Saturday, April 6, 2013

Day 4: Humbled

At 9 a.m. on Friday we disembarked for Hoboken, N.J. for our Fun Day. We arrived close to 11:30 a.m. and began our day by touring the Cake Boss site. Unfortunately, he was filming today and was unable to greet us, but we did get to tour inside because one of the St. Albert parishioners’ daughter works on the show. Upon entering I just smelled the delicious aromas. Oh, and the cakes. Wedding cakes, a Sesame Street cake, a cake shaped like a wrestling ring, cakes, cakes and more cakes. Unfortunately I cannot show any pictures because the episode they were filming will not air for a few months, but I can tell you some of them were quite elaborate.

From there, we were given 5 hours to wander around New Jersey and sightsee. A number of people chose to visit Carlo’s Bake Shop, which is the Cake Boss’s shop. Originally I was going to check it out, but when I saw the line stretching down a block and heard the average wait was 1.5-2 hours, I decided I did not really want a cupcake or slice of cake that bad. A small group of us decided to walk down along the shore and try to get closer to the Statue of Liberty. Then we discovered that if we boarded a ferry, we were only 10 minutes away from New York and the 9/11 Memorial. When we realized we could purchase a round trip for $12, all seven of us were sold.

Going rogue: Me, Arlene Skrenes and Susan Leet were among the 7 that went rogue and fled the state of New Jersey and hopped a ferry to check out the 9/11 Memorial.
The ferry departed every 30 minutes, and lucky for us the next ferry was due to leave in 10 minutes. After disembarking in New York, we were only a few blocks from the Freedom Tower. We asked a couple locals for directions and figured out where we needed to go to get tickets. The tickets were complimentary, it was just a matter of waiting in line.

What really struck me was the atmosphere in the 9/11 Preview Center. The walls were covered with the timeline of 9/11 and enlarged photographs from the aftermath. In one photo, a man was holding a sign asking if anyone had seen his loved one, while his face was an expression of loss. In another a man was pinning up a poster of his loved one, also missing.

All of a sudden, it hit me. These were people’s brothers, sisters, parents and children. I was 15 years old when the towers came crumbling down, and neither my parents nor I personally knew anyone working in the vicinity. I remember being in a state of disbelief as I watched the second airplane hit the World Trade Center and when the buildings crumbled to the ground within seconds, but like I said, I was 15. It didn’t seem “real” to me at the time.

I’ve seen the long-term aftermath, the war, the fallen soldiers, the imposed restrictions, especially on airlines, but there is something totally different about seeing the Memorial, seeing the faces of 9/11. It really did strike it home for me, that yes, it was real, the people were real. I don’t think I truly appreciated what 9/11 meant to our country until I visited the site.

One of the two Reflective Pools at the 9/11 Memorial in New York City. (Photography by Rachel Wittrock)
As we made our way over to the Reflective Pools by the 9/11 Memorial, the feelings just got stronger, what it means to be safe, what it means to be free. I popped onto Facebook quick and messaged a couple of the guys I know who are currently serving, and thanked them for the sacrifices they make. Many times, we take our freedoms for granted, not realizing that if it weren’t for the men and women at arms, we could very well end up in a country where speaking out against the government or voicing your opinion could result in spending the rest of your life in jail, or even death. We have freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press. We can speak our own minds and are free to follow our bless. Not everyone enjoys those liberties, which we do take for granted.

I feel so blessed to have been in the right place at the right time with the right people that I was able to have the opportunity to visit the 9/11 Memorial, I have wanted to do that ever since it was completed, but it was not something I would get to normally do. I honestly thought it would probably be another 10 years before I had the opportunity. The Memorial Museum is still being built, so I do hope to one day be able to return to New York to visit the Memorial when it is fully completed.

The tone of the afternoon for me was one of excitement to be going to the Memorial, amazement at the beauty of the architecture (not that I’m an expert or anything) and somber because of what the Memorial stands for. However, that does not mean I was totally serious. With this amazing group of people, that is hardly an option.

