Remembering Homer on 9/11

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Probably no part of Homer's Odyssey has provoked more outraged response (yes, there are readers out there who were outraged--outraged!--by Homer's Odyssey) than the chapters dealing with 9/11 and my attempts to rescue my three cats who were trapped in my apartment mere blocks from Ground Zero.  I have been called "selfish," "utterly self-absorbed," "eerie," and just plain "stupid" for thinking about my cats on a day when so many human lives were lost.

 

 

I've always felt that any reader who comes away from those chapters describing my very visceral reactions to witnessing the loss of human life that day and remains convinced that it wouldn't have ruffled a hair on my head so long as my cats were okay is...well...not a very intuitive reader.  And, going back to my non-profit days, I've always been particularly irritated by the type of person who takes no helpful actions himself, but feels that so long as he criticizes your actions and attempts to help, he's achieved a kind of helpfulness-by-proxy.  (I like to refer to this as the Cheez-Whiz of helpfulness--it isn't actual helpfulness, but it's a helpfulness-like product.)

Forgive me for such a cranky beginning to a blog post.  But the thing that really chaps my hide--and that I'm using today as a platform to discuss--is this idea that helping people and helping animals is somehow an either/or proposition.  It is one of my firmest, most deeply held beliefs that when you help animals, you help people, too.  I spent this summer traveling to no-kill shelters all over the country, each one of which has programs that serve their local human communities--anti-bullying programs, literacy programs, programs that serve the elderly, the disabled, military families, disaster survivors, and so on--as a direct extension of the work they do saving animals.  Certainly more has been done for people by the people who help animals than by those who sit comfortably on the sidelines offering nothing beyond one more opinion about how things should be done (and we all know how much one more opinion is worth).

On September 11th, the ASPCA helped rescue animals trapped near Ground Zero--but, in doing so, they also helped me, and I'm a person.  The same goes for Garrett, my pet-sitter, who did everything in his power to get to my cats.  It was something he was able to do for a 9/11 survivor forced to flee with nothing but the clothes on her back and the $500 she had in her savings account, and who--for all she knew--might have nothing else left in the world.

I don't even want to get into the debate as to the relative value of human life versus animal life, mostly because I think such a debate is ultimately pointless.  We couldn't live in a world with only humans and no other animals, nor would most of us want to even if we could.

On September 11th, we remember that all life--whether that life goes on two legs or four--is precious and fragile. 

We remember the men and women--the office workers, the police officers, the firefighters--who lost their lives that day.  And we also remember the rescue dogs who rushed bravely into the fray.  Some of them didn't live to see September 12th.  Many of them have since been claimed by the lung diseases and cancers that have taken the lives of so many 9/11 first responders.

And I, at least, remember a little blind cat whose life was spared that day.  Just a little cat, whose loss might not have shaken the world to its core, but who meant the world to the person who loved him.

 

Comments

  • Cindy Deplitch Wednesday, 11 September 2013

    Homer, Sasha, Vashti and Gwen on 9/11

    Gwen, your account on that day is just as moving as any other. Your were desperate to find out about your loved ones, your cats. Anyone who would criticize you for that, obviously does not consider our four-legged friends to be family members. They probably don't even feel that animals have souls. You were in the very heart of the most emotionally charged day in America, desperate for any news of your "family". Tears were flowing as I read your book. I too, was desperate to know how the cats fared, and was scared to death at what you would or wouldn't find once you made it home. People who criticize about this,obviously don't have the capacity to give love, and receive it back, unconditionally, to all creatures, 2-legged and 4-legged alike. God Bless You!

  • Katie Tuesday, 22 October 2013

    I'm with Cindy on this one

    I agree that anyone who bashes you for attempting to get back to your family on that day, does not consider there pets "family". I applauded you throughout the entire chapter because you were the opposite of selfish. Your heart was in the right place...making sure your family was taken care of. And for someone to think that your concern for your cats somehow makes you "stupid" on a day when lives were lost is "selfish" of them. Your concern for them does not diminish the impact that that day had on you or anyone else.

  • annette bailey Thursday, 23 June 2016

    ms.

    dear gwen,
    I am sorry little Homer died and I just read your wonderful book. loved it. the 911 part had me so worried for your pets.I too have 3 cats and i love them dearly. I would have done anything to get to my furballs. It must have been awful,being right there during 911.

  • Robyn Harland Thursday, 12 September 2013

    Homer

    Dear Gwen: I just read of Homer's passing and how sadden I was by this event. I was so taken by your wonderful book, I have 5 cats of my own all rescues. we Homer became my hero for his bravery in the face of being blind. Please ignore those people who have no heart, this is why we have the issues of today, some people are just evil. Thanks for sharing Homer with all of us.

  • Patricia Boyd Wednesday, 11 September 2013

    Mrs/Judge

    Totally agree with you and Cindy.

  • Esther Bell Wednesday, 11 September 2013

    So well said, as always, Gwen.

  • Joyce Sykes Wednesday, 11 September 2013

    I agree

    I remember reading your section on 9/11 and crying because I would have done the same thing. People react differently to difficult situations. I cried through the whole chapter becasue I understand your need to get to them. I am sorry for you loss of Homer and yes, I to cried when I read about him. He will always be in our memories and his legacy will live on.

