Galvanized and Humbled: the Gift of a 9/11 Survivor’s Fearless Column on bin Laden’s Death

In perusing the newspapers about bin Laden’s capture and assassination, one Chicago Sun-Times piece hit me with seismic force: “Putting bin Laden behind me,” by Helaina Hovitz.  Please, take the time to read it in full:

Without question, Helaina’s is the most brave thing I’ve ever read. Granted, I’m not a news fiend.  But for me, this one is extraordinary. This brave young writer gave us a gift– the raw and emotionally gruesome details of her life from 12 to 21. She was 12 when the Twin Towers fell, living just three blocks away on 9/11. In 2009, she finally was diagnosed with PTSD and began recovery through therapy. She shares with us the excruciating path up until that time, with splendid vulnerability:

“As a result of tragedy that nobody could control, I lost all control and spent nearly a decade trying to get it back.

I was a sponge that absorbed the impact of bin Laden’s destruction of my world. My childhood was taken from me. 

I should not be alive today for hundreds of reasons.

I cut. I met strangers online and drove with them to their apartments to drink and much more. 

I made my promiscuous behavior very public online. I couldn’t get out of bed in the mornings. I had panic attacks on the subway. I spent a great deal of time in high school crying in the bathroom because I was so severely depressed. I went on drinking binges that landed me in the hospital time and time again. 

I am more than fortunate that I did not permanently ruin my life.” 

And she lived to write about it.

In writing, she’s living.

She’s apparently still living in Lower Manhattan and working on her memoir. I will buy that book. I will be following this woman’s work.

I wonder how long it took Helaina to write this? To send it to her editor? To NOT panic, knowing that she had exposed herself so completely?

It is perfect, and I stand agog.

She puts a face on the terrorism of bin Laden: hers.

The last graph is strong:

“My name is Helaina Hovitz and I am a victim of a war crime. I thank you for giving me the chance to tell my story.”

No, Helaina; thank you. 

She re-claims her life, owns her identity, and empowers herself  with these confessions. She gets the best revenge: living well, and getting published in one of the major leading newspapers of America to declare it. She’s doing this as only a writer can. By publishing this, she’s jeopardizing future relationships, job opportunities, and obliterating her personal anonymity forever.

People will know. That’s a hefty price for by-line, even a spectacular by-line.

But I know why she risked it: with a story like this, what else is there?

She’s fully committing herself — irrevocably– to a writing life.

Talk about ambition. Honestly, I envy that.

She is the kind of writer, at 21, that reminds me I’m complacent with my own writing at 30. I hate the newsroom, but damn– moments like these are humbling. It makes me contemplate what I sacrificed by abandoning my journalism career.

Helaina did more than just compel me to acknowledge her humanity in this piece– she challenged me professionally.

I haven’t lived through an internationally recognized catastrophe– a diabolical terrorist attack  three blocks away from my residence.

But somewhere inside me, I have a story to tell.

And it’s time I find it.


2 comments on “Galvanized and Humbled: the Gift of a 9/11 Survivor’s Fearless Column on bin Laden’s Death

  1. Helaina Natalie Hovitz says:

    Hi! I just saw this!! I made my own blog,….I’d love to meet you if only virtually and say hello… please email me at

    • Wow, this is the most exciting comment I’ve ever gotten. Of course I will, Helaina. I can’t wait to read your blog!! Thanks so much for reaching out to me, it’s an awesome affirmation.

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