Persevere Like the Survivor Tree

During last week’s work trip to New York City, we trekked down to Lower Manhattan to see the 9/11 Memorial.

If you’ve been there, you understand the challenge of describing the experience.  Visiting the place we’ve called Ground Zero for more than a decade is unlike anything else.

Today, the sacred ground honors and cherishes the memories of the nearly 3,000 victims whose names are inscribed in bronze panels  around the massive reflecting pools and waterfalls set in the footprints where the north and south towers once stood.

A tree grows in the Bronx

Callery pear trees are plentiful to the area, I’ve read, so when the World Trade Center complex was dedicated in 1973, the trees were simply a part of the landscaping that softened the concrete and steal.  Visitors and workers enjoyed the shady park-like atmosphere that welcomed concerts and other outdoor events.

One Callery pear tree stood in a concrete planter on the east side of the site between the 4 and 5 World Trade Center buildings, with nothing to distinguish it from the others.

Twenty eight years later, however, that one Callery would become known as the Survivor Tree and would become the symbol of hope and healing for our country.

This lone tree bore witness to the horrific tragedy on that September day in 2001.  The early autumn day broke with sunshine warming its leaves but by noon, leaves and limbs were decimated by burning ash and buried beneath tons of rubble.

It would take weeks to unearth the pitifully charred stump but with visible new green leaves, recovery workers seized the opportunity to carefully move it to the Parks Department’s nursery in the Bronx.

“In those dark days, we felt we couldn’t disregard any sign of life,” said current mayor Michael Bloomberg.

We marvel at survival

“We are meant to marvel at its endurance so we can check in on our own,” wrote one writer on the 10-year anniversary of the terrorist attack, when the former eight-foot Callery pear was replanted as part of the 9/11 Memorial dedication.

We think, how could the now towering 30-foot Survivor Tree have withstood scorching debris, the trampling of rescuers, the viciousness of that day?  How could it survive the massive storm in 2010 that uprooted trees–including the Callery pear–at the Bronx nursery?

Then, we might ask, how do we survive our own terror attacks?

Like the Surviver Tree, we get pruned and cut back.  If necessary, we get transplanted, maybe more than once, in order to receive recuperative care.  We get patiently pampered and we are not given up for dead, even when our outer appearance seems so.

We are survivors, after all.

The mighty Survivor Tree

The Callery is one of the first of the pear trees to blossom in the spring.  I’ve read that the Survivor Tree, nestled in its lasting home near the south reflecting pool, is quite a blooming contrast among the still stark-looking swamp white oaks that surround it.

When the Survivor Tree was replanted, Keating Crown, a survivor who escaped from the 100th floor of the South Tower on 9/11, said that the tree is an emblem of endurance and that “it’s important that we all remember our innate capabilities to persevere in the face of terror.”

Whatever your past or present holds, please let Crown’s words caress your heart and know that like the mighty Callery, you are a survivor too.


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