Part II: A Decade Later – Coping and hoping.

by Jan on September 16, 2011

Click here to read Part I of “A decade later – Coping and hoping.”

RUTH USEM… “Unimaginable.”
That’s how Ruth Usem recalls the memory of that morning.

The phone rang at a few minutes after 8 a.m. It was her daughter-in-law Renee’s father who blurted out, “The towers have been hit by a plane.”

“How could that be?” she thought.

Ruth tried reaching out to Marc and Renee.  Again and again and again. Office, cell phone, home – but she couldn’t get through.  Minutes felt like hours.  All she could do was wait…and wait and wait. And hope.

On TV she could see the utter destruction, the thousands of displaced people, the dust. That’s when the panic began to hit, hours and hours and hours went by. The waiting was unbearable.

In the solitude of her north woods retreat she was not really alone. As a loving, generous woman who’s given so much to her community, her friends embraced her in this time of uncertainty and fear. They wanted to give support back to her. Finally the call she had hoped for came.

It was only after she knew Marc and his family were safe that she could let down and feel the full impact of the country’s great loss and her great good fortune.

In our conversation, Ruth remembered the happy times she had with Marc and his family in the New York before the towers went down.

She drew Marc into warm memories of Battery Park where he and Renee had lived, and the good times they had there.  Together mother and son began to recount some of the simple yet special things that had been lost. The best falafel maker in NYC and their favorite restaurant…they smiled at the memories of that huge “city within a city.”

With fond nostalgia she remembered how much she loved visiting his office and the restaurants in that part of town.  Ruth remembered a lovely night years earlier with his family at Chelsea Pier for the 4th of July fireworks.  That was a pleasant night on the river.  It was in sharp contrast to Marc’s more recent memories of that place—filled with the images of ambulances and anxiety.

A few months after 9/11, Mark was back In Minnesota staying with Ruth.  In a quiet moment late at night Marc asked, “Do you think I will ever get those images out of my mind?” as he gently touched his Mother’s shoulder.  Responding as only a mother can, Ruth replied, “No, but they will get better.”

When Marc came to Minneapolis, he asked his mother to keep all the clothes, and shoes that his family had worn on their last days in NYC.  She said, “I can’t keep all of this.”

“Just keep the shoes,” he said.

Ruth did what mother’s do.  She kept the shoes that he came home with because he asked her to save them, and also because they remind her that her son did come home.  So many others didn’t.

In our first conversation Ruth asked me if I would like to see “the shoes.” Interestingly, Marc didn’t remember them at all, nor did he even recognize them.

For Ruth, the shoes were an icon of both pain and jubilation – the pain of not knowing the fate of her child and the jubilation of finally hearing his voice.  In those terrible hours of not knowing what had happened to her son, Ruth was preserving “the space” of hope.  Hope for Marc and his family. Hope for peace. Hope for our nation. Hope for the future. Ruth’s hope for others is an important part of what defines her humanity.

That’s just how Ruth is.

(Read Marc’s personal account in Part I of “A decade later – Coping and hoping.”)

Something poignant happened during that lunch.  It felt important.

As the good memories began to flow, Marc moved imperceptibly towards Ruth. By the end of the lunch he sat shoulder to shoulder with her, as if in some way the recollection they had reached had brought a bit of peace to the memory of that event. It was touching.

Through the grace of time they were able to share their stories in a different way than they had before. Perhaps something unexpressed had been released. Perhaps that is just how remembering and forgetting works to heal the past.

I have enormous gratitude for being allowed into this intimate, mother-son story. As they remembered that day and its aftermath, they found that they had never fully shared each other’s experiences of those hours and that each had forgotten something.

As Marc’s business partner Hakan said, “People who weren’t there that day will never really understand.”  Yet, hearing their story face-to-face did bring me closer, and what I am left with is a deeper appreciation for the undeniable forces of love and hope in their lives.

Finding hope in all its countless forms is my job. For that I’m thankful.