It was unclear how I would never see him again--that at 10 years old, I no longer had a father. Even more troubling was the overbearing sensation that I might forget him, which frightened me the most.
The plane soared over me after school that day. I remember an aura of discomfort sweeping over my body as I started to shiver and gaze at the sky above me.
Anxious and fearful of what was, at that time, unknown, my body felt disconnected and hurt. I knew something was wrong. When the words were finally spoken later that night that "Daddy is missing," it was complete incomprehension.
My process of healing was recognizing the power of resilience -- recognizing how I can transform my experience into a sense of positive action. It allowed me to make sense of what was going on. At 10 years old, the only fathomable thing in my mind to deal with such an unexpected, surreal experience was to try to become closer to my firefighter dad by embodying what he loved -- giving back to his community and those he loved.
Listening to his voice on tapes as he led his rank in the south tower, I could immediately sense his dedication to his job. And outside his job, nicknamed the "mayor" of our small town, my dad was always available to give out a "hearty hello" and lending hand.
I learned that life is short and that bringing a smile to someone's face through even the smallest act of kindness and service is the best way to fulfill it. The way our communities came together after 9/11 was extraordinary. We all became connected and one, despite our differences. Through this dependability, appreciation, and acceptance, our society became drawn and dedicated to service. Spreading this act of kindness sets up a community despite the flaws and indifferences that may exist. I personally found that lending a helping hand inspires others to do the same and create grassroots movement of giving.
Through giving back, I was able to slowly digest this milestone of my life. It led me through a process. It also made me very curious as to how trauma affects our lives and how it is manifested in our development. I saw this first-hand myself, trying to bring as much awareness to it and work towards transforming myself. Moreover, I found engaging with others affected by similar acts of trauma, allowed me to unravel this jigsaw puzzle through conversation. Through community I was able to learn from putting my experiences on the table and listening to others, recognizing the behaviors, fears, lessons we can learn from healing as a community.
America's Camp gave me the first taste of this healing process, where through camping, I was exposed to the overwhelming power of love and connection among other kids who had also lost their parent on 9/11. I learned how to dance like no one is watching, and how to escape from our label as the "9/11 kid." (FIX) It gave us all an opportunity to share and reflect while have fun. After having been exposed to five years of such an outpouring of love and understanding, I knew I belonged back there again, to give back to the younger campers. Giving back to the community that contributed so much to my healing process, by being a counselor to a courageous and loving group of 11-year-old girls, was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
I was also fortunate to have another community by my side; Tuesday's Children, an organization dedicated to assisting the families of 9/11 and first responders. Through its Take Your Child To Work Day program, Family picnics, and fun outings, I had plenty of resources to have fun and to alleviate the distress we were surrounded with. As I got older and matured, Tuesday's Children continued to be by my side. The organization guided me on my path of service by giving me the opportunity to go to New Orleans to help rebuild Musicians Village. The organization pinpointed my healing process, which was "helping heals". Most importantly, Tuesday's Children introduced the "healing power" of camping on an international scale, through uniting with teens affected by terrorism at Project Common Bond. Project Common Bond allowed us to create this connection despite our cultural and language barriers. We all spoke the universal language of love, support, smiles and hugs. It taught me the power of non-verbal communication. Having met over 250 teenagers, I have now formed a global family where, together, we can heal and build resilience and strength as we strive to overcome hate and violence and show the world that by working together there is a chance for peace. Just like the Phoenix, out of the ashes of grief and despair ... love and strength can raise -- rebirth.