Letters from E.O. Smith

 

A week after Tim Brown and I delivered our “Talking With Tim and Tanya” presentation to Tim Bowen and the Junior and Senior students of E.O. Smith,  I received a package of beautiful letters from the kids. If I ever question why I do what I do, the answers are all here. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, to all of the students who wrote to us- I left out your names and excerpted some to protect your identities. I am also posting the video response I sent to Tim Bowen, just in case you missed it. I can’t thank Tim Bowen enough for building such a meaningful September 11th curriculum using Rebirth and placing the emphasis on the victims who were lost that day so the kids can really connect to the depths of the tragedy and the senselessness of terrorism. I am especially honored to present this initiative with one of my dearest friends, Tim Brown- we’ve gone through so much and have come a long way to get to this really important and fulfilling work. I love my “Timmy Two Times” and am so grateful to you guys for your friendship… ❤ 🙂

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Rebirth has also shown me how strong our nation really is, and how dedicated others are in building people and places back up. I now have more faith in our society, because even though every day numerous tragedies happen, we all still come together as one (some more than others, but still). However, on a more personal level, both the movie and the talk have shown me that pain is really only temporary. Both of you, Tanya and Tim, have come through and shown an enormous effort in trying to make yourselves happy again, and it leaves me with a warm heart and spirit, knowing anyone can overcome heartbreak and emptiness. Also, the devotion you both have to spreading your stories to everyone that will listen makes me happy because now there are people who will overcome tragedy more easily than they have before, and it will save lives. So, thank you. :)”

 

“Tanya & Tim Talk” taught me to appreciate what you have and enjoy it. It also taught me that time heals all wounds. Rebirth has taught me to focus on the good things in your life. It has shown me that even when tragedy strikes, if you fight through it, eventually everything will get better. I especially appreciated the opportunity of hearing Tanya and Tim speak to our class, and I hope more schools beyond E.O. Smith will have the opportunity to experience it. It truly was a great experience.”

 

“You guys are such an inspiration to me. You guys taught me how love is honestly everything. To always love yourself and love your family and others around you. Project Rebirth has taught me that never take life for granted because everything could change in a blink of an eye and I saw everything change in a blink of an eye for you guys and I learned that I should never live life with regret. I have had a lot of tragedy in my life and I’ve watched people I love get hurt and I wonder if they have any regrets and if they do it makes me feel terrible but I know for me personally I’m going to make every moment count and I’m going to do that because of you guys. Thank you for sharing your stories with us, they were so heartwarming and so thoughtful and I will forever be grateful because its going to change how I think in a very good way.      Thank you.”

 

“I was very inspired by both Rebirth and your speeches at our school. Rebirth taught me that no matter how tragic or terrible an event in your life is, you can recover from it and be even stronger. Watching Rebirth I could see how every one grew as a person throughout the years. When you guys came to our school and talked about your ordeals, it made me realize how someone can recover from anything. Having struggled with Bipolar Disorder and ADHD throughout my life, I can somewhat relate with the feelings of depression, anger and frustration. I am in no way saying the two experiences are equal, as losing someone in a tragic way is worse, but similar. Hearing you guys talk made me realize my problems are able to be dealt with. Thank you for doing that, and I wish you two the best of luck for your futures. :)”

 

“Thank you for giving us the opportunity to listen to your story and for opening our eyes to the truth, and important facts of 9/11. I was very touched and humbled by the talk you gave us. Tanya, I truly and sincerely mean it when I tell you that you are a woman that I aspire to be like when I’m older…you are genuine, strong, compassionate, and motivated to make the best of your life and take the most positive outlook in everything you do. Tim, when I shook your hand I felt like I just met my hero. Your courage and spirit was truly an eye-opening experience and made me want to change some things about myself. Also, how you dealt with the loss of 93 of your friends helped me sort through some of my feelings that I have been dealing with since I was four. I lost my father when I was four years old to a disease that literally in one in a million people get. Hearing your story helped me feel better about my loss. I want to thank you both again for the incredible experience of being in your presence and hearing about your stories. <3”

 

“Watching the Rebirth video and learning about the entire Project Rebirth was so eye-opening for me. It was so great to be able to see all five of the participants recover emotionally and physically over time. It helped me to see that even though you can hit bumpy, rough waters in the ocean of life, things will always get better and the ocean will always smooth out. It taught me that you can’t really hold in anger and grief forever. Meeting you guys and hearing the Tanya and Tim Talk at E.O. Smith High School was amazing. It taught me so many things about life experiences people go through. Although it’s a situation that is sad, I felt  so happy to hear about you two’s situations because it felt like I could emotionally connect to you. In January 2008 (my 4th grade year) I lost my younger brother and my mom sent me to therapy for it. At the time, it felt like I was a weird kid or that I was different for going to therapy. You guys taught me and let me see that it’s ok to have closure in that way and that it’s ok for me to not grieve anymore even though it has been seven years. Thank you so much for helping me see that!”

 

“This taught me a lot to be honest, mainly to understand what people like Tanya and Tim went through.They taught me to always be a positive person like Sergio, don’t judge others before you know their story and live life to the fullest without regrets…Don’t keep anything you need to say in and respect each and every one as the way you would like to be respected or treated.”

