If you lived in the Minneapolis area in the summer of 2007, no doubt you remember exactly where you were and what you were doing in the moments after 6:05 pm on August 1. I was sitting in my living room, when my husband called from work about 6:20 and asked me if I had heard that the “35W bridge over the Mississippi had collapsed” and I remember sitting down on the sofa, stunned, trying to turn on the TV. Those initial moments were filled with confusion, as I thought he meant the bridge over the river in Bloomington. It wasn’t until I started to see the news reports that I realized it was the bridge near downtown Minneapolis, and along with thousands of others became mesmerized by the horrific images on the screen. Little did I know that among the victims was a distant cousin who I had never met, and now I never would, and a young woman who would soon have an impact on my life, but I wouldn’t realize it until years later.
That August day was like many others, hot at 92 degress and a bit muggy. Picture yourself in the car driving home from work, or to some evening event. Perhaps you’re speaking to a loved on on the phone, or listening to music. You might have the window open in hopes of a breeze if your AC isn’t working, or if you were lucky and it is, the windows all up. Traffic is moving slowly since 4 of the 8 lanes are closed for bridge resurfacing and there is quite a bit of construction equipment about. Suddenly, you feel a slight jolt, a little bump, and wonder what it is, and then, without warning, the road under you is just gone and you’re free falling. You’re in your car, plunging toward the Mississippi River, along with other cars trucks, concrete, steel girders, rebar, gusset plates, dust…The sound is defeaning, then silence. You’re under water, or perhaps on the remainder of the bridge at an odd angle, or pinned under concrete or another car. In the water you desperately try to get out of your seatbelt and then out of your car, in the murky water. Some did, 13 did not; among them Peter Hausmann who initially made it out of his car, then dove under water again to try and help a woman and her child get out of theirs, and was pinned underwater by debris by her car.
That fall, after the collapse, I was working at a health insurance company here in the Twin Cities as a nurse case manager, and I can still remember being told to do whatever we could to help the victims. Normal rules were waived, dollar limits on services or lifetime limits, even waiving out of network restrictions. We were given permission to go above and beyond what we normally did, to ensure their care went as smoothly as we possibly could with the least amount of stress to them given that they had already endured so much. I was involved in the care of a young woman who had been injured in the collapse, and due to the nature of her injuries I ended up speaking with her mother about her care rather than her. Her mother and I spoke fairly often that fall, which was good and bad…bad that they had to speak to me at all, but good in that they had someone on the other end of the line who could help. My recollection is that when I first started talking to her mom, there was a lot of frustration on her part because of the issues and roadblocks they had encountered, one of which had to do with being billed for her daughter seeing out of network doctors at the hospital she was sent to. Keep in mind she wasn’t given a choice where she went, people were triaged to hospitals based on their injuries and how many people had already gone to other hospitals. She also had no choice in the doctor she saw. So why should they have to worry about paying extra, when the choice was taken away? The answer was, they shouldn’t, and ultimately I worked to make sure they didn’t. That’s just one example of the kinds of things we helped with.
Last summer marked the 10th anniversary of the collapse, and as we approached August 1 there were the expected stories on our news channels, in the papers, and on the radio. Stories from survivors, and from the families and friends of those who didn’t survive, making sure that their loved ones aren’t forgotten by recounting wonderful stories about them. One of those stories came from the family of Peter Hausmann, a man who who I later learned from my mom was a cousin of my dad’s. (Between my mom and dad, they once counted all their first cousins – there were over 200! It’s not surprising we didn’t know some of them when you start getting to the second cousins, the “once removeds” and so on.) I don’t know exactly which level of cousin they were, but it wasn’t first cousin, I know that. After seeing a video about him on WCCO -TV, I wish I could have met him. He seems like he was a wonderful father, husband and man of faith, and I expect he’s very proud of his family and how they have carried on.
I also found myself wondering what ever happened to the young woman that I had helped to provide care for 10 years ago. I found out she is doing amazingly well, and is living her dream – in New York. She’s acting, singing and dancing in the theater there, doing what she always wanted to do. I don’t know how to explain what it felt like when I learned that, except to say that my heart feels so full of happiness for her. Now, seeing her photo, her face is full of joy and enthusiasm, of wonder and beauty. When I saw her picture, my chest filled up and I started to cry. It was an amazing moment, knowing that she’s on her way to fulfilling her dream, and I think about the fact there is that one brief moment in time that her dream almost didn’t get to happen – perhaps 20 or 30 feet in either direction and she may have died, but she didn’t. She inspires me, when I’m not sure if I can meet a challenge, or if I want to stretch myself. I just think about her, and I’m reminded what determination can accomplish. The most amazing part is, I don’t think she was ever aware of me, and certainly has no idea that 10 years on she is still having an impact.
So many of us were impacted in one way or another, forever marked by the water: some literally, but most, invisibly. Today, a memorial stands near the site of the collapse, in memory of those who died that day. A granite slab with the names of those who died bears the following inscription :
“Our lives are not only defined by what happens, but by how we act in the face of it, not only by what life brings us, but by what we bring to life. Selfless actions and compassion create enduring community out of tragic events.”