Book examines post-9/11 spiritual transformations

By ENInews
September 18, 2011

Among the most profound effects of the 11 September terror attacks in the United States were the spiritual changes undergone by people who witnessed the disaster or responded in the aftermath - writes Solange De Santis.

Wendy Healy, former director of communications for Lutheran Disaster Response of New York, tells one dozen of those stories in her new book Life is Too Short: Stories of Transformation and Renewal After 9/11.

A slim volume and a fascinating read, Healy's profiles gracefully capture the unique qualities of each individual and what made 11 September a driving force for change in each person's soul.

Healy, who owns a communications company in Danbury, Connecticut, met the subjects of her book during her work with the Lutheran agency, which was set up to aid those affected by the attacks and distributed more than $9 million in grants, programs and services by the time it was wound up in 2008. Its disaster response work continues with Lutheran Social Services of New York and it was a founding member of New York Disaster Interfaith Services, which provides disaster preparedness training and other services to faith communities.

Keeping in touch with the people she met after 11 September, she was "in awe of how they changed their lives," Healy told the Connecticut Post newspaper. She wrote in the introduction that "they decided to make life a little bit better for themselves and those around them."

For some, the path toward transformation seemed governed by mere chance. Lisa Orloff, of Montclair, New Jersey, was a fashion designer, producing and selling a line of sweaters under the brand Lisa O. After the twin towers of the World Trade Center were destroyed in the attacks, she just showed up to volunteer at the Jacob Javits Convention Center on Manhattan's West Side.

Seeing a need, Orloff organised a system to run supplies to triage units around the disaster site using a map from the telephone book and her personal cell phone. She found her talent in organising and being a liaison between volunteers and government agencies and eventually founded and remains the executive director of World Cares Center, which has since provided disaster preparedness, response, and recovery services and training to more than 45,000 people in 24 states.

Pastor Thomas Taylor realised that 11 September was affecting his judgment when his wife nudged him at a dinner party. He'd been telling graphic stories of blessing body parts at a temporary morgue at Ground Zero. He also worked as a chaplain at the respite care centre that sprang up at the Episcopal St. Paul's Chapel just a block from the disaster site. The experience caused him to go back to school for a master's degree in social work and he now pursues mental health counselling in addition to his work as interim pastor at St John's Lutheran Church, Lindenhurst, New York.

Former telecommunications businessman Jeremy Bouman became a non-profit fundraiser and now works for Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. KellyAnn Lynch, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, co-founded Mychal's Message, an organisation that has donated more than 300,000 items of new clothing to the needy since its founding in 2002. It is named in memory of a personal friend, the late New York Fire Department chaplain, the Rev Mychal Judge, killed by falling debris from the towers.

The scenes of devastation from 11 September are sadly familiar, but Healy told the Connecticut Post that "what many of us don't realise is all the good that arose out of this tragedy. Generations from now, if kids had books that only showed the sadness from this tragedy, they would never know about all the healing and growth that happened after it."

Life is Too Short: Stories of Transformation and Renewal after 9/11, publisher IUniverse Inc., $12.95. Available on Proceeds benefit Trinity Lutheran Church, Brewster, NY.

[With acknowledgements to ENInews. ENInews, formerly Ecumenical News International, is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]


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