Tag Archives: September 11th

How to Save the World-Write a Letter

“Further, since being a writer involves the building of bridges between our own life experience and that of others, our job is to find the most significant points of connection between ourselves and our readers.”                                                                                                            -Luci Shaw, The Writer’s Notebook, essay in A Syllable of Water


I remember as vividly as if it were yesterday how I felt in the days after September 11th. My daughter and I were in New York City that day and the next, staying with my nephew who had graciously hosted us in his Brooklyn apartment. After the world exploded, we set out for upstate NY, where my sister-in-law lived, with plans to camp out there until we could get on a flight back home to Seattle.
We overnighted along the way in a hotel where several pilots were staying. As shocked and traumatized as I was after the sky rained down ash and powder for 24 hours, I couldn’t imagine being a pilot and having to face the reality that my job was to get back into the cockpit of a jet and fly the next day. When we checked into our hotel, I boldly approached each one of them and thanked them for their bravery. They were being called to do one of the most unthinkable jobs on the planet. And they went anyway.

As my daughter and I traveled back to the West coast four days later through three different airports, flight attendants and pilots somberly passed us, their rolling bags trailing behind them, faces set like flint. Again I said ‘thank you’ as often as I could; some of the flight attendants also got a hug.
The country is reeling again from another tragedy, outraged at the carnage and loss of life at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida. Many have taken their outrage and channeled it to finding a cause or pointing a finger—more gun control, revamping FBI practices, engaging in more stringent oversight of those mentally ill—each a just and worthwhile issue.
I am not going to argue the wisdom of those efforts, nor am I ignoring the energy and passion of the survivors at Marjory Stoneman who are marching next month. Everyone has a right to use their voice where and how they can.
For my small part, I sat down yesterday and did what writers do: I wrote a letter to my oldest grandson’s high school teacher. In it, I suggested a practice of checking in with students every Friday for a few minutes at the end of the day to see how they are doing. Not verbally, but via paper. (Glennon Doyle Melton recounted the idea via her article at rd dot com and I borrowed it from her.)
High school staff and teachers are the people on the front lines every day from New York to California, Montana to Florida and everywhere in between, who have to go back to work in their buildings after a richly deserved day off and face their jobs again.
They will show up and keep showing up and caring for kids and pouring out their lives day after day in classrooms all over America.
If you know a kid in high school, if you HAVE a kid in high school, if you know a High School teacher, can you take 10-15 minutes to write a note to that principal or teacher? Something like,
“Thank you for facing your job each day under unthinkable circumstances, for doing the difficult job of caring for kids,” or just plain, “thank you.” You can read my letter here and adapt it for your own. 
Or heck, print out this excerpt below (from Glennon Doyle, re: her son’s 5th grade teacher) and pass it along to the teacher or principal. You never know, it might save someone’s life. Or many someone’s lives before more children are lost to loneliness, emptiness and despair.
“Every Friday afternoon, she asks her students to take out a piece of paper and write down the names of four children with whom they’d like to sit the following week. The children know that these requests may or may not be honored. She also asks the students to nominate one student who they believe has been an exceptional classroom citizen that week. All ballots are privately submitted to her.
And every single Friday afternoon, after the students go home, she takes out those slips of paper, places them in front of her, and studies them. She looks for patterns.
Who is not getting requested by anyone else?
Who can’t think of anyone to request?
Who never gets noticed enough to be nominated?
Who had a million friends last week and none this week?
You see, Chase’s teacher is not looking for a new seating chart or “exceptional citizens.” Chase’s teacher is looking for lonely children. She’s looking for children who are struggling to connect with other children. She’s identifying the little ones who are falling through the cracks of the class’s social life. She is discovering whose gifts are going unnoticed by their peers. And she’s pinning down—right away—who’s being bullied and who is doing the bullying.
As a teacher, parent, and lover of all children, I think this is the most brilliant Love Ninja strategy I have ever encountered. It’s like taking an X-ray of a classroom to see beneath the surface of things and into the hearts of students. It is like mining for gold—the gold being those children who need a little help, who need adults to step in and teach them how to make friends, how to ask others to play, how to join a group, or how to share their gifts. And it’s a bully deterrent because every teacher knows that bullying usually happens outside her eyeshot and that often kids being bullied are too intimidated to share. But, as she said, the truth comes out on those safe, private, little sheets of paper.
As Chase’s teacher explained this simple, ingenious idea, I stared at her with my mouth hanging open. “How long have you been using this system?” I said.
Ever since Columbine, she said. Every single Friday afternoon since Columbine. Good Lord.
This brilliant woman watched Columbine knowing that all violence begins with disconnection. All outward violence begins as inner loneliness. Who are our next mass shooters and how do we stop them? She watched that tragedy knowing that children who aren’t being noticed may eventually resort to being noticed by any means necessary.
And so she decided to start fighting violence early and often in the world within her reach. What Chase’s teacher is doing when she sits in her empty classroom studying those lists written with shaky 11-year-old hands is saving lives. I am convinced of it.” (read the entire essay here.)


