The Survivor Tree and Me

At the National September 11th Memorial in New York City there is a tree.

There are many trees planted around the site, but this one is special; special, because this tree somehow managed to survive the catastrophic attack on the World Trade Centre in 2001.

Discovered at Ground Zero, the pear tree’s roots were snapped, its branches burned and broken, but, miraculously, it still showed signs of life. Carefully removed from the rubble underneath which it had been buried, the tree ended up in the care of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, where it eventually recovered enough to be returned to the site and replanted in 2010.

In 2012, new limbs had sprung from the heat scarred stumps, clearly showing the tree’s past and present. Today, known as ‘The Survivor Tree’, it stands as a living reminder of survival, resilience and rebirth.

The Survivor Tree, New York City 2012

The Survivor Tree, New York City, 2012

I first came face to face with The Survivor Tree back in 2012, during my first ever visit to New York City. It was surrounded by a stainless steel fence and supports, along with a web of thick ropes, tethering it on all sides. It was obvious that this tree had gone through a lot and still wasn’t able to support its own weight. I suppose nobody knew at that time if it ever would again.

While I stood taking in the tree in front of me, my own world was collapsing. I was in New York alone, trying to escape a life seemingly out of control. I didn’t think I would survive; depressed and adrift, unbeknownst to me I was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I was ill, but in my mind, I was weak and a total failure.

Long story short, thankfully, I did return back home to the UK. I got worse (much worse) before I got better, but I did get better!

I have since revisited New York City many times. It has almost become an annual pilgrimage for me. I don’t really understand why I am drawn there, but I am, so I go. My most recent trip was in March 2020, only a couple of weeks before the city was closed down due to the Coronavirus outbreak. Whilst there, I returned to the National September 11th Memorial and came face to face with The Survivor Tree again.

At first, I wasn’t able to find it. I did think for a moment that maybe it hadn’t survived. Eight years had passed since I had last seen it and it wasn’t looking too good. But then I noticed that one of the many trees had a large engraved plaque next to it, and there it was. Gone were all the tethering ropes, gone the supports and its broken appearance. In its place was a strong, healthy and pretty good-looking tree. You would have no idea of its traumatic past and I remember thinking, “Wow, what a difference the last eight years have made.” And, suddenly, I realised that me and that tree had a lot in common.

I was once buried under my own rubble, from which I had no idea how to escape or if I would survive. In the early days I couldn’t (mentally) stand upright. I needed multiple interventions to keep me grounded and level. I was a disheveled and broken reflection of who I once was. But now, as I stood there, eight years later, just like the tree, I was able to stand up tall again. I didn’t need the same level of support anymore, and to look at me now you would never know what I went through unless you knew my past. So yes, that tree and me, we had a moment right there.

Now, as I sit here at home, writing my first blog, while following all the social distancing rules that this global pandemic has brought with it, I am quietly but confidently optimistic that we will be okay. There may be a long road to recovery ahead, but we are resilient and, once we emerge from the rubble of havoc this virus is wreaking, regrowth can and will begin. We have a tree to prove it.

Maybe you are reading this right now and your own recovery resembles that of the tree. I hope so.

The only way I can think to end this is by quoting Geoff Goldblum’s character, Dr Ian Malcom from the 1993 film Jurassic Park: “Life finds a way.”

It certainly does.

Ed Simpson joined the Police Service in 1995, initially working for West Yorkshire Police in his hometown of Bradford, before transferring to North Yorkshire Police in 2003. Ed then remained at North Yorkshire Police until his retirement in 2016 on medical grounds, following a prolonged battle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression. Find out more about Ed and his work with Petros.

Discover more about The Survivor Tree.