Who are the survivors of 9/11? We are the forgotten, the disremembered. First let’s start with the fact that the National 9/11 Museum and Memorial has not decided on what that definition of survivor is. Does it mean that you worked in one of the two Twin Towers and you were there that day? What if you worked there, but had only reached the door and weren’t inside? What if you saw the collapse from a half block away? A whole block? From across the street? What if you weren’t in WTC Tower 1 or WTC Tower 2, but were instead were in WTC 5 or 7? These are the things that have been debated now for 13 years. Lack of a definition means that even if you are a “card carrying” survivor, a person who was in WTC Tower 1 or WTC Tower 2, and can prove it, you still are not entitled to complementary admission to the museum or the right to stand at the memorial when they read the names of your friends and coworkers that died on 9/11. In fact, you aren’t even important enough to warrant a response when you write to the National Museum and ask why you have no rights as a survivor. For the first 12 years, I was told that I couldn’t attend the reading because the Mayor’s office wouldn’t allow it. When I wrote to the Mayor’s office I was told there are “too may survivors”. Are they saying that if only more of us would have died that day, then those who lived would have been able to attend? The Mayor’s office also told me that the families didn’t want survivors to read any of the names. I know many of the families and that just is not the truth. Now the National Memorial is running the ceremony and still no invite.
In Oklahoma City, there is a portion of the memorial with the names of survivors etched permanently into a monument. I am told there are again, too many survivors to do that in New York. So, in 13 years, no one could have created a voluntary database of survivors? Really?
13 years ago, I escaped down 29 flights of stairs and into the mouth of hell. I saw and heard things I do not wish on my worst enemy. I lost a wonderful friend, and a part of my soul that day. I do not blame anyone other than the perpetrators of the crime for what happened that day, but I am at a loss why survivors are constantly the disremembered. I don’t want to hear that there are too many survivors. If the tickets were offered in a lottery fashion from year one, most survivors who wanted to attend would already have been accommodated at least once.
I do not for a minute want to appear ungrateful. G-d decided to spare me on 9/11 for reasons that I do not know, and I have dedicated a part of my life to 9/11 volunteering in NY and internationally. There are amazing organizations like Strength to Strength and the 9/11 Tribute Center that do hold survivors in high esteem. Sadly they are in the minority. There is a segment of the population that feels that survivors have to move on and the focus is only to be on the deceased. The deceased are why the survivors need to be heard – their voices are extinguished and we need to keep the eternal flame of their memories lit forever.
Ironically, I am going to the ceremony this year at the 9/11 memorial as a guest of a friend who was invited. Although I am extremely grateful to my friend for the honor, my heart is still broken for the many other deserving survivors who will still be shut out of the ceremony.
Wendy Lanski, 9/11 survivor, is a board member of Strength to Strength and heads the Victims Advisory Council (VAC). If you are interested in joining VAC, you can reach Wendy at firstname.lastname@example.org.