Build a bridge, be a connection, stand in the gap. Fill the gaps with love, and maybe a letter. 

The Body of Memories-September 11th

I met a friend recently for lunch at a park near my home, desperate for her company and encouragement. Nerves were frayed, emotions out of whack, reserve tanks anything but reserved.

I apologized in advance for my undone condition. As I attempted to articulate my very frail feelings, blaming my 4 am wake-up call after a night of worrying about my new book, her simple response was, “You’re exhausted, Jody. No wonder you’re on the brink of tears.”

“Plus, it’s almost September 11th.”

Until she voiced the obvious, I wasn’t aware that, too, was weighing on my mind.

“Our bodies have memory and you’re remembering that day.”


In September of 2001, my daughter and I celebrated her graduation from culinary school with a trip to New York City. We’d arranged a 10-day visit with my nephew who lived in Brooklyn and also a meeting with Ruth Reichl, then Editor of Gourmet Magazine and author of 3 of our favorite books on cooking. The first five days in and around the city were glorious. A drive to the beach and back, subway-riding to Manhattan and the New York Public Library. Strolling through Central Park and jaunts all around Brooklyn. On the evening of September 10th, we met my nephew after work for drinks at a restaurant high atop the Marriott Hotel.

 A tremendous thunderstorm came through that night. We watched in awe from our cloud-high window seats at the lightning strikes, rain storming down in buckets. When we ventured back to the street, we found the air charged with heat and pressed on through the rain. Although we got soaked, we dried out on the subway ride home. (I wrote about the kindness of the people we met that night in this poem.) 
The next morning was the day of our appointment with Ruth back in Midtown at 30 Rockefeller Center.  I remember the voicemail from her assistant,  ‘See you at 11 on the 11th.’

The morning broke with a crystal clear blue sky, scrubbed clean from the previous nights’ storm.

And then the earth moved, the sky filled with ashes and paper glitter and we were forever changed.


As an educator I know that we remember 10% of what we hear, 30% of what we see, 50% of what we see and hear, 70% of what we say, but 90% of what we do. (Romain Rolland, 1866-1944).

In other words, our deepest memories are those that come via our body, the muscle, skin and bones that take in those experiences.

With ashes falling the past two summers throughout the Pacific Northwest region where I live, the sight of black and gray dust landing like powder on the hood of my car take me back. The eerie, muted quiet reminds me of that morning, standing in the street while pulverized concrete and the dust of singed papers fell through the sky.

cars in drew's neighborhood

I’d rather not remember, but I can’t separate my mind from my body.

It is impossible to forget that day, which is a gift, really. Not everyone has the experience of that kind of tragedy, chaos and destruction. Sixteen years ago a generation of children weren’t even born–all they know about September 11th is what they have heard and read.

 Those of us who live to tell the tale need to remind the rest of the world about those days, not because of what has been lost, but because by God’s grace we are still here, while so many, many people are not.

When I talk about the day the sky rained down glitter, I can never identify it with the shorthand of “9-11;” the day deserves every syllable of sound in the phrase—“September 11th.”

Our bodies remember.

Remembering That Day


Mornings after an autumn rain have their own special beauty. Skies are scrubbed a unique blue, air seems to hold a visible sparkle. A violent thunderstorm the night before made the morning of September 11th one of those new days—full of promise and adventure.

In celebration of my 20 year old daughter’s graduation from culinary school we planned a trip East from our Seattle area home.  I contacted family in New York City; my nephew kindly invited us to stay at his Brooklyn apartment and off we went.

After a few days’ sight-seeing my daughter and I were looking forward to the real reason for our visit: an appointment in the city to meet her favorite food author, Ruth Reichl. An email exchange several months before (as a surprise to Leah) had yielded an unexpected kindness via the writer’s assistant, “We’ll see you at eleven on the 11th,” her voicemail said.

