Finding God in Everyday Places: Survivor Tree Resilience Symbolizes Hope

by | Aug 27, 2021

Ignatian Spirituality, as experienced in the Spiritual Exercises, informs me that repetition of previous readings can offer fresh insight to current everyday situations.  Today, as I reflect on the 20th anniversary of the events on September 11, 2001, I revisited my blog from 2019 describing my two earlier visits to the 9/11 Memorial Pools and “repeated” the “Survivor Tree” story.  It seems appropriate to share it here, once again, as the world attempts to move forward from Pandemic woes, civil unrest, global and domestic terrorism and relationship struggles. 

In 2014, I visited the 9/11 Memorial pools at the sight of reconstruction of the tower and memorial park and museum in lower Manhattan, 13 years after the devastating attack on the twin towers of the World Trade center. Amid construction barriers and cranes, I recall how we visitors to the two memorial pools reverently crowded over the carved names on the stone ledges of the two memorial pools of those who lost their lives that day.  I remember quiet, hushed conversations in contrast to the steady flow of the water falling into the depths of those two memorial pools. I cannot forget, the solemn faces, some with wet cheeks or sad expressions.  In spite of the construction chaos, five years ago, pilgrims came to bear witness.

Years later on July 22, 2019, I had the opportunity to visit the 9/11 Memorial, now complete with museum, landscaped garden and towering new skyscraper, reaching upward.  It was a completely different experience the second time.  The two memorial pools were there, of course, but I noticed additional names of first responders from Jersey City, and all the Burroughs of NYC had been added. It was touching to see small flowers and tiny flags stuck into names of loved ones long lost.  Those names…spoke of diversity, of whole lives lost needlessly.  Amid the trees, shrubs and flowers, were signs of healing…a spirit of peace and order surrounded the visitors strolling the memorial park.  A new kiosk displayed its souvenirs.  A small sign, “Spread love not hate,” caught my attention.  And then, looking just beyond the kiosk, I noticed a beautiful green pear tree a short distance away, but between the memorial pools. Why was it set apart with a fence from the rest of the landscaping?  A closer look at the plaque on its fence post identified it as the “Survivor Tree.”  After reading the narrative on the plaque, I was compelled to share its story.

During the cleanup following the 9/11/2001 tragedy, rescuers noticed a single remaining pear tree with some charred branches and dry leaves. Recognizing that there was life left in that tree, they uprooted it and brought it to a tree nursery of the New York City Park and Recreation Department.  The staff lovingly nurtured it for 9 years (9 years!!) and returned it in 2010, fully restored, to its original spot at the memorial.  Since then, it has delighted visitors with its blooms every spring and provides shade from its broad pear leaves for the thousands of pilgrims who enter this sacred space.  The whole experience evoked survivorship, resilience, hope and peace.

Survivor Tree at the 9/11 Memorial – image from the public domain

For me, the image of this little pear tree, the “Survivor Tree,” between the Memorial Pools at the 9/11 site in lower Manhattan, continues to evoke a sense of survivorship following duress and loss, resilience in the face of challenge, gratitude for those who care, life giving hope, and peace.  I welcome its teachings today, as I struggle with local and global social change and challenge.  The whole experience reminds me of God’s enduring love, mercy and compassion.

Perhaps, as you reflect on 9/11/2001, you might repeat the “Survivor Tree’s” story…and see what new insight(s) might appear of God’s enduring presence in your own life circumstances today.