 

“Your presence at my school was greatly appreciated. After watching Rebirth I saw a whole other side of 9/11. It changed the way I think and feel. It’s that kinda story that made me shut down and put myself in you guys’ shoes. That touched me in so many unbelievable ways. I felt what you felt during the story. Seeing and hearing all the great things you guys have said, I have never seen or met someone so brave and strong until you guys came to our school…It taught me the value of life and everything about 9/11 I never knew about. I felt like I was upfront and experienced all the emotion from each story that was told. This changed my life I can assure you, I think everyone needs to see this and learn what it’s really all about from the best people they can.”

 

“I really appreciate what you guys do. I know it had to have been challenging at first to talk about your friends and fiancé. I find it truly astonishing that you were able to turn what happened into such amazing things, like the widow camp. I wouldn’t wish what happened on 9/11 on my worst enemy and the way you guys bounced back is truly amazing. One quote that gets me through a tough time is “it’s not about how hard you fall, all that matters is how you get back up.” I would also like to thank you guys for the Tanya and Tim Talk, because it showed me that often the people who go through the hardest times are often the happiest people. My brother teaches me that every day. My twin brother, …, is the happiest kid I know. At age 4 1/2 he was diagnosed with cancer. He lost the ability to walk. A gift all of us take for granted. Yet he gives more than he takes, he can put a smile on anyone’s face. His smile and laughter is infectious. Kind of like yours Tanya. He lives every day like it’s his last. This Tanya and Tim Talk meant more to me than you can imagine, and I can’t thank you enough. Thank you guys so much. The stories you shared touched my heart, and seems like it touched some of the other students as well. Men like Sergio are the reason why I want to join the military and become a police officer. It truly does mean a lot to me, that you guys were able/happy to share those stories. Thank you.”

 

“Thank you for including us, E.O. Smith High School students, in your journey. Despite the horror and demolition, both physical and emotional, that struck people’s lives as a product of 9/11’s terrorist attack, you have persevered. Sharing the vivid experience and seeing your reactions while speaking strikes the human soul just as hard. In a sense, you have become magicians by erasing time- time, which separates our consciousness from the event; time which limited our abilities to understand the images flashing across the screen no different than any other show to a four-year-old child. We wish we could be more capable of of thought and connection, but age restricted us. However hearing your words and raw emotions was the most direct path to helping us understand. It is surreal to hear you both speak about it with such sturdiness, because for a moment it seems you are as disconnected to 9/11 as we are. Oddly enough, this inspires me. To realize time is neither friend or foe, nor determinant of our lives. And finding that inner strength can make us invincible. Thank you.”

 

“The presentation was inspirational. To have seen the film “Rebirth” and watch them evolve after the tragedy up until today was astonishing, because they were able to recover to an extent. I think that it is important that they stay involved (Tim with the veterans and Tanya with the widows) because it keeps the memory alive…My life has not been directly impacted by 9-11 but this presentation provided me with the ability to empathize and for that I am grateful. Thank you, Tanya and Tim, for sharing your story.”

 

Rebirth has taught me that you can truly come back from everything. There are lots of twists and turns in life, some can be bad, but you can always be happy again. It was also a really amazing experience to meet them, especially Tim with the stories he had because he was actually there saving American lives that day.”

 

Rebirth has taught me how tragic 9/11 really was and how many people’s lives were lost. It has also taught me to live life more and how quickly it can end. Also many people’s lives were changed forever after this tragic day. Tanya and Tim have taught me the value of life. Even though you lost someone very important, and you will never forget, you can still do more in life without feeling guilty.”

 

“Your experiences and the way you have portrayed them has touched my class and I. Your stories are heartbreaking from the start, and the way you showed us your grief with you in such a vulnerable state on screen was courageous. What I have learned from you is that death is hard, but eventually something good will come your way and things will get better. Although it will take time, sometimes even longer than your expect. The way you have both began helping others get through similar situations is honorable and I am glad I got to meet both of you.”

 

Rebirth has taught me that even when you might think that you’re the only person going through a difficult time, and don’t know how to cope or make sense out of a tragedy, you’re not alone. The Monday after the Newtown shooting I felt out of place. My cousins live two minutes away from the school and I had a very close friend in the building. I hated that Monday. People in my town were talking about it and posting about it but no one was connected to it. Project Rebirth and the Tanya and Tim talk showed me that many people have gone through a lot worse and have continued to grow to help others, so it’s important I do the same. There’s no way to make sense out of a tragedy but no one’s alone unless you choose to be, so don’t. I thank Tanya and Tim for talking to us very personally, it’s something I will always appreciate.”