The morning was filled with anticipation and excitement.  Leah was busy fixing her hair, I stood at a window applying mascara and make up, early daylight providing the perfect illumination.

Suddenly the ground shook—a quick, rolling jolt—like thunder beneath my feet.

My nephew’s hand was on the doorknob as he headed out to catch a subway to work in Manhattan.

“What was that?!” I hollered.

“Oh, probably just a dumptruck. See you tonight!” Throwing the remark over his shoulder, he walked out the door and was gone.

       As the next minutes unfolded that bright September day, we learned along with the rest of the world that was no dumptruck. A mile and a half away the sky was raining death.

We immediately abandoned our plans and began frantically searching for answers to what had just happened.  D. owned no television so we sat transfixed in front of his small radio, straining to hear as we sat in disbelief. Soon we could stand it no longer and flew down three flights of stairs to the landlord’s apartment, timidly asking if we might sit with her to watch as the horror unfolded on television.

When the walls of the apartment became too close we ventured outside with the rest of Carroll Gardens residents. People were wandering, dazed and silent. Hours pulled slow as taffy, transforming the separate ingredients of the neighborhood, the city and the rest of the world into a cohesive substance that united us in the days that followed. Continue reading

That September Day


The soft and subtle glow of the sun sits right side of my shoulder. Bumper by bumper, we move at a close and constant pace while I relish the music washing over me. Grateful to not be harried and hurrying homeward,  I turn up the volume and conduct the air while I make the most of the slow wheels, asphalt-wise.

The twang of guitar, the soft snare and notes weave together, while a piano taps out a tune as if played by a nimble kitten.  A single voice enters the song, sending me back to a time when my mother sang these very same words. That was a long time ago, but the words are just as poignant today.
I wonder at my fellow drivers, if they’ll shake their heads while I agitate the air in time with the song.  I am moved, inside and out. Broadway lyrics are often deep, deep wells if you listen outside the lines.
                                Try to remember the kind of September
                                When life was slow and oh, so mellow.
                                Try to remember the kind of September
                                When grass was green and grain so yellow.
                                Try to remember the kind of September
                                When you were a young and callow fellow,
                                Try to remember
                                And if you remember
                                Then follow…
And while the world is remembering, as it should, that September Day, I would like to argue that it is good to remember simpler times, happier times, whole-er times. 
 Any September….the kind where the joy of the first day of school and crisp plaid dresses and black and white oxford shoes heralded the season ahead.  The season of fall and school carnivals and hide-and-seek and bike rides and roller skating.
The Septembers where neighbors herded and fed each others’ children, shared swimming pools and picnics, phone lines and fenceline conversations. 
At least that’s what I remember. And maybe your world has that kind of joy in it; I rejoice with you, for it is more and more rare. I daresay you are aware of that and praise God for it often.
Why sing? Why remember? 
Because our right here/right now world is tenuous and taut and fraught with fear. But there is a just-as-real and unseen world all around us, a kingdom where those Septembers and Mays and Januarys are beautiful, peopled with whole and happy citizens. 
Try to remember when life was so tender
That no one wept except the willow.
Try to remember when life was so tender
That dreams were kept beside your pillow.
Try to remember when life was so tender
That love was an ember about to billow.
Try to remember, and if you remember,
Then follow.
     So, in this right here/right now life we move forward because of faith—faith in what we know can be so. Faith that remembers how our God is with is, was with us, and will be with us in all of our Septembers.
     Not because there is no pain or horror or violence, but because there is a healer and a helper and a holder. And we can sing along with rich and full musical lines that help us remember.
                    Deep in December, it’s nice to remember,
                    Although you know the snow will follow.
                    Deep in December, it’s nice to remember,
                    Without a hurt the heart is hollow.
                    Deep in December, it’s nice to remember,
                    The fire of September that made us mellow.
                    Deep in December, our hearts should remember
                    And follow.
Let’s sing to each other. Let’s remember. Let’s follow.
I have written about the experience of living through September 11th with my daughter Leah when we were visiting New York City.  I wanted to share this today because my mother died on September 11th. In 1984. And she loved to sing.
“Try to Remember” is from the Broadway musical, The Fantasticks, 1960.
I was singing along with Josh Groban’s recording from his ‘Stages’ album, cranked up loud. 
Very loud.

The Kindness of Strangers {a #poem}

“That’s what we storytellers do Mrs. Travers. We restore order through imagination.

