Mark J. Janssen
4 min readFeb 16


The other day a friend sent me pictures of the Survivor Tree in the World Trade Center Plaza. A beautiful Callery pear tree, it was only eight feet tall on 9/11. While many thousands lost their lives that day in New York, Stonycreek Township and the Pentagon, one small tree buried underneath tons of rubble managed to survive.

Weeks of day and night excavation and digging for signs of life brought the workers to this one little tree. Badly damaged as it was, the New York Parks and Recreation Department made the decision to try to save it. They carted it away. Great love and care was spent restoring this one young tree to health. In 2010 the tree was returned to what is now the WTC Memorial. It was replanted and has flourished with the years.

Each year seedlings are grown from the tree. Three of those seedlings are sent to communities across the United States and around the world that have suffered horrifying tragedies within recent years.

My friend suggested I watch a tape about 9/11. I didn’t respond in the way others might.

On 9/11 I was employed by a defense contractor. For years prior to September 11, 2001, I had deliberately forced out of my mind what I knew was coming. You may have read about people who fell or jumped to the ground from the Twin Towers. I fell with them.

I was inside the plane that went down in that Pennsylvania field.

An Air Force major described to me what it was like being on the opposite side of the Pentagon as it was struck. How she and any other medical staff she could find ran to save people on the other side of the complex. As she recounted the story I saw it all over again inside the building as it crumpled.

People think it’s cool to have visions, see spirits and angels. Get tapped by God.


Sometimes, like when a catastrophe occurs, it is a horror of unspeakable magnitude. One wonders each time how we can survive seeing the latest of tens of thousands of disasters from the inside. For that is how many we have witnessed. Wars, starvation, murders, desolations of every kind. We see them — live them — from the inside. Every time someone says we only have over-active imaginations the one thing we wish is: If only.

If only you knew what we’ve seen. If only you knew what we cannot prevent. Because you are willing it into being.

In spite of the pain of reliving those hours on 9/11 every time I think about it, I am also incredibly strengthened in spirit to know that the women and men who survived that day for however many minutes or years are gifts.

That tree is emblematic of all the incredible rebirth of that unique day and every day like it.

Every day of war in Ukraine or Ethiopia. Every minute of earthquake recovery in Syria and Turkey. Every mass shooting in a school, club, work place.

Every time some kid in school realizes his buddy can’t read as well, play sports as well, isn’t as popular, is a moment of rebirth.

Souls go on.

Souls thrive.

In passion and hope and mad, wild, joyous exhilaration. Souls flourish. They grow and prosper. Souls succeed against every threat of calamity.

We thrive because that’s what humans do. Humans have this insane ability to hope. To bounce back from the horrors of horrors. In spite of what we do to destroy one part of this world or another, in spite of acts of God and nature, we grow.

We prosper. We become more, bigger, better. We succeed against impossible odds.

To be more and bigger and better than anyone every said we might be. Partly because, if you’re like me, you’re just too stubborn to tolerate less than the best.

For all of the times someone has said no to me, said I’m not good enough to do something like see the inside of 9/11, be the me I am supposed to be, was born to be, my mind and heart and soul stubbornly says that person is an idiot. What do they know?

Where were they when God created me?

In the event you are at all like me in that way, where was that naysayer when you were created? What are they thinking when they say that you can’t do what you have already done? What you were born to do?

Do other people know your intense, immense spiritual creativity? How you pick up a glass or cup as opposed to how anyone else who has ever lived holds a glass or cup? Do they see how you laugh or think or take the unlikeliest suggestion and turn it into reality?

Against all odds.

You thrive in spite of and because of the fact that you can see and know that you are utterly stunning. You are the amazing reason Creation was created.

You live.

You thrive.

You are the miracle all reality has waited for since before time.



Mark J. Janssen

Mark Janssen is a spiritual warrior, mystic and author. His writes a weekly blog. His memoir “Reach for the Stars” is available online and in bookstores.