Lessons Learned from 9/11

New York, New York, the greatest survivor to teach me how to survive ,we’re at your service.

I wrote the following post two years ago, as a Day of Service passage for the 9/11 victims, survivors, and their loved ones. Do you remember where you were on 9/11?  What messages from the media and global voices resonated with you most?  Most importantly,  how did the event affect your perspective on humankind? September 11th drudged up the darkest and most luminous parts of humanity–our propensity to pour out our souls at the 11th hour, and allow our minds and egos to catch up with what our spirits have always known. We are one. And, we need not worry about praying for time when we revel in the present, and just listen.

 

It started like any other ordinary flourescent-lit work day at the TechTV news bureau in New York’s trendy Chelsea neighborhood.  On September 11, 2001, the only occurrence that deviated from the norm during my morning walk from the subway was that I finally stopped to listen to the fortune teller on the corner of West 26th Street and 9th Avenue. She told me my spirit had evolved to the greatest heights imaginable to man. Then she touched my hand and said, “time is on your side, sweet spirit.”   Her words struck me.  At that point in my life, I was many things, but “sweet” was not one of them. New York had toughened me, and I spent a solid year sleep walking through life on the pulse of a little black heart that was dying to throb in red again.

As soon as I got to my desk, I turned on all of the monitors to see what kind of action the international markets had seen.  Just as I was about to sit down and eat my morning yogurt granola strawberry parfait, my field reporter Jean called from NASDAQ.

“The World Trade Center is on fire!!!”  she exclaimed.

“WHAT?!”

I ran to the television and gasped at the sight before me.  Smoke and fire blazed from the top of one of the towers.  My news anchor ran to the set.  The bureau chief began making calls, while I phoned the camera crew to send them to down to Wall Street.

In what felt like attoseconds, a plane flew into the other tower.

“We’re under fire!” screamed my co-producer Jessica.

The phones sounded off like alarms, while the bureau chief began giving us all instructions on how to carry out the rest of the morning until our camera crew returned with footage.

Amidst all the panic and chaos, I suddenly realized that time had never been more on my side.  I remembered I had made plans to fly to San Francisco that day.  As fate would have it,  a few days prior to the tragedy I had rescheduled my flight for the following week.  I also paused to digest the fact that exactly a week prior to 9/11 I was at the World Trade Center interviewing an financial analyst.  Questions raced through my mind.  Where was he now?  And, how many people did I know that weren’t going to make it out of the rubble alive?

The next morning, I walked to the bus stop on 75th St. and First Avenue to find only two other people waiting. The three of us stared at the dead calm street and recounted the previous day to one another. Before the bus arrived, I picked up the latest edition of The New Yorker. The cover was drawn by my favorite comics artist Art Spiegelman, who is in my book one of the all-time greatest graphic illustrators of gut wrenching emotion and loss.

And, then. It rained.  I don’t remember for how many days, but the sky fell hard in the days that followed.  The media, people on the streets, the heart of the City, they all grew more and more despondent as hope for finding any WTC survivors withered along with the remains of the once magnificent Twin Towers – former symbols of ambition, capitalism, prosperity and the Free World.  After the fall, if it hadn’t been for the heroic fire fighters and police officers of New York, nothing but death and destruction would have been left looming in the fumes.

The countless missing person signs that lined the walls of Grand Central and Times Square were almost unbearable to see. I lost my college roommate in a car accident earlier that year.  That had been one of my first tastes of death, and I wore it like an oversized wet cloak for a considerable amount of time.  I wondered how the great city that kicked my ass repeatedly would ever recover.

A few months later, I relocated to San Francisco only to return to Manhattan for another round a year later.  I remember being shocked at how many pregnant women I saw walking the streets.

“Is it just me or is everyone in New York pregnant,” I asked a friend one day, as we strolled through Central Park.

“It’s the new thing,” she replied. “Right after September 11th, a bunch of people got married, and now they’re all popping out babies.”

“Praying time will be on their side,” I thought to myself out loud.

Two years later, I moved to Los Angeles, which I now gladly call home.  I talked often about traveling to New York for a visit.  But for five years, there was always something that got in my way – until now.

I’m writing this blog post at 3:05AM September 11, 2010 in a New York hotel two blocks from the old TechTV satellite bureau, where I was the day the WTC was attacked.  My heart is tremendous, throbbing, and red again. It feels so correct to be back in the city that taught me to stand tall, especially in the face of adversity.  The noise and crowds no longer feel like obstacles to obtaining peace and happiness.  They dawn on me in shades of awakenings and  opportunity.

I’ll always love you, New York.  How sweet it is to finally come full circle.  My heart goes out to everyone who lost a loved one on 9/11 nine years ago.  I am at your service.

I wrote the following passage last year as an ode to all I lost, learned, and loved while living in Manhattan.

NEW YORK

You made a woman out of me, Manhattan.  You – with your iron will, mammoth hands, and enchantingly unforgiving height.  It’s no wonder you were a soldier in another life, possessing the best and worst of times, purple triumphs, and the most lurid crimes.

Unwittingly, I fell into your fold twice when I most needed lessons in humility.  Fearless and unstoppable, I stomped through the hot heart-beating streets of SoHo with all my dreams in front of me.  Two months later, I lost my innocence on the corner of Broadway and Houston, where the offices were just dorm rooms dressed in corporate conservatism.

I have never been so tired and tireless.  I have never cried as much or ever been as humbled, surviving the dot com blood bath, and seeing the Towers crumble.

How I resented you and clung to you, Manhattan, for seducing me but not keeping me safe and warm.  Being with you was like being romanced by a rock star, exhilarating and exhausting, enticing and extreme, decadent and deadly, and oh so much fun.

You are one giant organism, Manhattan, a microcosm of the Universe itself.  The rats and cockroaches kept me company when I trudged along the subway tracks during the Blackout of ’03.  And Times Square was so still and magnificent, as we sped through traffic lights on the back of David’s motorcycle at 4AM.

I will always love watching the boys shoot hoops on W. 4th Street, listening to the Sounds of Brazil, feeling the ghosts groove at Terra Blues, playing telephone through the secret passage ways of Grand Central, and smiling at my favorite fortune teller in Chelsea.  I still think about that rock I perched myself upon in Central Park, the day I sank into the ultimate pit of despair when missing person signs covered the City, and fumes from Ground Zero filled the air.

I cannot speak ill of you, Manhattan.  You – the greatest survivor to teach me to survive.  One day, we’ll come full circle because you brought me back to life.

 

 

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