A survivor of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, Manning reflects on her 10-year journey of survival and re-creation.
9/11 survivor Lauren Manning
Tavis: Lauren Manning was an executive at Cantor Fitzgerald in the World Trade Center on the morning of the attacks of 9/11. Burned on over 80% of her body, she spent more than a month in a drug-induced coma and now, ten years later, she’s out with a terrific memoir about her inspiring journey. The text is called “Unmeasured Strength.” She joins us tonight from New York. Lauren, good to see you and, in your case, I do really mean good to see you.
Lauren Manning: Thank you, Tavis. It’s great to be here.
Tavis: You talk about the fact that the first year anniversary was very, very difficult for you. I think I and all those watching get that. So how are you processing this tenth anniversary?
Manning: Well, it’s interesting. At once, it seems long ago and yet there is this evergreen presence to it. It never seems to really be far away. I need only look down at myself to know that the marks will always be there. But, fortunately, I feel that we as a community and a country have really been able to move forward in many ways.
Tavis: When you look at your own body every day in the morning, in the mirror, getting dressed, when you see yourself every day and you have that constant reminder with you on your personage, how do you navigate past that?
Manning: I think that I knew that I needed to learn to inhabit this new place that would be mine for the rest of my life. I made a decision that living with the imperfect was something that was probably far easier to do than any alternative and I took the chance and choice I was given to move forward and I did.
So I’ve accepted what has happened to me and I don’t dwell on it. I was given a break that day that many weren’t.
Tavis: Give me some sense, Lauren, and, of course, you talk about it in the text – I’m asking you to top-line this for me – but give me and the viewers some sense of how one navigates past the bitterness.
Through no fault of your own, you had done nothing to bin Laden or whoever was behind these attacks. Through no fault of your own, you find yourself having to deal with this the rest of your life. How do you navigate past, how do you deal with, the bitterness?
Manning: You know, there have always been good guys and bad guys. Unfortunately, there always will be. I have chosen to live a life full of hope and belief that things can and do get better. I was angry, sure, but anger will not do much beyond a certain level of motivation when you’re faced with tough challenges in life.
Tavis: I mentioned bin Laden a moment ago. I’m just curious if you might share with me how it is that you felt when you saw the news coming from President Obama that bin Laden had been killed.
Manning: I felt certainly a sense of relief that we got one of them and certainly the kingpin, as it were. But like a cancer with many cells, unfortunately, I do not believe that the battle is over. But it was a good day for our country and for many others around the world.
Tavis: What will you do in terms of commemorating or celebrating? You tell me the appropriate word, but what are your plans for the actual day of 9/11?
Manning: As I always do, my husband and I will be at the Cantor Fitzgerald memorial. You use two words: celebrating, remembering. At this point, it is a combination of celebrating those and the lives they led and remembering the struggle they went through that day.
At the same time, to see children grown and husbands and wives of those who were lost moving on with their lives means a great deal to all of us.
Tavis: Since you mentioned Cantor Fitzgerald, obviously, as I mentioned at the top, you were the former managing director there and partner, for that matter.
You’re no longer with the firm, but when you said that you every year spend the anniversary with the Cantor Fitzgerald family, many of us saw this huge story just days ago in “The New York Times” about how this company that lost 658 or so employees, just a massive number of employees lost, the company wiped out basically when 9/11 happened ten years ago, and the remarkable story of how they’ve rebuilt this company ten years later.
Did you see the story? If you did, what’d you think of it?
Manning: Well, we all remain close and certainly those few that remained did an extraordinary job. My husband was one of them. He went to work at Cantor and helped them rebuild. I did what I needed to do to avenge my friends and colleagues who were gone. I fought from my bedside, but they did an extraordinary job. They showed truly what the American spirit is all about and I am incredibly proud of my company.
Tavis: Take me back to those early days. You talk about in harrowing detail in the book. But what do you recall about those early days of trying to move past a body that’s been burned on over 80% of it?
Manning: The first time I looked in the mirror was truly the dead reckoning with a body and a life that would never be the same. I made a choice, as I think I’ve learned to do every day, to really make it count. What I realized is that the accustomed attitudes that I have, as it were, are not what I am about. They are not truly me.
