The Survivor Tree | Reflecting on 9/11 and the Boston Marathon Bombings

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From this morning’s visit to the 9/11 Memorial in New York City to this afternoon’s news of the Boston Marathon explosions, I have felt as if someone has tied a string around my heart and been tugging at it insistently, testing my capacity for tragedy and pulling me out of the surreal luxuries of my own life.

I have been visiting New York for almost two weeks now, minus a side trip to Washington, D.C. for a couple days. But from last Sunday, I’ve been staying at Jesse’s apartment in downtown Manhattan, literally next door to the World Trade Center and the 9/11 Memorial site. But it wasn’t until this morning that I took the time to pay a visit to the memorial myself.

After a series of lines and a security check that resembled airport screenings, I found myself standing in an expansive plaza lined with mostly-bare oak trees and two large squares inset into the ground. The massive waterfalls and reflecting pools each sit in the footprints of the original Twin Towers. The water cascades down the walls onto a square platform, which then descends again into a deeper square in the middle– one which sinks down beyond our line of sight.

The constant movement of descending water pulls you infinitely into the earth, and has the opposite feeling of so many monuments and skyscrapers we’re used to seeing. It was controversial when chosen, and called to my mind the controversy and design of the now-iconic Vietnam Veterans Memorial designed by Maya Lin in 1981. I found the 9/11 Memorial incredibly beautiful, tactful, and compelling. To be honest, I was far more moved than I ever expected to be. My thoughts drifted from tragedy to victims to rebuilding to concepts of nation-building, collective memory, and the politics of grief.

It was a couple hours later, sitting back up in Jesse’s apartment, that the news from Boston started rolling in. I sat in disbelief at the fresh new tragedy showing up in vivid imagery on my screen. All I could do was sit with the strangeness of this day and a pervasive haunting sadness, from one tragedy on my mind to two. I looked outside again, the 9/11 Memorial still just outside the window, and I saw the lone blooming tree.

All but one of the trees on the plaza are oaks, still bare this time of year. The exception is a Callery pear tree known as the “Survivor Tree.” This tree was found after 9/11, reduced to an eight-foot tall stump in the wreckage at Ground Zero. It was nursed back to health in a New York City park and grew to be 30 feet tall, sprouting new branches and flowering in the springtime. In December 2010, the tree was transplanted back in the memorial site, and it now remains a symbol of survival and resilience.

Perhaps this small tree in its act of living beautifully and vividly can remind us that there is hope and humanity amidst the worst our world has to offer. For it to be so delicately rescued, supported by guard wires, its quiet and bold resilience stands as an inspiration.

Tomorrow, I head back to San Francisco, with an airplane ride and a lot to turn over in my mind. I’ll be returning to my regular life, trying to carve a space for all of these thoughts. A space for reflection, grief, sadness, and a little dash of hope. May we grasp comfort and love where we can find it.

My heart goes out to all those who have been affected by these tragedies.

For more on the 9/11 memorial, visit

For more on the Boston bombings, there are many news sources, but deadspin is the first I followed (warning– graphic images).