My Personal Journey – from the World Trade Center to Rutgers U

by Barry Klassel

As humanist chaplain at Rutgers I think I’m in a unique position to help others learn about humanism as a truth-seeking, life-affirming philosophy that can open minds and be of great benefit to everyone. My own learning process began just over ten years ago, in 2001, when my life was affected by the awful tragedy of 9/11.  I had just started to work earlier that year as marketing director for Tribeca Performing Arts Center, which is located on Chambers Street in lower Manhattan, just a few blocks north of the World Trade Center.  Every day I had taken the Path train to the WTC stop and, on that morning, riding in from New Jersey, I saw the dark smoke streaming out of the towers after the first plane hit. The two theatre spaces at T-PAC became rest areas for the rescue workers and afterwards had to be decontaminated.  We lost our theatre season and I was let go because there was nothing to market.

I took the opportunity to make a list of what I wanted to do with my life.  I wanted to find a job, first of all.  I wanted to act again and direct again.  I wanted to volunteer in a way that made use of my background in psychology.  And I wanted to learn more about humanism and the humanist groups in my area to see if they were right for me.  I had the time to do all this and I can say I have accomplished everything on my list.

At one of the first humanist meetings I attended I met Gary Brill and I learned about HumanLight, the new winter holiday.  I learned that the MC at the first celebration was running a school that trained non-religious celebrants to do individualized weddings, funerals and other life-ceremonies.  What a perfect career for me!  I could combine my theatre talents, my newly adopted philosophy and my desire to be of service. In the few years after my training, I myself emceed a few HumanLights, was featured speaker once and wrote articles for the Humanist magazine.  In 2009, Dr. Brill asked me if I would like to take another step and consider becoming one of a handful of humanist chaplains. It’s been a challenge, but I’m glad I accepted the offer to spread the word.  

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2 Responses to My Personal Journey – from the World Trade Center to Rutgers U

  1. Stacey Kerwien says:

    Barry, thanks for the article. I’ve felt for a long time, that humanists need to be more ‘visible’ in volunteerism. I’m still finding my way in looking for something that is challenging/rewarding. Now that my kids are entering high school, and soon college, I have more free time to consider options that I simply did not have enough time for (ie. ambulance squad, Planned Parenthood, board of ed, etc.). Are there websites and volunteer organizations that are geared towards humanism?

    • Barry Klassel says:

      Nice to hear from you again. For starters, to learn more about humanism and opportunities in your area, look around our website and, in particular, under the heading ‘What is Humanism?’ If you are an alum, let me know because we are looking to activate the Rutgers Humanist Alumni Group, including ways we all can do community service.

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