September 15, 2011

Symbolism of a tree



The 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks caused us to pause and reflect as a community on the profound tragedy that fundamentally changed us as a nation and as human beings. Like many, I was glued to the television last Sunday watching the memorial ceremonies taking place at the crash sites in somber remembrance. Tears were shed in solitude as I listened to the personal stories of loss and sacrifice. I thought of my police and firefighter brothers and sisters who perished that day while running towards the catastrophe instead of away from it. Those first responders are credited with saving the lives of thousands of people and they are what we epitomize when we think of heroes. In the middle of the melancholy, I heard a story about a pear tree that was planted at the World Trade Center complex more than 30 years prior to the 9/11 attacks. It stood as part of the scenery and like most gifts of nature, it was taken for granted as it was rather unassuming. After the attacks, the tree was found clinging sideways in a pit in the middle of the destruction. It had dwindled to an eight foot stump and was covered with ash. The towers crushed the tree’s branches and it was scorched so badly that the vibrant, green color had been replaced with black and gray. There was little hope for its survival as its roots barely clung to the earth. It looked like a wounded soldier. The tree was plucked from the rubble and transported to the New York Parks Department where many attempted to nurse it back to health. It lay dormant during the winter months that followed the 9/11 attacks but in the spring of 2012, green buds poked out from the stump creating hopes it would survive. Through careful pruning and constant care, the tree grew and flourished only to suffer another setback last March when it was uprooted during a storm. Amazingly it recovered yet again and grew to a height of 30 feet in time for its return to the place we have come to know as Ground Zero. The symbolism is quite majestic when you stop and think about it. With assistance from the parks department employees, the tree was able to grow new roots and become stronger. We as a nation suffered a horrific loss and in the dark days that followed the attacks, we felt broken, uprooted, and vulnerable to further terrorist acts. The color drained from our lives and we were left with shades of gray. Life as we knew it had changed. But in the face of adversity, we found hope. Despite the deplorable actions of terrorists that were rooted in hatred, Americans locked arms and stood together as one. We focused on the stories of heroism and kindness that occurred on that fateful day. In the days that followed, we nurtured our survivors back to physical and mental health and supported those who incurred personal losses. At ground level, workers rolled up their sleeves and cleaned up the debris. At higher levels, security for our nation was revamped and new measures implemented to prevent further attacks. Out of the dust and debris, we rose as a nation. While attending the 9/11 Memorial Ceremony at the Aurora Central Fire Station, I looked around at our police officers and firefighters mourning the loss of the first responders and it was clear to me that each will still run toward the gunshots and into the fire because that is their call to duty. Like the pear tree, we as a nation and as a city have grown new roots and are stronger and more resilient than ever before. The loss brought us to our knees and yet we rise, dust ourselves off, and do what we were called to do.

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