The rogues: From left to right, Me, Arlene Skrenes, Susan Leet, Bill and Maggie Zimmerman, Phil Jerg and our bus driver Tim in front of the 9/11 Memorial Reflective Pool.
During the ferry ride to New York, the upper deck of the ferry was closed. However, the upper deck of the ferry taking us back was not, so of course we had to go up on the deck for the ride. And of course we had to go all Kate Winslet in Titanic and take photos of ourselves leaning out over the bow. We were also joking around all day that we were “going rogue” because we took off, hopped the border into New York and had our own little expedition.

Well with me in the group, you know there is bound to be trouble. Although I am proud that I only had one police contact while here (surprisingly I was not caught the first day when I went WAY beyond the Police Line Do Not Cross tape). What can I say? In order to live, you’ve got to take risks, and all of them on this trip paid off.

Earlier today I closed my eyes, clicked my red ballet flats together, and recited “I don’t want to go home, I don’t want to go home.” Unfortunately, it did not work. I have enjoyed being the last one to bed at night because I am up until midnight blogging for you guys, but this will be my last trip entry. As I sit here at 11:27 p.m. on Friday, April 5, I am sad that at 6 a.m. on Saturday, April 6, our bus will depart New Jersey and begin the long trek back to Wisconsin. The days passed by in a flash, and the work was so rewarding. I’m sure my mom will see the irony: I hate cleaning my apartment, but was totally excited to clean up for complete strangers. If I could, I would totally stay here for at least another month, helping out in whatever way, shape or form I could. 

Every night in my dreams...Modeling Kate Winslet in Titanic on the ferry. The 9/11 Freedom Tower stands tall in the background.
This trip has definitely been the fuel to my fire, and the flames are being fanned. Every time I do something like this, helping someone else, it really does make me feel good, makes me feel like I am having an impact on someone else’s life for the better, and I have been searching for a way to do that since college. As time goes on, I would love to be able to serve my country and the world in whatever capacity I can, helping others and changing lives for the better.

I am so thankful for the people in my life who helped give me this opportunity. A large thank-you goes out to the people who sponsored me, my Aunt Joan and Uncle Ned, Aunt Mary and Uncle Steve, Aunt Sue, Aunt Julie and Uncle Scott, Aunt Barb and Uncle Charlie, Aunt Elaine and Uncle Bill, Grandma and Grandpa Wittrock, Grandma and Grandpa Goetz, Karen and Rick Klemp and the surprise last-minute donation from Peter Klein. Without all your generous donations and support, this trip would not have been possible. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for all of your generous contributions.

I also want to thank St. Albert Youth Minister Lisa Kueter-Anderson, who was the brains behind the mission trip. She organized the whole she-bang and kept us updated during the whole planning process. She was also the one who dreamed the whole trip up. Without her, there would have been no trip, and I would not have the wonderful memories I made on this trip.

Thank you to my boss, Chris Mertes, and our General Manager, Barb Trimble, for agreeing to let me go on the trip and giving me the time off to go. I know firsthand how difficult it can be when one of our staff members is gone for a week. There is still layout to do, meetings to cover, and when I am gone, it is up to Chris to finish up my layout and cover my meetings and events. It can be a very heavy burden. Both Barb and Chris will be pleased to hear that I did not get nailed in the head by a 2x4 and develop brain damage, so I will be able to return to work on Monday.

Outside of the World Financial Center in New York City. (Photography by Rachel Wittrock)
Finally, I would also like to thank the group from Elyria Catholic High School in Elyria, Ohio. Without them, this trip would have been over before it begun. We needed 30 people to take the bus on the trip, and only had 16. Were it not for them agreeing to share their bus with us, this trip would not have happened. And kudos goes to the strong high school males on the trip, they took the initiative on the roadside cleanup and were carrying up all the heavy equipment: air conditioner units, doors, docks, a random metal jug. They played a big role in our efforts. Without them, we would not have been able to get as much done.

I hope that volunteer efforts will continue in the upcoming months. The people definitely need help, and the men and women I was able to speak to will remain in my prayers. In the meantime, I hope others will step forward and do what they can to Restore the Shore.

To see more photos from the day's events, click here.

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