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.



  • Mary Anne Sunday, 20 July 2014

    Loved the entire book!

    I just want to say how very much I enjoyed (although many tears were shed) your book! I was totally paralyzed reading the parts about 911 and Homer's brief illness. I felt helpless during both parts. I have had many cats over the years and with the loss of each, have ached horribly. I currently have an 18 year old blind-from-birth female who is in renal failure but is still hanging on. Although many of the tears I shed while reading the book were probably for me knowing what I will have to soon go through, they were also for you and your pain. Thanks for writing the book. I'll never forget what you had to go through!

  • Suzanne Jankowski Sunday, 27 July 2014

    Cat Lover

    I didn't know until today that Homer had passed, and I am so sorry for your loss. I have been through the same thing several times myself with Fluffy, Quincey and Katie. Thank you so much for sharing "Homer's Odyssey".

  • john Thursday, 11 September 2014

    No Wasted Love

    I too was rescued from the area on 9/11...and by the ASPCA..they were responding to those who left pets behind..and we humans as well. Those misfortunates who are critical of you fail to realize we, they, and critters are all created by the same God. All life is unique and to be cherished: love is only wasted by those who don't have any to give.

  • Dawn Monday, 06 October 2014

    Homer's Odyssey

    Gwen, I just finished "Homer's Odyssey" a few days ago. The chapter about 9/11 made me cry. I can't even begin to imagine what you went through those days and I also can't believe people criticize you for that chapter. It's obvious you were upset by what you saw that day and people that couldn't see that in your writing, then they are idiots. I hope I am never in that type of situation but if I were, I would do exactly what you did and try everything to get back to my three cats. Bless you and all you do for cats!
    BTW, I absolutely loved the book and look forward to reading more from you! :-)

  • Jasmine Wednesday, 28 January 2015

    I didn't know Homer died until I saw the comments on this blog! I'm so sad right now. I just finished reading the book Homer's Odyssey a half hour ago and was so ecstatic that it didn't mention his death. I figured he was still alive. I was literally crying my heart out when I was reading the last two chapters in the book. I'm so sorry for your loss, Gwen, if you don't mind me saying.

  • sandy Sunday, 25 October 2015

    Sandy Hardy

    I am not here to discuss the subject matter so much as I appreciate your lack of venom & the way you can offer wonderfully creative descriptions of the subjects you want to discuss. I am delighted by the analogy of non-helpfulness as of it's a cheese like product. Civility & the decision to read someone's full article before skewering them to rotate on a spit seems to be becoming extinct...
    Thank you from a "DOG" (gasp) lover , Sandy

  • Lorraine Gregoire Tuesday, 19 January 2016

    You were right!

    I remember reading that part of the book dealing with Sept. 11th. I felt your confusion, fear and helplessness. I personally believe you did everything right. Yours was the only personal account of that day that I actually read. I cannot imagine the horror of what everyone including every pet and animal near there went through. It's easy to be an armchair quarterback another to have a situation thrown in your face.

  • Ann a Monday, 01 August 2016

    I'm with you

    SCREW THEM IF THEY DON'T UNDERSTAND WE SHARE THIS EARTH WITH THE ANIMALS ,THE WATER , THE AIR!!! We are altogether on this earth we are all living beings !!! It doesn't matter that some can't talk what maters is we feel hunger , fear, rejection, happiness, sadness & most importantly LOVE!!!!! To think otherwise is to be selfish & self- centered!!!!

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