

 

Dr. Killen’s sermon today is going to be about Somebody Who Loves Us.  I want to share with you what know about this Somebody.  The picture I see of Him in the Bible is Somebody who for some wonderful and amazing reason is passionately in love with humankind, who loves each of us with a constant, unwavering, undying love.  Whatever our priorities are, His priority is to love us.  This Somebody has been showing His love in a special way to my family lately, teaching us how to find courage and joy in the midst of pain.  I have seen His hand at work throughout our ordeal, and I have never doubted that He is with us, but I had a particular experience this past Good Friday that made Him more real to me personally than He has ever been.   It started with a letter I wrote to Him one sad Thursday afternoon, looking for some answers.  I figured it might help to just lay it all out before Him.  The letter is called Mystery.

MYSTERY

                   My father is missing.  His body lies in a bed at a nursing home, but he is not there. He is … where?  He is “in a coma.”  Across the room, in another bed, lies the body and remnant mind of my mother.  She is panting, agitated, her beautiful green eyes wide open, puzzled.  She cannot speak an intelligible word.  She has been this way a long time, but Daddy has not. Until four months ago he was strong, vital, active.  At seventy-three he worked full time and supervised the care of my mother at home. We all knew he was getting tired. We all knew he was sad. The strain of my mother’s condition was … well, no one can claim to know fully what it was like for him.  The grinding pain of it.  But he loved life, he loved us, and he had boundless courage.  He would never, never give up or give in.  So we thought.  The last morning of the century, the last morning of the millennium, he gave up. Something happened in his brain, a massive hemorrhage.  He was dressing for the day.  The sitter downstairs with Mother heard him fall.  The formidable mind, the sharp wit, the whimsical Daddy were … gone.  I saw him soon after, and I knew in my soul that he was gone.

Where have you put him, Lord?  He knows nothing of this new century.  His brain was hurt too badly to survive, but he did anyway.  He is strong, strong.  His body lives.  And now Easter 2000 is here, and we say, “Christ is risen!”  You are risen indeed, and all is glory now.  But where is my daddy?  Does he stand smiling at the face of the risen Eternal One?  Sometimes Daddy opens his eyes, his beautiful eyes. But they are vacant.  He yawns, he coughs, but he sleeps on.  What have You who made him chosen to do with him?  Ah, You are teaching us indeed to live with mystery.

Sometimes as he sleeps he has the blissful, purposeful look of infant-sleep.  He looks like a little boy, somebody’s beloved child.  And I know that he is.  He is God’s child, God’s boy, God’s teenager, God’s young man, God’s family man, God’s old man, God’s treasure.  “Jim” is written on Your heart, Lord.  Every name is special to You, Lord, but after all you had a brother named James.  You had a disciple named James.  You knew my daddy before he was conceived.  You played in the yard with James and ate with James and formed every atom in his body.  He is yours and You love him.  He believed in You and therefore he is and ever will be one with You.  Love never ends, and time is meaningless to You and to Jim.  But, oh, Lord, we who are left behind still have to live with time, and we cry.

Sometimes as he sleeps his brow is a little creased and I am not sure what is happening.  Is he vaguely aware of a little discomfort somewhere?  In some dim way does he hear Mother fussing? Or, is he fighting a mighty battle somewhere deep inside to come back to us?  Reason and medicine say he has gone too far away to be fighting any battles. His brother Paul says that Jimmy has finally met his match.  Probably that is true.  I feel that it is true.  But still he lives and I behold his face.  What have You done with him, where are You keepinghim?

Well, the next morning after I wrote my letter was Good Friday, and I had to go to the nursing home to sign some papers.  I was on my way up the sidewalk to the front door, alone, and suddenly our situation seemed so overwhelming that I thought my heart would break, and I had to will strength to my body to keep walking.  I remember thinking, “I could use some help here.”  Before the thought was half-formed, I felt a strong body next to mine, and an arm slipped around my waist to help me bear the sorrow. There was no earthly person there but me.  It was only for a moment, but it was enough.  I will know now, forever, that Somebody doesn’t mind if we question Him, Somebody is closer than we think, and Somebody loves us.  And I just want to say to Him right now what King David said in Psalm 63:  “For Thou hast been my help, and in the shadow of Thy wings I sing for joy.  My soul clings to Thee;  Thy right hand upholds me.”  Thank you, Lord.  I love you. Amen.

