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9/11: The 73 minutes that changed my life

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Author Topic: 9/11: The 73 minutes that changed my life  (Read 1224 times)
Crystal Thielkien
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« Reply #15 on: September 11, 2011, 08:03:49 pm »

He says he felt different from other children - he later realised he was gay - and was bullied.

After high school, he attended a small, conservative Christian college, where he majored first in Bible studies, then in drama.

He moved to New York in 1977 with the dream of becoming an actor but after struggling for 10 years to get sustained work in the theatre, he gave it up. The clerical work that had been a supplement to his income became his main and only job.

As a young man, he'd had a difficult relationship with his parents and throughout his adult life he had seen them only three or four times a year. It was not until he moved to Pennsylvania, two years after the attacks, that his relationship with them, in his own words, "fully healed".

"I didn't know what it would entail, moving here, but eight years later, my relationship with my parents is incredible. It has a depth and appreciation it has never had before."

When he arrived in 2003, he didn't have a job, an apartment or a car, and he left many long-standing friendships behind in New York. And there was no-one who could relate to what he had been through.

After the bright lights of Manhattan, the small city of Lancaster - with fewer than 60,000 residents and a homespun, rural charm - struck a tranquil note.

Van Why withdrew socially, spending a lot of time in what he calls his "cave", a room where he would just watch television endlessly at weekends. Even when he was coaxed out of his isolation by colleagues for a coffee, he was lost and distracted.
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Crystal Thielkien
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« Reply #16 on: September 11, 2011, 08:03:59 pm »

Thelma and Art Van Why
Thelma and Art Van Why

    His parents endured a terrifying few hours on 11 Sept 2001 while they waited for news
    Relief at hearing he was OK turned to despair as they watched their son spiral into depression
    But in 2003, he moved to be near to them both
    "We're so happy that he's moved because we became closer. It's a big change," says Thelma. "But to see your own child go through that, you wonder what you can do to help."
    "He was in his own little shell, his own little world and we would try to comfort him as much as we could," says Art. "We just told him we were here for him. So it's really helped me to know he's starting to come round."
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Crystal Thielkien
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« Reply #17 on: September 11, 2011, 08:04:22 pm »

A low period at the end of last year, when he was often breaking down, was his grief finally being released, he believes.

"I was very fortunate I did not lose my physical life but I lost my life as I knew it. The person I was on September 10th, that person is no longer. I had to go through a very emotional period which enabled me to go and face Ground Zero."

In the last few months he has started to come out of his metaphorical cave. The first step on the road to recovery was going back to New York in April, for the first time since he left in 2003. With his parents and sister Sue by his side, he visited the place that had haunted him for nearly a decade.

"That was a huge step for me. It was very emotional but it helped to put an end to that chapter of my life. Even though I had been away for eight years, there was guilt that I had left my city when it was still healing."

Only having closed that door, could he start to regard Lancaster as home, he says. Shortly after that trip, he met someone and began a relationship.

"Being with him, I realised that I had forgotten what it was like to be happy. It's like I am stepping back into life. I'm finally moving past mourning."

But there are other struggles. He has two jobs, one in the box office of the Fulton Theatre in Lancaster, and another as a cashier in a Weis supermarket. The two incomes combined earn him about $20,000 (£12,196) a year, about $50,000 (£30,494) less than he was earning in New York.
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Crystal Thielkien
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« Reply #18 on: September 11, 2011, 08:04:34 pm »

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Crystal Thielkien
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« Reply #19 on: September 11, 2011, 08:04:58 pm »

It's a thorn in his side, he says. "I have debts and try to pay them off when I can and meet my basic expenses. So far, I've been lucky to just get by."

If he had been told in 2001 that in 10 years he would be living in Pennsylvania and working in a theatre and a supermarket, he would have been shocked.

"I liked my job. I liked working down there. And, yes, I was making a good salary. I would like to think I might have developed a relationship with someone.

"At the time of 9/11, I was in the best place I had been for a long time - sober and happy. Perhaps I would have been able to take vacations and travel, things I'm unable to do now."

And the images are still there every day, sometimes popping into his head without warning, with such force that he zones out while his mind revisits the carnage.

"They are like snippets of a movie. I will replay watching this one man who I saw falling, watching him. I will flash to the injured man I saw laying in the streets. It's a series of vignettes that my mind just goes back to."

A siren is enough to take him back there and it's a sound that makes his body tighten. He still has not boarded a plane, although tall buildings don't instil in him the same fear they once did.

A study by Cornell University suggests that the trauma suffered by witnesses like Van Why may have physically altered their brains, damaging their ability to process emotions.

He says 9/11 survivors and witnesses like himself are the "forgotten majority", never considered among the victims.
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Crystal Thielkien
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« Reply #20 on: September 11, 2011, 08:05:18 pm »

"They're not letting any survivors to the [10th anniversary] ceremony in New York, it's just bereaved family members.

"There's a sense that you don't count. Some people are still struggling terribly, far worse than I am. Everyone who was there is still affected to a degree, but people don't remember us.

"We're not suffering physically and weren't injured that day and didn't lose a family member. It's like we don't count."

Despite the financial and mental strains, he is now looking to the future with a new optimism.

"It's my life now and I've never accepted that before. That's another change in the past months. Not that I was fighting it before, but there's an acceptance, I'm moving out of the mourning stage and back to life again."

It's comparable to losing a partner, he says, with the memory of that loved one never disappearing but gradually losing its hold.

"I can't imagine a day going by when I don't think about it, even as a passing thought.

"What I was doing for a long time was letting 9/11 define who I was and I think I'm getting away from that now. My experience of 9/11 is part of who I am but not all of me."

Photographs by Adam Blenford

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-14439342
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Crystal Thielkien
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« Reply #21 on: September 11, 2011, 08:05:38 pm »

'I witnessed the goodness of man'
Artie Van Why at the theatre

"I don't believe I had witnessed the wrath of anyone's God that morning. What I had been a witness to when I looked up at those burning towers was the ultimate evil that man is capable of. The evidence of just how deep hatred could run, how far it could go. But I had also been a witness to something else that day - down on the ground. I witnessed the ultimate goodness of man, the evidence of how strong courage could be, to what lengths it would go. I believe God was in the hands of everyone who reached out to someone else. He was in the arms of people on the streets as they embraced one another. He was in the tears of strangers who cried together. He was in all the lives that were given in the line of duty, in the acts of heroism. He was in the hearts of the people across the country who, as they watched the horror from afar, felt compassion."

That Day In September
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