We were all affected by 9/11. That's not news, nor is it news that everyone grieves in different ways. How some people heard the call to service, how they heeded the voice calling them through the aftermath toward a new life, however, is striking and inspiring. As these people look back on how their worlds have changed, they can help us answer the heartrending question, "Where was God?" In Life Is Too Short: Stories of Transformation and Renewal after 9/11
, author and journalist Wendy Stark Healy brings us the personal narratives of disaster responders, case managers, pastors, and those who worked in or near the World Trade Center, revealing how their experiences after 9/11/01 changed their lives for the better-forever.
Healy shares the story of the pastor who blessed body parts at Ground Zero and, after healing his own emotional wounds, became a mental health counselor. There's the aspiring actress and temp worker who became a spiritual healer after realizing healing is always possible, even amid unfathomable horror and despair. A Wall Street banker volunteered in an FDNY food tent before going on to run the September 11 Families' Association.
Healy's stories of renewal and faith, of the normal people who used the gifts they were given to make the world a better place, show us the strength and power in helping one another and give us a roadmap for building a future of tolerance and peace.
A Life Change: Jennifer Adams Chief Executive Officer September 11th Families Association Before September 11, Jennifer Adams described herself as a "very normal person working in a very normal career." Up to that point, perhaps the only unique situation the financial consultant had experienced was living through Hurricane Andrew in 1992 as a teen in Miami. Today Jennifer manages a museum and an almost 4,000-member non-profit organization in New York that supports families who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001. As the chief executive officer of the September 11th Families Association, Jennifer has been a leader in family advocacy, communications, and rebuilding after the disaster. With offices overlooking the World Trade Center site, the organization's mission is to support victims of terrorism through communication, representation, and peer support, and to unite the September 11 community, present evolving issues, and share resources for long-term recovery. It also operates The Tribute WTC Visitor Center, a museum and visitor center across the street from the World Trade Center site that attracts 500,000 visitors each year. This unique career change was a surprise in her life. "Before this, I knew nothing about non-profits," she said with a smile. "I thought they were places where you donated clothes." But after ten years in non-profit work, Jennifer has found a new vocation, one in which she has earned a national reputation. She said, "I never said that this is what I wanted to do. But I was in the right place at the right moment, and it was clearly the right thing to do." Just prior to September 11, Jennifer was working in investment banking in New York. Having recently relocated to New York City from Miami where she grew up, she was working in the company's World Trade Center office. She was traveling a lot for work and enjoying her twenties in the city. In December of 2000, the company had closed its Manhattan office and Jennifer began consulting, still working from a home base in New York City and traveling more than ever. Her spontaneous volunteer efforts after the attack quickly thrust her into the September 11 relief efforts and non-profit work. "Within a day or two after 9/11, I couldn't watch TV anymore and took the initiative to volunteer at Chelsea Piers, the Jacob Javits Center, and at the Ground Zero site for three months," said Jennifer. She felt that she had to do it mostly for her friend Meredith, a financial analyst, who died on September 11. "Meredith was a good friend who had worked a few floors above me in the World Trade Center. She never came home after 9/11." Jennifer was working in her day job and volunteering in her spare time, mainly organizing supplies that were being dropped off for the recovery efforts: "Everyone after 9/11 wanted to do something to help. I felt privileged to be in a place to do this. I always thought that anyone in my shoes would have done the same thing." After the first few weeks, Jennifer found herself volunteering several nights a week, 8 p.m. to 2 a.m., mostly at the supply tent next to the New York Police Department (NYPD) Crime Scene Unit on the corner of West and Liberty streets. The New York Police and Fire Departments and recovery workers were picking up gloves, small tools, ropes, boots, coffee, granola bars, and other items that the Salvation Army provided. Jennifer, who was volunteering at night and working days, was functioning on adrenalin. She called the tent a "horrible place," but volunteering there was about supporting the people who were doing the recovery work. She said, "We were closed in. It was mentally agonizing. But to be able to hand them a cup of coffee and ask them to talk about their kids as a distraction from what they were doing was the least I could do." Through her volunteerism, Jennifer met a lot of first responders. Two months after September 11, in November 2001, Jennifer met one of the firemen who initially started the September 11th Widows and Victims Families Association. He had lost many good friends and had started an organization to help families get access to resources and provide information about the recovery. "He asked me if I would help them," Jennifer recalled. "He realized they needed someone who could help them build the infrastructure of an organization through all of the chaos and emotional instability at that time. He must've had some intuition that I could help in some unique way. Little did I know the journey I was setting out on when I said ‘Sure, I am happy to help.' " While she didn't immediately start with the association, several months later, in March 2002, she turned down an offer to relocate to Houston with her company. "I didn't want to move from New York," she said. When it was clear that she would remain in the city, the fireman asked her again to help the organization. Jennifer remembered: "He said, ‘In the interim of your employment would you help us?' "
After 9/11, Wendy Stark Healy served as communications director for Lutheran Disaster Response of New York and for the Lutheran Bishop of the Metropolitan New York Synod. She has also run her own public relations and communications agency, Griffin Communications, since 1990. Healy and her husband live in Connecticut.