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

  • sabina from Italy Friday, 20 September 2013

    thank earth mother to creat animals!

    I'm so sad, and I'm so sorry but who don't loves animals,they dont' know what is Love really !

  • Jean Thursday, 26 September 2013

    Beautiful and heartfelt

    I'm stunned that some people were outraged at your concern for your cats. As I read the book a few years ago my husband walked into the room and asked me what was wrong ... because I was sobbing.... thinking of your poor cats, your worry and concern, and the awful horror of that day and the ones that followed, and remembering my own fear during that fall. To me your concern and love for your animals was so real, heartfelt, and true. To me that was such a powerful part of the book.

  • Robyn Monday, 30 September 2013

    Compassion

    This is my first visit back to your blog since I read about Homer. Let me add my heartfelt condolences to you and Laurence to the many you have already received. Blind people who have had near-death experiences report that they could SEE and I'm sure your little boy is whole again and how wonderful that will be when you meet again.

    My mom has dear friends who owned a number of dogs during their lifetime. When the husband of couple lay dying, with his wife by his side, he suddenly became very excited, telling his wife he saw the dogs. When his wife asked him, "Which ones?" he told her he couldn't tell because their backs were to him. And then he passed away.

    Gwen, this is the absolute truth and it gives me chills everytime I re-tell it. And there is also not a doubt in my mind that when he died, they where there to greet him. Whether you have a religion or not, there is something beyond us and I believe it is about love. Love endures all things.

    But I wanted to address your blog today! There are people who are just not going to "get it" and there is really no use trying to explain what that bond is like between us and our animal companions. That one line of yours absolutely spoke VOLUMES to me: "It is one of my firmest, most deeply held beliefs that when you help animals, you help people, too."

    Our church has recently been collecting pet food and other items that will go to our community food pantry (in addition to the "people food" we already collect) because food stamps do not cover pet food. For all of the pet food (and cat litter) they don't have to buy, is money that they can use for themselves. Many people will go without as long as their pet is provided for - and so, this gift is for them also. How well you have expressed that!

  • Kat Hobson Thursday, 03 October 2013

    Thank you for sharing Homer's story. He truly changed my life. And you, well, when I think of of your journey on 9/11 back to your kits - it gives me strength to go on too. What a amazing little man he was. I cry but rejoice he had so many wonderful years. Bless you, Gwen!

  • Anne Monday, 07 October 2013

    Blessing of the Animals

    Hi Gwen, I went to the annual Blessing of the Animals service at Duke University Chapel in Durham NC yesterday. Homer was mentioned!

    Part of the service was the opportunity for people to tell stories about their pets. A little boy told a story about how his dog chased robbers out of their house. Then he said that he read a book about a blind cat named Homer who did the same thing! It was very cool to hear that.

    I hope you are doing well. I know how much you must miss your sweet boy but I hope it helps to know that he lives on in so many ways.

  • Rowan Marques Wednesday, 09 October 2013

    Outraged

    Hi Gwen, I am OUTRAGED at anyone who dares to criticize you for your actions and feelings that day. Love comes in all shapes, sizes and races (human and other). Unfortunately some people are simply clueless; to be pitied really as they do not share the SPECIAL bond that we have with our furry babies (dogs, cats, ferrets, etc.). I love my cats so much - they ARE my babies and I would do anything for them and, should the situation arise, anything to save them. Anyone who does not understand this is not worth my time or energy. Personally, I was a nervous wreck reading the parts in your book about 9\11 and worrying about your babies until you got back into your apt. It also never occurred to me either that someone could criticize you for your thoughts and actions that day.
    Stay strong and please keep up the tributes to Homer.

  • Eric Marro(Chicago) Friday, 18 October 2013

    AWESOME

    Way to go Gwen.The"critics",if that's what you want to call them,I have another word for them but then I would be sinking to their level,will always have plenty to say but will never think before they say it.I was in the service and those are the same people that tell you how to fight the war but will never actually do any fighting themselves.Oh and we can't forget that those people probably have never owned a pet so they will never understand that as pet owners we treat and care for our pets as if they are human.The best thing about pets is that they just want to be loved unconditionally and even though they look at us like we are nuts sometimes you can be sure that they're very happy to be part of our lives.Oh and the most important thing about pets,THEY DO NOT JUDGE US.

  • Sandy C. Tuesday, 22 October 2013

    You did the right thing.

    I would have done the same thing you did. Furthermore, if I knew my neighbor's pets needed help too, I would have rescued them as well. That's just the way some of us are.

  • Janet Tuesday, 22 October 2013

    My precious cat is gone

    Dear Gwen,
    I put her to sleep 12/21/13 and the pain is unbearable. Its the love we had for each other - how does one survive the loss of that kind of love really? I am doing everything I can to get through the days - and I will of course. I bought 3 copies
    of Love Saves the Day today and think I'll go start reading and hoping tomorrow
    will be even a tiny bit better. How can we never see them again? No, not possible to ever get over that.

