We moved to NYC two years after the attack on the Twin Towers, September 11. The City was still paying for all window AC units to be repaired or replaced, and the site was still an enormous hole in the ground. There were still people looking for missing persons, and the only memorial to the event was the steel beam cross found in the debris of the World Trade Center, still standing where it was found, in the middle of the pit where the buildings once stood.

Fast forward several years, when we returned to NYC from London, and before our move to Utah, we took the children to the newly built National September 11 Museum. Such an incredible museum. I have not visited NYC since without making the trek down to the financial district, to again walk through this awe-inspiring museum.

And just outside the museum stands a tree. It’s now fenced in, if I remember correctly, It has been dubbed the “Survivor Tree”.

“In October 2001, a severely damaged tree was discovered at Ground Zero, with snapped roots and burned and broken branches. The tree was removed from the rubble and placed in the care of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.

After its recovery and rehabilitation, the tree was returned to the Memorial in 2010. New, smooth limbs extended from the gnarled stumps, creating a visible demarcation between the tree’s past and present. Today, the tree stands as a living reminder of resilience, survival, and rebirth.”

One of my favorite lines from today’s podcast by Brooke Castillo reflects what the Survivor Tree represents:

“Circumstances don’t define your identity.”

The Survivor Tree remained a tree – no matter what happened to it. And it grew like a tree, and it produced like a tree, and it set new roots down into the new soil, because that is what a tree is, and that is what a tree does.

How do we figure out who we are, amidst this worldwide pandemic, or any other challenge, or that matter? How do we figure out who our future selves will be, what future Rachel looks like and where will future Rachel end up, when I don’t even know what will happen in the world in the future?

“We see the world as something that happens and that we simply respond to. And in many ways, that is true. But in many other ways, it’s not true… If I ask you the question, ‘Where do you think you’ll be three years from now? Can you picture yourself? Can you picture your life and your experience of your life?’ And if you feel like you can’t, it’s most likely because you are identifying yourself based on what happens in the world, based on externals. You look to the outside world to define you…

If (you define yourself as), ‘I’m a mother,’ or, ‘I’m a healthcare worker,’ or, ‘I’m a waiter,’ I want you to take that to a deeper level. How do you define yourself when all those things are taken away, when you can’t work at your job, when you’re not around your family? How is the value of your life and who you are as a person unchangeable by the circumstances?

What do you know will be true about you no matter what?”

The Survivor Tree, before, was the tree that stood in front of one of the towers. I don’t know, maybe it was “tree no. 213”, for example. But when that was taken from it, it remained a tree, nonetheless. And if something were to happen, and the Survivor Tree’s fence was pulled down and it’s story forgotten, it would remain a tree.

What if my identity – if everything else were to be stripped away, if everything around me were to change, what would remain in me?

“Does your purpose in your life, your identity, stand up to change?”

I am a daughter of God.

I am worthy.

I am loved. And I am love.

I am a free agent.

“I can’t be certain about what I’m going to be able to do in the future because I don’t know what the rules will be. I can’t be certain about the results that I will create depending on the rules changing. But I can be certain that I will always have the ability to decide what I believe. No one can take that away, no matter how many circumstances change. I get to decide what to think and what to believe and therefore what to feel. That is always within my power.”


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  1. […] are who I am – my identity. And this identity doesn’t change. But the circumstances in my life change frequently. I used […]

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