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Lessons of Hope from a 9/11 Survivor

Lessons to be learned from September 11 survivor Genelle GuzmanHow often have you heard the phrase “Everything happens for a reason?” Genelle Guzman-McMillan, the last survivor of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, believes that most of life is out of our control—and the best we can do is accept that. From her memoir, Angel in the Rubble: The Miraculous Rescue of 9/11’s Last Survivor.

Take a look at my day on September 11, 2001. I slept well and woke up in a great mood, thanks primarily to making up with Roger a couple of days earlier after a two-week argument. I caught the 7 a.m. train into town, walked the rest of the way into work, turned on my computer, got breakfast, went back to my desk, felt the building shake, spent the next ninety or so minutes trying to figure out what to do, finally made my way down the stairs, and got caught in the midst of the building’s collapse.

It would appear, on the surface, that I was pretty much in control of everything. I decided when to wake up, how to get to work, when to leave for work, to go get breakfast after turning on my computer, to not leave the building after it was hit, to eventually go down the stairs. But was that all really the case?

I woke up in a great mood that morning because Roger and I were back together. Had we not made up, I would have been back at my niece’s house, where I had been living for the previous two weeks, which would have altered my course to work that morning and possibly gotten me into work later. But go back further. I wouldn’t have fought with Roger if I didn’t know him in the first place, and the only reason I knew him was because he happened to spot me at a carnival in another country among thousands of people. What if I had walked in a different direction five seconds before he spotted me? He never would have even seen me, which means we never would have met, which means the chain of events that followed would have altered both of our lives forever. I could go back even further and say that if I never decided to move to New York in the first place . . .

As another example, what if I had missed the 7 a.m. train and showed up a little later for work? What if, as a result of showing up later, I was still in the forty-fourth-floor cafeteria when the plane hit? Would I have gone back up to my desk, or just gotten out of the building? My decision probably would have been determined based on what other people there were doing. And if I had gotten out, I wouldn’t have been buried alive. And if I hadn’t been buried alive, I probably would be drinking at a bar right now like my old self instead of writing my memoir.

Look at someone like James Symington. If he wasn’t where he was with Trakr*, searching for live victims, Trakr would have never picked up my scent. If he hadn’t picked up my scent, rescuers such as Rick Cushman and others may not have been looking as closely as they were for victims in that area of the rubble. Then I wouldn’t have been found.

*Trakr is one of nearly 300 canines called in to help locate victims at the World Trade Center and Pentagon sites after the Sept. 11 attacks.

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