 

“I want to thank you for coming into our class to talk. Listening to you talk about the events and what really happened was very interesting to hear. Some things it taught me was that even when the worst possible thing could happen that if you still love and have people who care about you and are willing to help you, that you can get through anything. Also when Tim would talk about just being a hero and all these guys would give up their lives to save so many people and that really hit me. Before this talk I always wanted to be a cop to help people and after hearing Tim talk it really showed me that he is a hero and all those guys who risked their lives and lost their lives are too, and I want to be like them…to me they are my role models because they were willing to lose their lives that to me is the best thing you can to and one day I aspire to be…that brave to risk my life to save others…And I really want to thank Tanya too because she really showed that you can get through anything and…I now feel even more grateful for my life and now have learned so much from her that I really just want to thank her for sharing her story and how she got through it. Now I know that I can get through anything with love and support…”

 

Rebirth has taught me a couple of key things. The first is that different people take different times to grieve people they care about. Another thing which I already new but the movie reaffirmed was that over time no matter how bad your situation, things always get better. One thing that I learned about more from the Tanya and Tim talk was about the heroism that the fire departments and police showed that day. I already knew that they were all heroic but to hear some of the stories that Tim talked about was amazing…”

 

“Project Rebirth has done a great deal for me. It made me really have a great appreciation for the victims of 9/11. Watching it connected me in a way to the victims in the film. It has taught me to remember the victims lost that day as well as the people affected after. After watching the film I grew a great appreciation for the Freedom Tower. It really is a beautiful building and the memorial beside it is just as beautiful and peaceful too. Tanya and Tim’s Talk taught me to never give up and to keep moving forward. Their stories really touched me and gave me hope. If they can cope with what happened to them then I believe that even through the darkest times there is hope. That makes me keep pushing forward through hard times and to go through whatever I’m dealing with.”

 

“What Rebirth has done for me is that I’m not gonna take life for granted and to live every day to the fullest…Now I know that having the life I have now I should appreciate it more and just how Tanya said to love more, care more, show the people who are dearest to you how you feel because you never know when your last day could be. You guys really touched my heart and I can’t thank you enough for coming to our school to share your stories. It really was a pleasure and such a gift to meet you guys in person.”

 

“To be completely honest the Tanya and Tim Talk had me almost lost for words. For you both to be able to tell your loved one’s stories must take a lot of strength…Hearing you guys talk about how happy you are now makes me have hope for myself if/when I lose someone that is very close to my heart. It also makes me feel good that you both do so much for your loved ones even with your new lives. Tanya, I think it’s amazing that your husband is so supportive of your work with Project Rebirth. For both of you it’s so great that you tell your stories and I hope you guys never stop cause it honestly changed my views on things so much so thank you for giving me this experience!”

 

“After being a part of the Tanya and Tim Talk I’ve learned a lot…Never take life for granted. Always be kind to people, because you never know what they’re going through in their life. Overall it was a presentation I’ll never forget and I’ve taken many things/ideas from this. 9/11 will never be forgotten and it was truly an honor to meet them.”

 

“Thank you so much for coming to E.O. Smith! We appreciate that you took the time to come and tell us your stories…Tanya, your story of your loss will help us if we lose our loved ones. I will always remember what you said about live every day like it could be your last, and to love always…Tim, you are such a strong man. You have taught us to never forget what happened on 9/11. We will never forget those who we lost on that day. Rebirth is such a great documentary because it focuses on the personal side of 9/11. It shows that it affected more than the people who were in the buildings or on the planes. It showed what happened to the families and friends of the victims. It taught us that there is hope after loss and that you can have a normal life again; it will just be a new normal. Thank you again for visiting and sharing your stories.”

 

Rebirth has truly made me want to “Never Forget.” Rebirth put life into perspective for me. I’m 17, I’m still a kid, and not that growing up is necessarily a good thing, but Rebirth has helped me grow up in a sense that there’s things out there bigger and better than me. Maybe it’s not even me growing up, maybe it’s me growing as a person. This project, Rebirth, has taught me things people never really have the opportunity to learn in school. And I’m thankful that Bowen, Tanya, and Tim, and every one from Project Rebirth were able to impact my life in a way that will help me help others. I realize that really the important thing in life; to help.”

 

“Thank you so much for coming to our school and speaking. You both had such amazing stories in great detail. It was really nice how you both had slides as you were explaining your stories. I was definitely very moved by them. One that that really stood out to me that Rebirth taught me was to make every day like it was your last. I think this was a very touching way to teach us, so for the future generations will really know what happened. After watching Rebirth it made me understand more about how much, and how many people this awful tragedy affected.”

 

“Thank you so much for coming into our class to personally tell us your experiences with the 9/11 tragedy. My dad is a firefighter and this talk really opened my eyes to what it is he and all the other first responders do. I grew up in the firehouse, from the Christmas parties to all the funerals with the bag pipes (as Tanya mentioned). I always knew my dad’s job called for long sleepless nights and days, but I never really understood what else it called for until this talk. Tim, I believe you said it best. You said, “all first responders raise their right hand and take an oath vowing that they will risk their lives for strangers.” Listening to your stories I realize so much more about the work and relationships not only the Willimantic Fire Dept. has, but all the fire depts. We are a all family, whether it be the 1st responders themselves or their loved ones, we are all a part of that tight knit family. And no matter how dangerous or demanding being a 1st responder may be, I wouldn’t wish for my dad to have any other job, and I wouldn’t trade in the 1st responder/fire dept. family for anything. Thanks again, we will never forget.”

 

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