I have no quotes today, no inspiring words. Just some thoughts, and despite my profound sadness and disappointment with all the violence, hate and destruction that continue in our world, a prayer for peace and light.
September 11, 2001 was an ordinary morning…my son, 4 years old at the time, was playing next to me and watching cartoons on the Disney Channel. I was tired, lying on the couch, sort of napping with my eyes open. The phone rang a few times, and I imagined it was about some late bill or some such annoyance, so I didn’t bother answering. But it rang again and again, and finally walked over to pick it up.
My friend’s voice…I was suddenly so happy she called. But instead of chatting and joking as we usually did, she rushed to ask if everyone was ok. I couldn’t understand the terrible worry in her voice. Why wouldn’t we be ok? She said the towers fell. I asked “what towers”? ‘The Twin Towers” she practically shouted. Surely, this was a terrible misunderstanding.
And then the nightmare began. I switched the channel on the TV, from Winnie the Pooh to CNN. I couldn’t understand what they were showing. What I was seeing and hearing was simply not connecting with anything in the realm of the real.
I rushed to check the answering machine. My mom had called. And then my husband, and my husband’s friend and business partner. I began frantically calling back…”your call cannot go through at this time, please try again later”. It took forever to reach anyone. In the end, he was ok, mom was ok…safe, with friends. What happened in Manhattan was starting to sink in. More threats. How would they get back home…Grand Central station was an obvious target should there be more attacks. They wouldn’t be safe on a train coming home. It would never end.
Out of the countless terrible images from that day, the ones that I remember most are of people jumping or falling off the towers, and then those of people clustered at the edges, with fire underneath, waiting for the inevitable. I know, I should remember the images of rescues and other inspiring moments, because that day and for many days to come, people did the most amazing things.
But I remember the images of death because I was angry, and wondered then, as I have so many times since, what I would have done had I been one of them, or if those lost were not strangers, but my spouse, parent, son or friend. I wondered where the many gods and angels of love and protection were in those moments…for those people, for those families. Where are they even now, for those who still suffer and die, for soldiers and civilians, for refugees, for children blown to bits, men and women beaten and brutalized in every imaginable way, for those waiting, for those hoping, for those praying…and even for those who cause the suffering and the death and the destruction…
Some weeks later, I finally went to Manhattan with dad and my son…down to ground zero. As we approached, I could feel the enormity of that wound…that terrible thing waiting there behind fences. For the first time in my life I saw how the absence of something can be so much more frightening than the presence of an actual menace. People stood, looked and were, for the most part, silent. Some cried. A plane flew somewhere above. My heart stopped. The destruction was unbelievable…nothing shown on TV could possibly describe what it looked like and felt like in person. And this was after much had already
been cleaned up. I can’t imagine what it must have been like the first day, the first week.
We walked through the streets, looking at flowers tied to signs and photos taped to walls and windows and fences. It was such a beautiful sunny day, the kind of day when all should seem right with the world. Yet that day, all was still incomprehensible, and most definitely not right.
I remember the first fire-truck I saw…not red but totally grey, and how everyone on the street stopped and cheered and applauded. I just stood there and cried, grateful for the silliest thing…that unique smell of a not-so-clean side street in NYC…subway steam, mixed with roasted nuts and pretzels from the vendor on the corner, trash piles not picked up. Sounds a bit gross, but on that day, it was heavenly.
In the subway, people looked afraid and suspicious of every bag and briefcase. Everyone was quiet and uncomfortable. Our line was closed suddenly because of a threat. And so we walked to mom’s office in midtown. Police everywhere, and men dressed in dark suits carrying large guns. It looked like a war zone. I wondered if this is how we would live from now on…with threats at any moment, and people with guns directing traffic. Would the car we were about to walk by suddenly blow up?
I’m not going to get into politics here. My only hope is that our tragedy, and those that happen too often and in too many places around the world, are somehow going to help all of us everywhere live more mindfully, practice more kindness, make better choices, be less quick to judge and more eager to help, and of course be more humble and compassionate.
This is a somber day. I think of all the loss, and of all that survives, and grows. And I wish that somehow, the pain of those who have suffered and continue to suffer might be lessened.