9/11. I was visiting home on Long Island for the week, a short break from naturopathic medical school that had just begun on the west coast. Coming in from a morning run – the world blasted open as I heard a relative yelling into the answering machine – Turn on the TV! Turn on the TV! A plane just hit the world trade center!
Jumping in front of the set, I turned on the screen just in time to see a plane crashing into the second twin tower.
My memory from that moment on is a series of vivid images. Grabbing my bag and jumping in the car. The American flag flapping in the wind on a particularly beautiful fall morning. The slowed down movements of the people walking in town.
Wanting to shout out, "Do you know what just happened? Wake Up!"
The sign outside the local bar – ‘Say a Prayer’. The hours seated in a classroom in a closed down school in Tribeca, waiting to be called as a medical student volunteer.
The incredible softness of the gray ash, 6 inches deep – shuffling through it as I wandered through Chinatown to get to Ground Zero. Gathering the millions of bits of cards and letters and photos, the memories of people from the desk spaces they would never sit in again.
I wanted to remember.
And then - the outpouring of food from the restaurants of NYC, delivered to Ground Zero in large metal catering trays. Lasagna, meatballs, spaghetti – all ready to be served up to the ironworkers and fire people who couldn’t bear to stop and eat. The respirators and masks we volunteers were supposed to wear – and didn’t. Hundreds of thousands of candles in Union Square and around the world, hugs shared on the subway, a feeling of intimacy and closeness in a city unused to tragedy.
The day that changed our lives forever.
And for many many others around the world.
Some of us may know crisis in our personal lives too. A terminal illness. Divorce. A separation. Death. Betrayal. A moment in time that defines all the moments after.
For me – this happened two years ago. I experienced a ripping apart of the world as I knew it.
My personal life was upended. The specific details are unimportant. The hallmarks are all the same. Extreme lows. Anxiety. Fear. Despair. Extreme anger that had me so consumed most of those days that I didn’t know how to put one foot in front of the other. And I had two small children that were mine to care for.
At that time I could not see my way through – but fortunately people showed up in my life that could see it for me. I learned how to lean on them for daily support, to take instruction from them and to practice one moment at a time.
I learned how to pray with the fierceness that comes from the wellspring of grief and anguish. I allowed an opening for a personal God to enter my life.
It took one full year of regular practice before I could stand up, smile with my whole being, and feel profoundly grateful for the gifts this crisis had given me. What has resulted has changed my life forever.
I no longer feel alone. I have a trust in myself that is the result of new found and deep trust in life. I have a strong daily practice of meditation and prayer. I have a carved out open space in me that can sit with and be with others in pain. I am kinder and gentler – to myself, with my family, with the people around me. I am less judgmental. I hold my tongue and practice patience.
And I will say lastly this – that all of this change came from the first step – a willingness to listen. A willingness to ask for help. A willingness to try things a new way. A willingness to be patient. And ultimately, a willingness that was born of desperation.
It’s a continuing work in progress. One step at a time.
Please join the conversation – share with us the gifts that crisis have brought you – or your own memories of 9/11 on this particular day in time that changed everything.