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My parents, Edna and Jim Hambright, with David my firstborn, 1982

“Breathe on These Slain, That They May Live”

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“Wind from the Sea” – Edward Gordon

 

Then He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath;

prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath,

Thus says the Lord GOD:

Come from the four winds, O breath,

and breathe on these slain, that they may live.”

                                                                                                       Ezekiel 37:9

 

Once I had a teacher.

This truth he taught to me:

There are within each person,

four different ways to be—

 

The Hunter cares for ‘your space.’

The Warrior fights for ‘mine.’

The Headman orders ‘our space.’

The Clown can’t see the line.

 

He suggested all too clearly

that Head’s my inclination.

But the other three, he said to me,

await your invitation.

 

And this surprise enlivens

our each and every breath:

Four winds blow the stronger

because there is a fifth.

 

The fifth breathes at my center—

a Priest at the heart of me—

a holy hand, a calm command:

Blow, winds — strong and free.

 

My teacher was a Hunter

with heart and hands outreaching.

I hope I do him honor

by mentioning his teaching.

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Jeff’s Story – 9/11

Last week I had the privilege of bringing the following talk to a gracious group who received it warmly and made me appreciate all the more the power of stories to assert themselves and connect people.  Then I showed an iMovie, compressing and summarizing the talk into just under four minutes.  At the end of the movie there was a long silence, then hands began to go up, to comment, to ask questions.  Something in the room had shifted, and we were together in a different way.  I would emphasize that the power of the talk was not in me but in the calling forth of memory.  And the power of the movie was not in me but in the images and music that came alongside to make a bigger present moment, to help weave storyteller and listeners into “a new creation.” Some of the images below are from the movie.  The music I chose was Enya’s “Only Time.”

“Jeff’s Story”

St. Andrews Presbyterian Church Thursday Activity Group

Phoebe H. Dishman

Beaumont, Texas / August 8, 2019

A few weeks ago I went out to check the mail.  In the usual stack was a legal size envelope, hand-addressed to me.  In the envelope, a gracious, one-page, handwritten letter from Ann, a lady I had yet to meet. She asked if I would come and speak to your group.  All of this just made my day.  I was smiling at the prospect.

Then I re-read the letter and discovered what it was you wanted me to talk about.  It seems someone told Ann I have a presentation on 9/11.  Wait, what??

My husband, who was watching me read Ann’s letter, will testify that my smile turned to consternation. You see, I am many things:

Citizen of Beaumont from birth.  Wife, mother, grandmother, friend.  Poet, creative writer, lover of birds.  Sunday school teacher, amateur theologian.  Certified lay speaker in my church, curator of church history and church seasons.  Active member of the Big Thicket Association.  Queen of the Neches – okay, that was a really long time ago.

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Re-enchanter of the world, this being how a friend of blessed memory described me.

As to all of the above, I aim to make every day count.  But as for 9/11, I have no expertise whatsoever.  I called Ann and we explored this mystery.  That’s when I saw the light.  It seems a friend of Ann’s remembers me telling a story eighteen years ago about a friend of mine who survived 9/11.  Friends with long memories! I may forget.  But you remember!

It’s funny how time folds on itself, circles back, and a story from the archives decides it wants to be told again.  And it won’t take no for an answer.

And so I go back to that day in September.  It was a beautiful morning in Beaumont.  I had gone for a walk in our neighborhood, leaving my husband to his breakfast and his paper and the kitchen television tuned silently to the news.

When I returned, he was standing close to the TV.  Without turning, he said, “You need to come here and see this.”

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-image from Internet-

As we stood there staring at the small screen, trying to understand how an airplane came to be imbedded in the north tower of the World Trade Center, which was on fire, we saw another plane fly into the south tower.  And more bad news was coming.  As they say, nothing was ever the same.

Austin’s sister Claire was living in Tribeca back then, not too far north of Ground Zero. We had some hours afraid until we learned she was safe.  But thousands and thousands of people were not safe.

For some time I was frozen in shock, staring at the news as it unfolded before our unbelieving eyes.  Then my heart mind and body woke up and I said one word:  “Jeff.”

