7 min read
9/11: Looking Back and Moving Forward - 9/11/2016
Today is one of those days that I do not anticipate very well. It's a day that, ever since the attacks, has been marked with such a kaleidoscope of emotions. Pain, fear, terror, confusion, loss, anxiety, heartbreak...anger. So much anger.
But on the other side of that, in the quiet moments, in-between, we found... strength. Resilience. Coming together, comfort of strangers, we bonded...in our sadness. We found peace and connection with each other, strangers on the street, in the peak of terror and tragedy.
And isn't this what it's about? Isn't this what we're promoting, building, trying to create? Harmony, oneness, kindness. We have it, friends. It's there, it's within us, always. We are a people capable of great Love, compassion, and altruism. But we only let it out, we only see it in others...when we are faced with great odds, turmoil, pain, and tragedy. Why reach out, why offer kindness and comfort...for "no reason?" Why extend ourselves, why become vulnerable...if there is not trouble? Why let that out, if it's "not needed." Perhaps, this is how we've gotten to this place. And perhaps, that's okay. Maybe...how we do it is OK. Maybe we find our greatest, most compassionate selves in our most difficult hours. I don't have the answers. Today, I'm just feeling...out loud.
I tried to stay off social media today, in order to not let it all in. I went to the water, I sat, I reflected, I remembered. I drank an iced latte. I watched the ferry load up and disembark. I wandered through an adorable crystal/metaphysical shop that smelled of intoxicating incense, and it was lovely. But I knew what I was doing. Ducking. Hiding from the Mack-truck of emotion that this day represents for me. I didn't want to feel it, so I built up a fortress of invisible middle fingers, extended all around me, in a protective circle. Not today! I won't feel it!
(Psst...this doesn't work.)
September 11 is one of those things that hits NYers especially, but many others, very hard. We all know or know of a volunteer or a worker who perished that day. Or at least, had a close call. Or still suffers with COPD from the inhalation of toxic smoke. It was here. At home. It was the first time that my generation witnessed anything like this. Our parents would go on and on about where they were when Kennedy was shot. Our grandparents told us all about Pearl Harbor. But that was all far away, distant, in a story. Intangible...not real. But this...my skin still crawls and puckers when I remember. Because it was...real. Too real.
What came back, as I sat by the water:
I was at SUNY Old Westbury. I remember being amazed at myself, that after all those years, after academic probation, after barely graduating high school...being a "lost in my head" n'er do well... I was doing it. And I was proud. At 26 years old, I was back in school, and I was doing it. The future seemed bright and sparkly and the world was my oyster. I was smiling on the inside...I believed in myself for the first time in a very long time.
The first class was wrapping up. Professor came back in. Her face sunken and pale.
"One of the twin towers was hit with a plane or something...I don't know, there's something going on." She seemed nervous. Class one ended. In the break between my first and second class...I sat in the car and turned on the radio. I heard it all, in live-time: radio tower hit, no big deal. No...wait. OH SHIT, A PLANE HIT THE TOWER, ITSELF! Smoke, sirens, confusion, yelling, panic...from the DJs, on the radio. ON Z-100! I was nervous, to say the least...what did this mean? How does a plane hit the tower, isn't it a no-fly zone? That means...it was...intentional? No... I went into my second class...had the same professor.
"The second tower has been hit," she said later. "I don't know what's happening...we could be going to war...I just don't know, I don't know." She was unglued, in a panic, and sent us home. "Find your loved ones..."
I drove home in silence. Shoulders in my ears. My heart racing, my palms sweaty. I was having my first-ever anxiety attack, although I didn't know it at the time. I needed to know what was happening. I would pass other drivers, stop at red lights: vacant stares, intense foreheads. They were listening. Waiting. Just like me. We were all scared, all of us. In a daze. I got home and looked for someone, anyone. Family. Dad was on the golf course. Brother was...I still don't remember. Working? At the firehouse? I know that I was alone, so I started calling people. Finally, my father got home and we watched the news. We watched it all unfold. Again and again...the same footage, again and again.
I found my old journal, from that day. I had a list of "buzz-words." Things that repeated over and over, that were etched into my memory, permanently.
The terror is still palpable, after all this time. "Will all the buildings fall?" "Will they attack us, here?" "Is this what it's like...on the other side of the world? All the time?" My heart broke over and over and over that day.
But as the days went on, as I returned to school...we had vigils. We prayed together. I witnessed first-hand, what concentrated energy and focused good intention, could do...to heal. I was forever moved by it. I encountered an older Black woman, on the way to an assembly, she was wandering around, seeming so lost. I could see it, in her face: scared. I reached out to her, "let's go in together." I merely offered my arm, as I would to my own grandmother, were she still alive. This older woman just pulled me into her and hugged me, hard. Like she's been searching for it for days, hours, sleepless nights. We talked and comforted each other.
Even years later, reuniting with people I hadn't seen in a long time...it was the first thing mentioned: "how did your family come through 9/11" It was hardwired into us. We are not invincible; we are vulnerable. But...we are resilient, we are compassionate, and we come together to aid each other like nothing you've ever seen.
We rise. Always, we rise.
Human beings are by nature... altruistic, loving, compassionate creatures. It is who we are, by design. Hate - is taught. Fear - is learned. Racism, bigotry, and cruelty, are taught. How about that? We teach it to our young, to perpetuate a cycle. Generation after generation. When is enough enough? When do we change what we bring forward? What generation, says...this far, and no farther? Or are we doomed to constantly repeat and repeat, without altering the course. Is it just a record, a flat circle, around and around? Revisiting, without changing? Shall we throw up our hands and just get drunk?
Fuck that. Kick the machine! Skip the record, disrupt the cycle! Dare to impart kindness and benevolence in your actions, to lead by example. Show compassion when it's easy to hate. Forgive when it's easier to hold a grudge. Live in love and kindness, engage in empathy, until it becomes a new habit. We can change our behavior, collectively. We can, one person at a time. This...is what we are doing. This...is our evolution.
Breaking the shackles of rigid belief and limiting, narrow ideologies. Embracing wholeness, oneness, unity, compassion, integrity, Love. [Perhaps we ought to] step into a time, live in a new world, that favors *humanity* and moral, ethical behavior.
We must lead with our minds, with our hearts, with our souls. Intelligent solutions, felt with compassion, with good intentions, for a greater good. It starts inside. With us. <3
<3 Dedicated to all the rescue workers and office workers who lost their lives, nineteen years ago. You are NOT forgotten. <3
I changed a few words that sounded bitter. But every bit of this still rings true for me.
Lead with Love. <3