  • Faye Thursday, 12 September 2013

    Glad I'm not the only one.

    When you announced Homer's death, I cried just like he was one of mine. I had to explain to my sister why I was crying for a cat I had never met, only read about. And, I loved the part in the book about 9/11. I would have done the same.

  • Teresa Cristina Moreira Wednesday, 11 September 2013

    Olá Gwen!

    Gwen, do not worry about what people are saying or thinking about your 9/11. I certainly would have done the same thing for my cats.I just was amazed to realize that Homer was in the same place you left when you went to work that day. Homer seemed to have gone out the window since. He simply did not flinch, but knew there was something wrong. Kisses!

    Gwen, não se preocupe com o que as pessoas estão dizendo ou pensando sobre o seu 11/9. Eu certamente teria feito a mesma coisa pelos meus gatos. Fiquei apenas admirada por perceber que Homero estava no mesmo lugar que você o deixou, quando você saiu aquele dia para trabalhar. Homero parecia não ter saído da janela desde então. Ele simplesmente não se abalou, mas sabia haver algo errado. Beijos!

  • deb smith Wednesday, 11 September 2013

    amen

    you said it so very well. i would have felt the same... about the humans...but i would have been loosing my mind over my babies...because they're family to me, just like people are family. that's the way it is with me and too bad if no one cares for it. you're wonderful and i love how you worked so hard not only for your own furkids, but for others. keep up the amazing work. we love you!

  • bob slentz Wednesday, 11 September 2013

    I would have been beside myself as my cats are the only family I have left. Yes, there are those who just don't get it, giving unconditional love to a cat (or animal) in the midst of utter chaos.

  • donnalee Wednesday, 11 September 2013

    HI Gwen don't worry about what those mean people say, they don't understand. Most animal people I know will go out of their way to help people too.Different parts of your story affecte different people, in different ways. I was most moved when Homer protected you from the intruder, my daughter was most moved by your cat sitters attempts to get your cats. A beautiful story about beautiful friends, human and animal.

  • Margaret Murray Wednesday, 11 September 2013

    I totally agree with you Deb.

  • SH Wednesday, 11 September 2013

    beautiful tribute to human and animals alike

    What a beautiful tribute you have written on a day that we collectively have been affected in different ways. I hope you take comfort that so many of us mourn the loss of Homer's passing. He truly was a special cat.

  • Susan Wednesday, 11 September 2013

    Amazed

    Gwen, it is amazing to me that people have been critical of your thinking of your cats on that day. I read those chapters with tears streaming down my face...because I would have been feeling the exact same things that you were feeling. As cat owners, we are ultimately responsible for our cats' well-being. It was only natural that you, as your cats' caretaker, were concerned about whether they were still alive and, if they were, how long they might have to go without food and water before someone reached them. You are to be applauded for taking your responsibility to your cats seriously enough to be concerned about them in the face of disaster. And, from strictly a literary point of view, the book was about Homer, so, of course, those chapters focused on your cats.

  • Mary Stewart Wednesday, 11 September 2013

    Well said, Susan!

  • Wesley Atkinson Wednesday, 11 September 2013

    Thank You

    I thought the 9-11 chapters were riveting. Your thoughts going across the Brooklyn Bridge when you thought it was being bombed were amazing. I cannot believe anyone would criticize your actions. Would it be better to sit at home, watch TV, and let them die? As I wrote in my thoughts on your book, people need to pick something to dedicate their lives to. You had Homer. I imagine those that criticize you do so because they have nothing.

  • Margaret Murray Wednesday, 11 September 2013

    Margaret Murray

    Gwen
    Please take not notice of these NEGATIVE MORONS, they know nothing. I am reading Homer's story just now and I can tell you if I had been in your position on that fateful day, I would have been the exact same. Very worried about my cats.
    I do feel for everyone who lost their lives that day human and animal but some people are full of hate and should not be on this planet.
    The book is absolutely brilliant and I am enjoying it so much. Keep up the good work, because through you I think a lot of people's attitude to animals with disabilities have changed.

  • Gatsby's mom Wednesday, 11 September 2013

    chapped hide

    Gwen, nothing could stop me from getting to anyone I love, animal or human, during a time of disaster. It would take an army or a bullet to stop me. I understood you completely in the 9/11 chapter. PEACE and LOVE to you

  • Bonnie Charles Wednesday, 11 September 2013

    Sir Lancelot and Lady Lana's Mom (Bonnie C)

    Gatsby's Mom. You summed up my very thoughts succinctly. We will do all, and I mean all, in our power to go to the aid of one of our "family." Whether or not that family member is an animal makes no difference at all and may even make the case lean more in their favor. They can't open a door and try to reason out the best escape route, they can't turn on a faucet nor obtain more food when the bowls are empty. All they can do is wait patiently and fearfully for their loved one (s) to come and rescue them. And that is what we as responsible pet "owners" do.
    Please everyone, what happened on 911 could not be predicted when Gwen left that day. However, take the time now to get a disaster kit ready for your pets and put it as close to your exit door as possible. That way if you have to leave your home in an emergency you will not only have your beloved pets but the supplies they will need. My kit for my 2 spoiled brats sits in a closet at my front door. We have a kit for my husband and myself too but if push comes to shove, the cat's stuff goes with us first

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