Jeff Galloway and I were classmates at Forest Park High School, now Westbrook.  His family moved to Beaumont our sophomore year.  Jeff and I were math club and honors English types, which proximity led us to going out on some dates.  We were good companions.  What I particularly remember is driving around and around Beaumont, in Jeff’s car, as he told stories.  Jeff was articulate, a gifted storyteller.  I was not, not yet. But I was in training.  My job was to listen.  Which I did, with pleasure.  Together, with ease.

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                       Phoebe in flowered dress- second row up, 2nd from left.  Jeff in striped shirt – second row up, far right

 

So, we graduated.  Jeff headed to college in California, then to Columbia Law School.

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-image from Internet-

He knew exactly what he wanted, and that was the bright lights of New York City.  He became a lawyer, moved into the new Gateway Plaza apartment complex in Battery Park at the south end of the island, at the foot of the World Trade Center.  He married Paula of New Jersey.

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-image from Internet-

They had two children – Kiera and Liam, and their family proceeded to live a rich exciting life.

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-Liam and Kiera at World Trade Center, Christmas 2000, image from Jeff’s website-

As did I, in my own way.  Home from SMU I worked briefly, married Austin, worked a little more, then became mother to David and Robert.

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Housewife and mom on Evangeline West, birds in my backyard, right where I wanted to be.  Over the years, Jeff and I stayed in occasional touch.  For me the place he lived, that is to say Manhattan, may as well have been the moon.  And then came 9/11, and my heart cried out, “Jeff, are you all right?”  Which is what I asked him in my email.

And now I will read you his reply:

Phoebe,

 Thanks for your concern. We barely made it out alive, but we’re now ok in NJ at a friend’s house in Cedar Grove…We had just dropped the kids off at PS 234 (about 4 blocks north of the trade center)

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-Public School 234, image from Internet-

when Paula and I were walking on Warren St towards W Bwy, when we saw the first plane hit.  It was surreal.  We see so many movies getting filmed in NY that at first we had the reaction of “how can they get permission to do that?”  Then it stuck us that “this is real!” After staring dumbfounded at the hole and fire in the WTC, we decided to go back to school to check on the kids.  As we were walking into the school the second plane hit.  To us, it looked like a secondary explosion to the first crash, with a fireball COMING RIGHT AT US.  We’ve now seen on TV pictures of a jet engine on Murray at W Bwy, which is a little over a block from where we were, and which must have come from that second hit. At that point, we still thought it was an accident, and we just wanted to get the kids out of school and out of danger.  We went into the school and the principal announced that any parents at school should take their kids home, so we got our kids. We then walked home to Gateway Plaza, crossing West at Warren Street, turning right on Murray and cutting across by the movie theater to Vesey. At one point, Liam looked up and said, “Daddy, Look, they’re jumping out the windows!”  At first, I said, “no, that’s just debris,” and then I realized Liam was right.  I didn’t say anything more to that.  He kept asking, “are the buildings going to fall?”  And, once again incorrect, I said, “no, there’s just a big fire.” At Vesey, they had already blocked the street off as an emergency hospital and they told us we couldn’t go through or get into the Financial Center. We cut through Vesey anyway and went west around the Financial Center to the boat harbor to get to our building.  At our building, we were told we couldn’t go in, because it was being evacuated.  I went in anyway to get our dog, Sephe (100 pound German Shepherd).  Paula and the kids waited downstairs. I grabbed my camera, backpack, palm pilot and one of my cell phones, some water and the dog and then made few calls to family and friends to let people know we were ok.  (Cell phones weren’t working, so I couldn’t call previously.) Downstairs again, we just looked up across the street at the trade center from our courtyard, taking pictures, talking to neighbors in disbelief. The security guards told us we had to get to the river and to cut through the back of Gateway to get there.  As we were easing ourselves back, looking up at the trade center, IT BLEW UP!  

