Nine years and four months ago my publishing partner and I went into overdrive to respond to the pain families were suffering from the 9/11 attacks. As journalists and owners of a publishing company, we knew first-hand how the written word can be more powerful than a raging river when it comes to healing.
Recognizing that an avalanche of heartwarming stories detailing courage, sacrifice and giving beyond comprehension needed to be shared with the world we began to solicit stories through our contacts. Days turned into nights – many that slipped by with endless tears.
Volunteers, editors and graphic designers pooled their talents and came to edit and sort the hundreds of stories we received. Glory: A Nation’s Spirit Defeats the Attack on America debuted at a national book conference in Florida just seven weeks after 9/11.
“We were a nation of people running on sorrow, fear and adrenalin,” said Sandy Scoville CEO of SP PRESS. “Each one of us felt we had to DO something. We experienced 9/11 as Americans, and vicariously as editors – reliving the event with each story submitted to us and providing a written voice for many directly affected. For me personally, it was the most emotionally intense sleep-deprived seven weeks of my life.”
It was the after-effects, however, that deeply touched our hearts. The voices that repeatedly said, “Thank you for letting me breathe again.” “You have changed my life with this book.” “I will never forget your leading me through this horrific time in my life.”
This past week our nation did indeed “defeat the attack on America.” It was once again a nation brought together in praise and solidarity. From one news broadcast to another, those who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks voiced some comfort and a bit of closure from Bin Laden’s death.
Rene Nurse, a San Diego Firefighter and member of California Task Force 8, a special Federal Government Rescue Team called USAR (Urban Search & Rescue Task Force), was sent to the Towers rubble to search for wounded victims. His shock and anger at the horrific loss of human life on September 11 was staggering, but he felt a responsibility to be there.
“It was like a scene from Dante’s Inferno. The smell of body decay is everywhere,” Nurse wrote in the book. He had called us when he heard about the book, but professed he didn’t know what to write. I told him to write what’s in his heart. He sent us 11 hand-written pages. I would later be told by him, and his wife Elsa, that it was that act that allowed him to breathe again.
“I had felt such a sadness over the misfortune of so many, but after I wrote my story I felt a sense of relief,” Nurse said. “But for so long the pain hasn’t stopped. And then last week they got Bin Laden. Not only is it a huge relief, it’s renewed my faith in the government that they’ve never stopped looking for him.”
M.J. Rose is an author and journalist whose newest book The Hypnotist is drawing raves. Rose had been jogging in Connecticut when she came upon a crowd watching the towers just as they were falling. “In this suburb that sits on the outskirts of New York City we watched the Twin Towers fall. But we didn’t hear the sirens or the explosions. We only heard the gulls screaming and the widows weeping,” Rose wrote.
“I remember it as a sad, horrific moment,” Rose recalls. “I’ve found little relief since, and not even much closure with Bin Laden’s death, as terrorism is such an insidious problem in our world. I am pleased though, that Obama was able to pull this off.”
Looking back it was Lorrie Morgan-Ferrero, an award-winning copywriter and owner of redhotcopy.com, who said in the Glory book what she really felt. She mirrored everyone’s thoughts so well as she addressed Bin Laden she really had the pulse of the nation at heart. She wrote, “You and your cause are regarded with pathetic shame. Your wicked plot drove up the bile, yet ignited the life-force deep down in all of our abdomens. You’ve brought God and spirituality back into our lives. You melted tears from the steely eyes of old men who may never have cried before death before. You incited apathetic young males to want to die for their country, who before couldn’t see beyond their own self-centered wants. You inflamed the repugnance of young females with the treatment of your religion’s women as slaves. You’ve changed everything from September 11 on. Forever! You have opened the curtains for a new era – the era of righteousness. The swelling pride at being Americans has been renewed. So again I say, thank you Bin Laden. And God have mercy on your thick black soul.”
This week Morgan-Ferrero said, “I was so angry back then, I wondered how anyone in the human race could cause such a tragic event. After writing my contribution for the book I felt so much stronger and could really embrace the cheering of the USA echoed around the world.”
Peter Samuelson is a film producer (Samuelson Productions), President of Splashlife Inc., Co-Founder of the Starlight Children’s Foundation and Co-Founder and President of the First Star Inc. He was in Washington D. C. for a First Star board meeting on 9/11 when he witnessed the huge black cloud of smoke rising from the Pentagon after the attack there.
“We are privileged to work for all our children in First Star, children whose needs are the apex, the summit, the quintessence of all that we prize and seek to nurture. Because kids are our future. Indeed we will go ahead and have our board meeting, and will do so stubbornly, with resolve, with renewed dedication to what we hold dear…because these recent atrocities reaffirm our belief that the margin between evil and good is thin indeed. The outcomes of tragedy will be positive: out of the ashes of the World Trade Center will eventually come a better America and a better world. The sleeping giant has awakened.” Samuelson wrote.
“A lot has happened in my life and career since then,” Samuelson said, “but I am very proud that an event from 9/11 has helped change the word for the better. Melissa Helmbrecht, who was sent to council children of police and firefighters who lost a parent, and from that, was instrumental in the creation of Splashlife, as a resource and advocacy group for the rising generation of 75 million young Americans. I can’t celebrate the death of any man, but when it comes to evil men like Hitler and Bin Laden, I’m glad they are gone.”
Jonathan Wright was a volunteer fireman in his community. As a member of Emergency-Rescue Company #9 of the Freeport Fire Department he was eventually called to duty to look for victims in the pile from the collapse of the towers on that fateful September day. Hailing from a long line of volunteer firefighters, Wright felt a need to share the dark times when he was filled with anger over what happened to his comrades and guilt that he survived. His faith and lessons learned from the slow and costly process of emotional and physical healing in Firehouse Down: Life After Ground Zero. were ones shared by many first responders and essential for anyone wanting to understand their sacrifice.
“I saw some firefighters coming out of Ground Zero. Reality was written plain and simple across their faces. One firefighter collapsed crying when a pastor approached. He walked the fireman down to the rubble-strewn street and looked to the heavens clenching his hands together as if asking God for strength,” Wright wrote.
“When I completed Firehouse Down I felt a cathartic benefit,” Wright said this week, “I knew I was far from healed, but I felt I made a good start toward that end – which I have yet to attain. And with the death of Bin Laden, I thought I would again find some peace. As yet, I have not. I think of my murdered brothers daily and at times it seems only to fuel the emotional fires within. My PTSD is in full drive so every day is a struggle; but my faith gets me through it all.”
President Obama’s words on Sunday – “It was important to protect the lives of our guys and say we got the guy,” – sums up a well-planned and triumphant achievement.
As President of SP PRESS I take great pride that we contributed in a very small way to the healing of those affected by this tragedy. We learned something very basic and primitive about ourselves, our comrades, our brothers and sisters in pain, many whom we never met. We understood that this writing effort was a way of survival, of fighting back in the presence of pure evil. That healing is an ongoing process requiring all people to reach deep inside themselves to the basic goodness that resides there and use it. From the biggest corporate contribution to the smallest child drawing a picture of a flag, the American spirit roared alive – and gave us the name for this book.
That same spirit will forever mold generations that follow as each one fights to hold back a tear by its mere presence waving so boldly in the breeze – Old Glory.
To read more about the aftermath stories in Glory: A Nation’s Spirit Defeats the Attack on America. go to SPPRESS.
Glory graphic © Kathy Parks
USAR image courtesy Rene Nurse
Firehouse image courtesy Firehouse 131