“Great harm has been done to us. We have suffered great loss. And in our grief and anger we have found our mission and our moment.”― George W. Bush addressing joint session of Congress and the Nation. September 20, 2001
Maria Ragonese, Crisis Intervention Volunteer – These words were spoken by our former President as he addressed joint Congress and the Nation about a week after the September 11th Attacks. As a person, who lost loved ones in the World Trade Center that day, this was to become a defining moment for me.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, in the time it took to get from my job (where I heard the news that a planes had crashed into the twin towers) to my house – a mere 20 minutes – I knew that life as I’d known it, would never be the same again. The sun was shining in all its brilliance, the sky was clear and a stunning shade of blue, and it felt like summer was just beginning instead of ending. Everything in the world should have been right on a day this beautiful day, but it was not. In the time it took for me to make that 20 minute drive, the towers of the World Trade Center had collapsed, and I lost both my sister-in-law, Laura, who worked on the 101st floor of the South Tower, and my cousin, Nick, who was a New York City firefighter.
I recall not wanting to watch much TV during those first few days, feeling numb and lost, yet I knew that knowledge and information would be the key to helping me find my way through this staggering ordeal. The more I could understand, the more I could begin to find a way to keep moving through the anger, the grief and the loss which was felt quick, and all around me. The only thing that was really keeping me standing was I knew I had to be strong for my husband, my daughter and the rest of the family.
On the days I made my way out of the house, I saw the signs of a world uniting – simple signs like an American Flag being displayed on every house, on every block I drove past. I began to see that hope was stronger than fear. If somehow, I could find a way to take this act meant for evil, and let God – the Creator – do what he does best: Use it for Good, then I knew I could find a reason to go on.
The night I heard those words from our President was a sign from God – my Call to Arms – that He, indeed, intended to use this to move me forward into a mission and a moment that He had planned for me.
And, so it was, that as I searched for answers via the internet along with so many other hurting and grieving families, I started to make connections, share information, offer words of solace as well as receive them. This not only gave me strength, but gave me a reason to keep going. I came in on the ground level of many grassroot advocacy groups forming to help the families dealing with the aftermath of 9-11. I met the most amazing people on this journey – people who were suffering the same indescribable pain and grief as I was, but were choosing to channel it into helping others. I think what we learned together was, when we helped others take a small step forward in the healing process, we also helped ourselves. This became my stronghold, and because of the knowledge I gained in and going through this process, I was also able to help my family members move through this horrific time in our lives and find new reasons to live.
I advocated with and for the 9-11 Families for many years after that. I’ve shared my stories of that day in history, about my loved ones, and where the journey as taken me, many times over since September 11, 2001. I began to write them down and writing became a form of healing therapy for me. On the first anniversary of 9-11, I was invited to speak at the Capitol in Harrisburg, PA. That was the very first time I spoke publicly about loved ones and told their story. I wanted people to realize that every one of those 3,000 people, the innocent victims of an evil attack, were amazing individuals who had family and friends who loved and missed them and always would.
“… in our grief and our anger, we find our mission and our moment.” Still, today, almost 20 years later, I reflect on those words and where the journey, the road back from 9-11, has taken me.
Recently, I had to put a Bio about myself together to join the staff of a non-profit organization. I always thought it would be my accomplishments in the business world or as a writer that would be my most shining accolades. But as I looked back down that long rabbit hole, I realized it was that one moment in time – the worst moment in my life – that lead me to my true path of becoming a healer.
For 10 years after 9-11, I worked with VNA Hospice in Monroe County to help develop and implement a children’s bereavement program and summer camp. From there, I became a Certified Stephen Minister trained by the United Methodist Organization. In this capacity, as a layperson, I get to lovingly listen and support people in the church and community who are going through difficult times. The doors just kept opening from there, leading me on the path of a mental and emotional healer.
A few years after that, I learned of an organization called Crisis Text Line that provides a real-time texting platform for individuals who are in immediate crisis. It connects them with a trained counselor so they can talk through their feelings of despair. I felt called to take this training and earned my certification. It has truly been a blessing to be of service to people, especially troubled youth, through this platform. This has further inspired me to get my certification as a Life Coach, which I am pursing now with a Warrior Sister who found herself on the same path.
In my Act II (this is what I like to call my years over 50) amazing things are still unfolding in my life. My deep love and respect for Native American culture has returned me to a position of advocacy through a new non-profit organization called, PAZA Tree of Life a 501©3 dedicated to the revival of Native American culture and wisdom. We promote a greater understanding of the indigenous way of life and the benefits it can bring to the environment, our health and well-being. We are also committed to the passing down of ancestral knowledge to the next generation of Native American youth and beyond so that valuable stories, traditions, languages and ceremonies might be preserved. The founder, Delwin Fiddler, Jr., is someone I met “by chance” (although I truly believe nothing is by chance) who has become a friend and a brother in the last two years. He and his 8-year old daughter, Kassi Phoenix, have become members of my extended family. My husband, daughter and son-in-law all help Delwin, a single dad from the Cheyenne River Sioux reservation in South Dakota, to raise his beautiful daughter in our home, where we live and thrive In Easton, Pennsylvania. The blessings are just too many to count.
I encourage all my Warrior Woman Sisters to continue sharing your stories. Tell the world how you found your mission and your moment. I assure you, your words, just like the ones I heard our former President speak almost 20 years ago, can help another find the way to their path.
Believe in yourself.