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-Getty image-

I thought, “should I duck into Gateway?  should we run for the river?”  We ran to the river through the back of Gateway and decided to keep going.  I had Liam’s hand, Paula had Kiera and the dog.  In the rush, I dropped my backpack, with cell phone, palm pilot, etc., and grabbed Kiera’s school back pack, which she had just dropped.  Liam still had his backpack on.  As we got through Gateway and were almost at the river, I looked back and this black, firey avalanche was heading straight at us.  I tried to get the kids and Paula to the ground, thinking of those nuclear war drills from childhood (and how hopeless the drills’ instructions had been).  I thought, “this is it – the fire will be here in a second, there won’t be oxygen to breath,” when it hit.  TOTAL BLACKNESS.  We couldn’t see anything, our hands, our kids, the dog, each other nothing.  I held tight to Liam.  Paula called out, “where are you! where’s Liam!”  I just reached out my hand and foundPaula, and we all just held tight there.  BUT NO FIRE, NO POISON GAS. Just dust, debris, junk, total blackness.  I told the kids, “stay down, we’ll be able to see in a few minutes, and we’ll get out of here.”  Sure enough, a few minutes later, we could see each other and maybe 10 feet beyond.  He groped to the river railing and headed south.  We couldn’t head north without going towards the trade center to get around the boat marina. We just kept walking.  By the time we got to the South Cove, volunteers were handing out face masks to kids, which they must have gotten from a nearby construction site.  

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-copyright Jeff Galloway-

By the time we got to Battery Park, the second tower went and we saw another black cloud coming at us.  We just kept heading south because there was no place else to go, finally making it to the American Park Cafe, where we took shelter under some umbrellas at the restaurant for about an hour, while stuff kept raining down. 

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-copyright Jeff Galloway-

Finally, a NY Waterway ferry pulled up by the shore and the crew urged as many who could get on board to evacuate.  We went, kids, dog and all.

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-copyright Jeff Galloway-

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-copyright Jeff Galloway-

They took us to the Colgate construction site in Jersey City, where a triage center had been set up.  We got food, water, drinks and access to some working phones.  We called our friend Chris in Cedar Grove, who offered to pick us up, but there was no way for her to get to us, with the closed roads.  We were then bused to the Jersey City Medical Center for oxygen and a look-over.  They let the dog into to the emergency center set up in the hospital, where we ran into a lot of neighbors (and other dogs) from Gateway, with stories similar to ours.  We were pronounced fit and we looked for ways to get out of there. Hospital employees were volunteering to help in any way they could. Eventually the wife of one of the hospital people drove us the roughly 15 miles to Cedar Grove, where we are staying now.  I’ve rented a car, so we can go to our NJ cabin if we want.  We spent yesterday buying clothes (and a new cell phone) at a local mall, where we ran into more BPC resident/refugees. We’re thankful we got through everything together, essentially unharmed physically. Thanks again for your concern.  Please spread the word that we are ok. –Jeff

 Jeff said to me, please spread the word:  We’re thankful, we’re together, we’re essentially unharmed.

This is good news.  But we can all feel the shadow.  Think Rita, Ike, and Harvey.

We all know that recovery from trauma is not simple.   Jeff’s wife did group therapy.  Eight-year-old Liam did art therapy. Gateway Plaza was damaged in the attack, but it was repairable.  Some folks who had lived there elected not to return.  But for others, it was the place they still belonged.  By Christmas 2001, the Galloways were home.

Needless to say, other young students at Public School 234 also needed counseling, and art therapy in particular was helpful.  One kindergartener named Noam who from his classroom window had seen the plane go in and saw people jumping drew a picture full of fire and horror.  But at the foot of the tall building he drew a trampoline.  “If we create buildings with trampolines around them,” he said, “people will be safe next time they have to jump from them.”

This is the resilience of the soul – it knows there is danger ahead, but it catches us as we fall.  As Moses said in Deuteronomy, “The Eternal God is our dwelling place, and underneath, the everlasting arms.”

Healing from trauma is ultimately a matter of relationships.  Resilience that grows from belonging.  From being loved and cherished.  People practicing interdependence.  Bonding and working together.  The stronger helping the weaker.  Which as we knows helps the strong, just as much as the weak.

Today, eighteen years later, Jeff and Paula still live in their apartment in Gateway Plaza.  Jeff still practices law.  Kiera Galloway works for a congressman in San Diego.  And Liam Galloway, who saw fire and horror, people jumping from the towers, is teaching high school in Brooklyn.

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