I’d Do It Again In A Heartbeat*

By Barbara Marion Horn

This solo show performance, a work-in-progress, will tell stories of the 9/11 Responder Community –the rescue and recovery workers and volunteers who descended upon the World Trade Center (WTC) site in the days, weeks and months following the attacks. This dynamic “telling of the tales” will share the extraordinary responses of ordinary people who placed themselves in harms’ way to bring safety and order back to Lower Manhattan and, by searching as thoroughly as possible for remains, to bring peace to those who lost loved ones as a result of the brutal September 11th, 2001 attacks. This traveling show will allow people around the country to learn of what responders did and connect with them more personally.



This storytelling piece has its roots in my time as a volunteer at St. Paul’s Chapel’s World Trade Center (WTC) Relief Ministry. Historic St. Paul’s –where George Washington and members of Congress went following his inauguration as our country’s first president, offered round the clock support to those working at the neighboring WTC site. The Chapel had an abundance of supplies –shoes, socks, gloves, lip balm (thousands of little jars), aspirin and more.  St. Paul’s was a place to rest (we gave the best wake-up calls) and eat – again, the most delicious donuts, desserts and nourishing meals. Massage therapists, chiropractors and podiatrists treated tight muscles, hurting backs and aching feet. Chaplains and social workers listened with their hearts and souls; volunteers –who hailed from around our city, nation and world, welcomed all who came through the doors with smiles and helping hands.


I remember thinking: history is unfolding before my very eyes.  In the years and centuries to come, 9/11, and all that followed as a result, will be a turning moment for the world. The attacks are vividly documented; what about the individuals who responded afterwards? Those who risked their own lives to help all of us get back on our feet -who will know about them? Our beloved firefighters and police officers are the most well-known responders. Then there were the dedicated sanitation workers, operating engineers, ironworkers, teamsters, carpenters, electricians…an endless list of skilled and courageous workers who labored around the clock to help. All of them have stories; through grace and perseverance I hope to tell as many of them as possible.   



Friends suggested I write a book. 2001-2003 I wrote a weekly email newsletter, “The New York Report”, telling funny, sad and moving tales of what was happening at the site and how people were recovering once the site closed. I feel called to continue to tell the tales, however in a more personal and interactive forum. Storytelling performance venues, at churches, union halls and local theatres, have the potential for greater visibility and impact than a book, of which there are many on 9/11.


The piece opens with FDNY Chaplain Fr. Mychal Judge’s Prayer: noting that God has taken me where I am suppose to be (performance place), is letting me meet who I am suppose to meet (this audience) and, now, if I do it right, saying what I am suppose to say (about the 9/11 Responder Community).  I share with the audience how I came to volunteer at St. Paul’s Chapel and begin the stories. One of the first is about a group of Red Cross Kansas Seniors who braved the NY subway system when their driver could not get to the center where they’d been assisting displaced residents all day and return them to their hotel.



These stories can have an impact on those sharing their stories with me as well as those who come to hear me tell them. Here are some of the intended outcomes.



The ancient Greeks understood the power of the oral tradition and used storytelling to heal trauma; I wish to do the same.  With guidance from trauma experts, healing will be part of the interaction as responders individually and in collaboration with DSNY, FDNY, PAPD, NYPD, unions, construction companies and more, share their stories with me.    


The intention for the audience that will hear the stories and partake in the talkback that follows each performance is the same: to experience the healing that can come from the telling of the stories. 



The courage, perseverance and grace displayed at the WTC is something all of us have within.  Hearing the stories and interacting afterwards, reminds the listeners to tap into these places within should they someday face such difficulty.



This performance piece is intended to affirm life, encourage decency and action especially in times of disaster and distress. These stories remind us that we are more alike than different and afford a variety of people who might not otherwise tell their story, or come together to discuss tough situations, to do so.


When disaster strikes and life is threatened, differences are put aside.  During Hurricane Harvey, Texas Gov. Abbott assured undocumented immigrants they would not be questioned at shelters, “We want to ensure the safety of all lives…”  Storytelling is a way to remind us of what we share as humans.



Are you a 9/11 responder/volunteer?

Are you a family member or loved one of a 9/11 responder/volunteer?

Are you interested and want to share an idea?

If you would like to contribute to this effort, please email director@callingofthenames.org


*“I’d Do It Again In A Heartbeat” - most common response given by sick 9/11 responders when asked: knowing what they know now, would they do it again?