9/11: Eyewitness: Forgiving helps woman heal from 9/11 lossWritten by Zach Davis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
On Sept. 9, 2001, Rob Gschaar sat at the dinner table with his wife of 22 years, Myrta. Two months into his job at Aon Corporation, Rob discussed the 1993 terrorist bombing of his new company’s building, the World Trade Center. Two days later, tragedy struck the buildings again.
The attacks that brought down the towers took nearly 3,000 lives. Among them was Rob, who was on the 97th floor of the South Tower.
Life before Sept. 11, 2001
Myrta, a native New Yorker, met her husband Rob in 1987 through a work function. Myrta, a broker, found herself at a company party with rival insurance-worker Rob.
“He was the bad guy and I was the good guy,” Myrta said. “He worked for the insurance company so I had to get him to say ‘yes’ to what I want him to insure. He either accepts it or rejects it and most of the time they reject everything. So, I wind up marrying him.”
Myrta and Rob had struggled in previous marriages and wanted a better experience. Rob offered that second chance with a unique proposal lacking a traditional engagement ring. Instead, he gave Myrta a $2 bill and kept another. As Rob had described to her, they were like Yin and Yang, truly two-of-a-kind. With it also being the second marriage for both, the $2 bill was an ideal symbol for their love.
“He just gave me strength to be the best that I can be and just taking your past and moving to the future, learning from it and not making the same mistakes,” Myrta said. “He helped me find my love again, for myself especially. He never did anything bad, he was perfect. He was just a good husband and a good person. He didn’t have a mean bone in his body. He made me a better person.”
The couple lived in Rockland County, N.Y., as Rob joined Myrta’s family including her four daughters. After he was out of work for four years, Rob took a job at Aon, an insurance company inside the South Tower, on July 1, 2001.
Sept. 11, 2001, began like a typical Tuesday. Rob, who started his day much earlier, leaving around 5:30 a.m., routinely made his wife a cup of coffee that he left by the nightstand. Following a kiss on the cheek and a “Love you baby, see you tonight,” Rob was off to work.
When Myrta arrived at work, a co-worker informed her that a plane had just hit the North Tower. She quickly called Rob, located in the opposite building, who answered the phone saying, “Yes, it’s true.”
“He had a trembling voice and I knew something was really, really bad,” Myrta said. “He said ‘They are jumping. They are just jumping from the windows.’ He was in the South Tower, the 97th floor. From his view he was seeing people jumping. People on TV were just seeing specks. He was not seeing specks, he was seeing faces. That’s horrifying.
“I am on the other side of the phone panicking. I told him to drop what he was doing and just come home. He said ‘I’m going to see what we are going to do, what’s going to happen and if we are going to evacuate and I’m just going to call you back later. I promise I’ll call you back.’
“He said ‘I love you’ and then hung up the phone and that was it.”
That was the final conversation Myrta would have with Rob. Fewer than 20 minutes after a plane struck the North Tower, a second airliner en route from Boston to Los Angeles hit the South Tower. Myrta, who was not watching the broadcast, was informed by her boss of the incident.
“When I was still in my office my boss came out and told me ‘You may just want to get your things,’” Myrta said. “I said ‘What’s going on?’ and he said ‘Another plane hit and I think it’s the South Tower.’”
A friend of Myrta’s picked her up from work and brought her to her house, where she remained in the bedroom to avoid the news while friends stayed up-to-date with the events in the living room. Others gathered as their loved ones were also missing. Of all those in attendance, by the day’s end, only Rob remained unaccounted for.
Rob’s last moments
Following the tragedy of 9/11, Myrta was overcome with anger. Rob’s official status was still “unknown” and she held out hope that her husband was still alive, possibly amongst the wreckage or suffering memory loss. Myrta put up fliers with her husband’s photograph hoping for any sign.
Within the next two weeks, Myrta was contacted by a married couple who arrived at her house. The man, whose name is unknown to Myrta, claimed to work with Rob and was in the South Tower with him.
“They are sitting there and brought flowers,” Myrta said. “She came to tell me that if it wasn’t for my husband, her husband would have died. My husband saved her husband’s life.”
A few weeks later in October, Myrta held a memorial service for Rob. During the service, a woman in her 20s approached Myrta and told her a similar tale.
“She walked over and said ‘I just wanted you to know that Rob saved my life,’” Myrta said. “She said ‘I froze, I couldn’t move and my feet felt like they were lead grounded in cement but he pushed me to the door, told me to keep running and don’t look back. That’s what I did and I’m here today to tell you that.’”
Myrta, who was still mourning the loss of her husband, did not keep in touch with either party. Now in 2011, Myrta wishes she would have found out more.
“Back then I didn’t want to know about these people because they lived and Rob didn’t, so I separated myself from them,” Myrta said. “Once they left I just felt very angry. I didn’t bother keeping in touch with them. I didn’t want to and I regret that.”
Myrta continued to struggle with her anger during the next few years. After an unending routine of leaving the house only to go to work, she decided to seek medical help.
“I started to isolate myself,” Myrta said. “I was snapping over here and snapping over there and everybody was looking at me like they shouldn’t be around. I started to isolate myself from the human race. My anger kept getting worse and I realized I needed help and went to a psychologist.”
Myrta discovered that she was suffering from post-traumatic stress. Myrta began working to overcome the disorder. She began attending different churches each Sunday before finding the right fit, later being baptized as a born-again Christian in 2004.
Despite her newfound faith, Myrta struggled as she felt something was missing. That’s when she found a solution at an International House of Prayer.
“There was something still not right,” Myrta said. “I couldn’t be whole and I wanted to be whole and fill that void. One day we were at an International Prayer House and there were thousands of people in this house and everybody there was praying for the world. After several hours of praying I started voicing my forgiveness toward the people who murdered my husband. Then my life changed.”
Myrta’s forgiveness of the terrorists who took her husband’s life turned her own life around. She began to feel complete and no longer angry.
“After I did that I felt a joy and a peace in me, it was an experience like I had never felt before,” Myrta said. “It’s better to live in the light than to live in the darkness. Forgiveness is better than hatred. If we live in hatred, we will still be talking about terrorism and that’s why we have terrorism today. If we live in love, we won’t have terrorism. We won’t have to fight or have bickering.
A lost item
In 2005, Myrta received a call informing her of items belonging to her husband that had been found in the remains of the towers. Until then, she had no official proof of Rob’s death, only the assumption he was gone and not somewhere suffering from amnesia.
Myrta gathered inside a room with others, picking up loved ones’ recovered items, when she received a shock.
Among the items recovered were Rob’s wedding ring and his wallet, containing mundane items like a security pass and some cash. Tucked away inside the wallet was a lone $2 bill, the same one he had saved more than 26 years earlier when he proposed to her.
“When they pulled that out I could not believe it,” Myrta said.
With the bills reunited, Myrta received the closure she had waited so long for. She donated both $2 bills and Rob’s items found in the wreckage to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. She moved to Ohio in 2005 to be closer to her family, residing in Maumee.
Myrta is visiting New York for the first time since she moved away on this Sept. 11 for the 10-year anniversary memorial service.