I in essence was both truly masked as I was healing, but I masked myself and believed that things would be better. I didn’t want peoples’ pity. I didn’t want them to feel sorry for me. I wanted them to join me in my effort to get better.
So it was kind of a giving and a give-back. Their spirits and their positive attitudes buoyed me and I think, together, it’s been a long journey. But I’m just thrilled to have this opportunity to reflect ten years later.
Tavis: You referenced a moment ago, Lauren, your husband and you are, if nothing else in this book, frank and forthright. You’ve been very honest about the fact that prior to the attack ten years ago, you hadn’t been married terribly long and you and your husband were really questioning the state of your marriage and then this happened. Tell me how that impacted your marriage that you were questioning prior to those planes hitting the towers.
Manning: Yes, certainly we had entered what was a troubled spot in our marriage. We certainly loved one another, but as I think many of us do, we were dwelling on the small vanities and superficialities of what we think should be and could be the right way to do things and the wrong way.
What I learned, and I think what we learned in a moment, was that stripping away all the artifice, all that truly matters is the love and passion that you have with your spouse, with your family and with those that love you. You know, take that moment and truly engage in what matters. So we have tried to live our marriage vows.
Tavis: You have, since 9/11, added another child to your family, but at the time of the attacks ten years ago, you had just a ten and a half month old child. How does a mother again move forward when you’re dealing with this horrific incident and you have a baby, literally a ten and a half month old child?
Manning: Well, he was first and foremost the reason why I decided to live and he was really my God light going forward. I was very concerned. I was concerned how he might see me, he might reject me.
One of the most poignant moments for me in my life will always be the day that we were reunited. After I was eventually drawn out of the coma and beyond the state of dire infection, I was permitted to see him.
I’ll never forget that day. I asked my parents to bring a small amount of perfume so that he might remember me. They put a small amount on my bandages and, as they wheeled me out to the hallway, there was my little guy, who was now walking, coming toward me.
At first, he didn’t recognize me and I just felt this drop in my soul, as it were. He looked up and a smile came across his face and he knew it was his mom and we were finally together again.
Tavis: And the decision, after all that you had to go through to get your life back on line again, the decision to have another child?
Manning: Yeah. You know, a lot was taken from many that day and certainly one of the things we had hoped was to have another child, so that became a focus. When I was able to focus on it after a very critical time of recovery and thought, gee, this should be easy compared to what I’d been through, but, alas, it wasn’t to be.
We literally spent years of disappointment and hardship and a lot of other trials that many trying to have a child go through. We were graced October 22, nearly two years ago, with the arrival through a gestational carrier of Jagger Thomas. He’s been a great addition.
Tavis: I see the smile on your face. This is not just a story of survival. It obviously is, but it’s not just a story of survival. This is, by your own words, your own admission, a story of transformation. The survival part, I get. What is the story of transformation you want us to get?
Manning: I think the story of transformation is about who we are as human beings. We all exist within a physical space and define beauty relative to what we are taught or believe or the media may portray we should look at or should be doing. There are so many barriers, in a sense, we erect for ourselves.
What I learned through my story was that September 11 was only one day in a journey that was about far more than that. It was about realizing in a very different way my life, which was radically transformed in an instant, but the transformation that took place beyond the physical was a mental one that I think has allowed me to be a better person.
You know, we’re all wounded by tragedy in some sort, illness or disease within our families. Although we can be touched by it, I refuse to be held by it and I think that finding that unmeasured strength in all of us, as certainly I had to, delivered me to a much better place in my life.
Tavis: It’s a powerful book that everybody’s talking about. There are so many 9/11 remembrances and so many 9/11 stories as we commemorate, celebrate, this tenth anniversary, but this one is the one that everybody’s talking about. It’s called “Unmeasured Strength” written by Lauren Manning.
Lauren, it’s an honor, again, to have you on this program. I meant what I said earlier. It’s good to see you. Thank you for the book and thanks for coming on to share with us.
Manning: Thank you very much, Tavis.
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