  • Janis Oles Tuesday, 29 October 2013

    I too say Amen

    To all who love remember the words of this hymn:
    All things bright and beautiful,
    All creatures great and small,
    All things wise and wonderful,
    The Lord God made them all.
    It does not matter who you love, it matters that you love and during times of great sorry that love is even more important. Love heals and Homer, far from blind, saw that so very clearly. God bless

  • Linda Freedman Saturday, 02 November 2013

    The 9 11 quandry

    Hello, Gwen.

    When I finished reading the chapters dealing with 9 11, I had a headache! I had to remind myself that what I had just read was already in the past and that all of you were safe. I know that like many others who have already responded, I would have been just as determined and just as upset as you were. I have a cat named Roxy, who you have posted on your Facebook page (thank you!) who has cerebellar hypoplasia. She cannot run very fast and cannot jump to higher ground or climb trees in the even that she had to save herself. If I knew that she needed me and I could not reach her, I would have done anything to get to her.

    I have begin reading Love Saves The Day. Thank you for loving the cats as much as all of your readers love them.

  • Laura Carter Thursday, 07 November 2013

    Well said Gwen!

    Some people are just stupid, Gwen, and there's no getting around it.

    "Those who can, do; those who can't/won't, criticize" rather than help out themselves. And how hard-hearted can you GET? I hope they never lose a loved human or pet in such a circumstance. Maybe THEN they'll understand. And of course some people NEVER get it.

    Those folks that reacted this way to your description of that day, and your efforts to get to your beloved felines, would do well to tour some of the shelters you've visited this summer with you. Maybe it's simple ignorance of what REALLY gets done in places like that, both for animals and other humans. I'd bet that a majority of those that accompanied you would have their eyes - and hearts - opened to what is REALLY going on.

    I myself read that part of the book with both knuckles turning dead white, though I knew you guys obviously survived. Tears were running down my cheeks and I was cheering for you at the same time.

    I'd have done EXACTLY what you did ...

    Hope to see you in NC soon!

    Laura Carter, Morticia, Selina & the Carter Clowder

  • Lisa G. Thursday, 07 November 2013

    Sorry to hear Homer is gone

    I am reading your book now, and I just read the 9/11 chapter yesterday - it never struck me as selfish. I fell in love with Homer and was relieved that he made it through with your other cats. You were only telling your story, which has just as much legitimacy as any other.

    I'm very sorry to discover your blog in time to find out that little Homer has gone back to his Maker. Your appreciation for him was admirable - God bless you.

  • Toni Jurevich Sunday, 15 December 2013

    9/11 comments

    I so agree with you- I don’t get it when people ASSUME because you are an animal rescue advocate that you have made some weird silent choice not to help people. It’s bizarre- I am more outspoken about things I feel and do for animals. Doesn’t mean I don’t have the same compassion or do things for people- I do. One of my girlfriend’s said it best to me once- “I think there are people with animal souls…” I feel that describes me. Anyway- I LOVED your book so, so much. And the descriptions you shared about that time were poignant. Thanks for the great read!

  • Kevin Monday, 30 December 2013

    Every soul is precious...

    ... what more could be said? Homer was a great soul in the body of a cat. There's no doubt. Personally, I was profoundly moved by your story of Homer, the whole story, by his soul coming through your story and by your sincere love of him and his of you. It made me laugh and cry. It was wonderful.

  • Silvia Thacker Thursday, 16 January 2014

    Thank you for caring enough for your four legged family!

    Not much more can be said- the people who criticize you for your actions are heartless, self centered types. I would rescue any four legged 'person' before any one of them- and I know that sounds ad, but it is what it is.

  • ConnieJ Sunday, 02 February 2014

    I remember Homer

    I was so touched by "Homer's Odyssey" and saddened to learn of his death. As for 9/11, how could anyone expect you to be unconcerned about the pets that you love? It isn't as if you could do anything for the victims of the terrorist attack, so why would anyone expect you to abandon your pets? We have pets for a reason. They are our friends, companions, even family. They're here for us if we're sad, and non-judgemental when we make mistakes. God bless you for caring.

  • Birgit Wierda Sunday, 09 February 2014

    =Gwen, I really had to cry (again) when reading the part of 9-11 in your wonderful book it says a lot about a humans Charakter who wants so save the life of your beloved cats. Animals have a soul too, I can truly understand what you went trough on that day.

  • Tee 'n' the Wildlife Thursday, 10 April 2014

    What were you supposed to do?!

    The people who thought you were selfish for worrying so about your dear, sweet cats, well, what the hey were you supposed to do? Pound a bunch of wooden pallets together for the wounded who never arrived~~because they were all dead? That was a useless occupation! You did the right thing. You worried about and cared for your own.

  • Aury Friday, 09 May 2014

    People can be so ignorant...

    Anybody who would give you crap for thinking about your family members on that day is just plain evil, w/no soul, & a black heart. I can guarantee that if those idiots were put in the same situation as you were that day, they either wouldn't know what to do w/ themselves or they would probably let the potential loss of a pet just roll off their shoulders like it doesn't matter. Those who claim that they would act a certain way or do a certain thing or take a certain action would freeze the second that moment is presented. I speak from experience on that one, but I'm not going to get into it.

    As for the morons who are giving you flack, they're not worth arguing w/. Like the saying goes, "You can't fix stupid." & that's exactly what they all are.

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