My experience on September 11 has been well documented in the media, whether in an interview that took place later that morning in which the reporter’s characterization of me went something like: “said Abby Spilka, in a highly emotional state one hour after the attacks” to the time I was interviewed by Channel 9 News with the screen identification “Eyewitness to Terror.” I have given testimony to the Columbia University 9/11 Narrative and Memory Project and written about it for Museum News. I have blogged about it for the Museum of Jewish Heritage and contributed content for an exhibition entitled Yahrzeit: September 11 Remembered.
What I have not discussed is the connection between September 11 and my volunteer work. I watched all of the events of that morning from my office on the 25th floor of a building six blocks south of where the Twin Towers stood; my office faced north. As I walked home over the Brooklyn Bridge with my husband, I was traumatized and non-verbal. I could not get undressed nor take a shower because I felt I would be washing the remains of human beings down my drain.
It took me a few weeks to realize how fortunate I was and knowing that made me crave opportunities to volunteer. I spent my birthday that year volunteering for Safe Horizons calculating receipts for displaced residents needing reimbursements. I stood at Point Thank You on a freezing cold night yelling and clapping at every truck that drove down the West Side Highway. I purchased socks, Power Bars, and Red Bull for rescue workers because I was told that’s what was needed. And like almost every other Brooklynite, I baked dozens and dozens and dozens of chocolate chip cookies to deliver to local fire houses.
These one-off activities weren’t doing it for me. I needed to commit to an activity with my heart and soul, and one that could quiet the guilt I felt for making it home that day. It took a few years to figure out that VNSNY Hospice was the place to do that very thing.
As it is for so many others at this time of year, this season is very difficult for me. Historically I am irritable, short-tempered, depressed, anxious, all while consuming copious amounts of chocolate and counting down the days until September 11 is over.
Yet this year feels different. Maybe I have been so busy thinking about “Hazel’s” passing on August 20, the earthquake, and the hurricane which required the staff to evacuate the Museum, that I haven’t had time to dwell on it. And that is okay. Because my own legacy from September 11 is the work I have done for Hospice. The people who were murdered on September 11 were not surrounded by loved ones, or cared for by strangers who became family. In my own small way, escorting the souls of strangers on the path to the next journey is my way of honoring the souls of the men, women, and children who died alone that day.
Thank you Abby. As a person who lives in the “frozen zone” and a hospice employee; I am touched by your message.— / September 8th, 2011 at 3:14 pm