Wednesday, September 12, 2012

From Surviving to Thriving

I don't believe there is any life on this planet that hasn't been touched by tragedy.

The kind of tragedy that threatens to destroy you. That makes you feel like you're bleeding out emotionally. You're not sure how you'll ever get to the other side of tomorrow.

Can someone recover from that kind of pain?


This Callery pear tree was planted at the original World Trade Center plaza in New York City in the 1970s. While clearing the rubble away after the attacks on 9-11, workers found this tree. It had been "decapitated" by the falling towers. All of its limbs had been severed off, leaving it as an 8 foot tall charred and smoking stump. It wasn't discovered until weeks after the attacks. During those dark days, any sign for life was a miracle. This crushed, charred, broken tree was viewed as a survivor. 

Botanists weren't sure whether it would live or die. They needed to replant it and nurture it to give it a fighting chance. The pear tree was relocated to a specially selected nursery in the Bronx. Why there? There were probably better nurseries out there. But this tree was "born and raised" in New York City; a true New Yorker. No way was it leaving the Big Apple. So it was transplanted to that special nursery on the very edge of the city where it could get fresh air, sunshine, and the TLC it needed, but still be within city limits. 

Six months later, green shoots appeared on the trunk. The tree was fighting.

In nine years, the tree grew from a charred 8 foot stub to a 30 foot giant. 

And then Hurricane Irene hit New York. 

The pear tree was completely uprooted. 

Another devastating setback to a fragile tree. 



In 2009, the pear tree, dubbed the Survivor Tree, returned to its home in lower Manhattan where it now stands at the 9-11 Memorial.

It stands amidst a sea of white oak trees. There's no plaque. No story. Only a few supports tied to the trunk and a guardrail set this tree apart from the dozens of other trees.

The tree doesn't brag. It doesn't show off. It's story isn't etched in a stone. It's simply a quiet survivor.

The tree overlooks the memorials. The names of thousands of victims. The symbolic void at the bottom of the pools. It overlooks the millions who walk in sacred sadness, a lump in their throat and tears welling in their eyes. This is the environment the pear tree lives in every day. This is the environment the pear tree thrives in every day.

It's still growing.

It survived.

It's scarred. It's gnarled. It's ugly. The bark doesn't look quite right. Odd knobs mark the "decapitation" marks of the limbs. New limbs have grown since, disproportionately small and with obviously different textured bark.

Surviving isn't easy. Enduring isn't easy. The scars remain with us, always. But despite the tragedy, the destruction, we--as survivors--do what we have always done. We press on. And before you know it, a green shoot appears. And then another.

And tragedy will likely strike again.

And probably again. And again. And again.

We break. We bend. We survive.

We're supported by those who love us. We accept the nurturing. We grow. And we blossom.

I didn't know the story of this tree until I visited the memorial last October. I saw this ugly, supported tree with flowers at its base (placed by Scandinavian royalty earlier that day). That tree has a story, I thought. I asked an employee - a grizzled old New Yorker who looked just like the hobo who lived on top of the Polar Express. We spoke with that man for probably an hour. And we heard the story of the Survivor Tree from someone who knew it and loved it.



It is what I think of now when I think about 9-11.

It's a living symbol of the capacity to endure, overcome, and thrive.


I have been in places in my life when I feel like I've been attacked, been crushed by an incomprehensible amount of destruction, been broken and uprooted, lost in darkness I thought would consume me, and damaged beyond repair.

It's part of the human experience.

And yet I've endured. One day at a time. It didn't feel like anything heroic at the time, but I look back now and see something remarkable...

I am a survivor. 

I am a thriver. 

2 comments:

Natalie said...

Beautiful, Laura. I had never heard of the tree...it's beautiful.

Mel said...

I didn't know about this tree, but boy does your writing make it feel like it is in my back yard. 9-11 was a gust of wind hitting me that I did not have the ability to comprehend. I knew of its force and impact, but it wasn't until five and a half years later that the wind returned with familiarity and heightened gusto...when my brother was killed in the war.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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