We instill hope again and again and again.”
                                                                                       Tom Hanks as Walt Disney in ‘Saving Mr. Banks’

view from Brooklyn across to Manhattan that September Day

way back then
when no one knew
the world would crack the next day,
we stood there,
tourist trappings wrapped around us
‘howdy’ I said, that quiet night on the subway.
late ride home, guest of the nephew,
no one but he, myself, and daughter, it seemed.
(surely there were others).
“We’re from Seattle,” I announced, 
including my girl
with the sweep
of my hand.  “Visiting him…..”
towards the nephew.

“My name’s Peter. I’m a writer,”
he replied.
‘Who do write for?’
‘A magazine–Newsweek…’
and me so impressed, not by his job
but his niceness in New York
that carried over to the exchanged emails
and the phone call I got to make the few days later
when, safely arrived at home, across miles of mayhem
and madness
I reached through, asked for him,
and heard him say, “Seattle?–how are you?”
and he cared with his questions and 
I in turn with mine.
He was okay….
recovering in the City that had been incinerated.
We were safe at home (physically) 
but the mental and emotional
healing would take many, many months.
Years. (and there would be scars).
His concern helped.

Forget everything you’ve ever heard about the
fright of traveling underground in those lightless places
New York–London–Tokyo
perilously passing you through the layers underneath–
there are people kind, open, friendly,
and no matter where you are
we are all the same–
especially on the subway.

Jody Lee Collins c. 2012

In September of 2001 my daughter and I were going to celebrate her graduation from culinary school with a trip to New York City to meet Ruth Reichl, then Editor of ‘Gourmet Magazine’ and author of 3 of our favorite books on cooking. We’d spent 5 glorious days in and around Brooklyn and on September 10th in the evening, met my nephew for drinks at Windows on the World restaurant 70 plus floors up, high in Manhattan.  
A tremendous summer thunderstorm came through that night, lightning strikes, rain in buckets, soaking us through. We dried out and took the subway home.
The next morning was the day of our appointment.  I remember the voice message, ‘see you at 11 on the 11th’ , from Ruth’s assistant.  It was a crystal clear, blue sky day. Then the earth moved, the sky filled with ashes and paper glitter and we were forever changed.
When we returned home to Washington, I was in shock for about 6 weeks, although I didn’t know it at the time. 
I couldn’t talk on the phone and cook dinner at the same time. 
I had to be still whenever possible. 
Simultaneous input verbally and visually was overwhelming. 
I walked through the days wrapped in cotton. 
You can read what I wrote after I’d been home a few weeks  here

Cocooning-{a #poem}


((Google Images))

                              A shell of protection, this choice I’ve made
To hide away indefinitely until
This fragile, silken wall peels
Away revealing new life.
The barrier is temporary and thin—
Easily broken when the time is right.
But now I must collect myself
Be still awhile
Be safe.
Take pains with my words, listen more,
Defy the urgency of unnecessary things.
Spinning this private insulation about me
Preserves my heart and soul
In these jostling, jarring times
Praying new life will come as I emerge
From this case of gray to see the world again.
Gold that remains
when death and destruction are burned away.
New life will come on quiet, fragile wings.

                              I will fly, I will land,

I will see the world in a new way.

I will remember.

Jody Lee Collins c. 2012

In September of 2001 my daughter and I celebrated her graduation from culinary school with a trip to New York City to meet Ruth Reichl, then Editor of Gourmet Magazine and author of 3 of our favorite books on cooking. We’d spent 5 glorious days in and around Brooklyn and on September 10th in the evening, met my nephew for drinks at the Windows on the World restaurant in Manhattan.  A tremendous summer thunderstorm came through that night, lightning strikes, rain in buckets, we were soaked but dried out and took the subway home (I wrote about the kindness of the people we met that night here.
The next morning was the day of our appointment.  I remember a voicemail,  ‘See you at 11 on the 11th’ , from Ruth’s assistant. 

It was a crystal clear, blue sky day. And then the earth moved, the sky filled with ashes and paper glitter and we were forever changed.

When we returned home to Washington, I was in shock for about 6 weeks, although I didn’t know it at the time.
I couldn’t talk on the phone and cook dinner at the same time.
I had to be still whenever possible.
Simultaneous input verbally and visually was overwhelming.
I walked through the days wrapped in cotton and as I was able, gingerly wrapped words around that September Day.