If you read this yesterday or the day before, you saw this, if not… read on. I published this on my old blog, in 3 parts leading up to 9/11/2007. I have decided to republish them here. A few words on this… One, like much of my writing, this was an act of healing and catharsis. It is selfish. If you think that it is long, boring, self-focused, you may be correct. I wrote it for myself and put it out here. If you wish to read it, fine. If not, fine. Also, I wrote it at a different – very different – time of my life. Please factor that in when you read some of it and hear a certain tone. Your comments, as always, are welcome.
Finally, 124th Street and my destination appeared. My friend’s school offered an unusual and prayerful oasis. It was, as I mentioned a Catholic boys’ academy.
Many of the students were on scholarship, a great deal of them were there due to the hard work and sacrifice of their parents. It was quiet, calm, orderly- switching classes was in motion upon my arrival. There was no relationship to the madness and chaos, just 10 miles south.
The rest of the day was spent there- I guess I arrived about 1pm. While school carried on I sat in my friend’s tiny office, with its window looking southward, watching the sky. It was such a dissonant sight… Bluest sky- bright and clear; blackest smoke-thick and heavy. I surfed the Internet, listened to news radio, emailed friends from around the country and the world.
Clearly other than planes flying into the WTC and the Pentagon, then Flight 93 later in the day, much of the rest of the news was distorted and histrionic. How could it be otherwise?
My friend from London was emailing me quite a bit and I felt like it was so weird that she seemed to have more information than anyone in the U.S. I had a business friend from El Paso, TX who was definitely very conservative and very much in the “kill the bastards who did this mode”. We had a lively interchange that I think embarrassed us both in the end; me with my cries for peace and understanding and his for revenge and retribution.
Thoughts of the Oklahoma City bombing came to mind, when everyone figured that people of Arabic descent were involved only to find a true-blue American boy in Timothy McVeigh. Maybe this would be the same?
At some point however, the specter of fear returned and gripped me in a way that was both intimidating and intimate. That may have been the PTSD talking, but my shock slowly turned to a fear that had feet of lead. And those feet were planted firmly in my abdomen; its arms enveloped my heart and my lungs. Those feelings and their impact would follow me for the next few months in ways I could not imagine.
It was around 4pm, school was over and we had a brief prayer service with the Brothers who ran the school and a handful of teachers, a couple of students. We went back to A’s office and turned on the radio… The upper level of the George Washington Bridge was going to open very soon. We are out of here!
Making haste to A’s car, we got in and zoomed to the Harlem River Drive. Another TV movie moment while we were the first and almost only car on it. This road is never empty. Ever. And in an even more surreal twist, we were one of the first and only cars on the George level of the bridge. (The bottom level is called Martha, are you surprised?)
Please bear in mind; the sky is still the bluest blue, the clearest blue. We were giddy with excitement to be getting out of Manhattan, not knowing what would happen next; not really even knowing what had happened!
And then I glance southward… The sight of the Ground Zero was stunning. My friend almost stopped the car, which would have been fine, given how few cars were on the bridge. It seemed as if I was looking at the most beautiful vista with a huge whole blown through the center of it. That was what I was looking at. We fell silent, giddy no more and rode home without speaking another word.
Upon arriving at his house, we found A’s partner just home from school in Westchester. We all hugged each other and cried. We prayed. We prayed a lot; that was our life together, very bound together by prayer and what seemed like love. We ate dinner, we reveled in each other’s company, we watched TV, we discussed the madness of the day. Finally I went home; home to a house I had just bought and I wondered what would happen.
Things would never be the same again.
If you can believe it I followed through on having a planned housewarming the following Saturday. I wasn’t sure if anyone would show up and if it was even appropriate to have a party. However many people came and I think we all drew consolation from being together and having something to celebrate. One of my guests had lost a very close friend, but he came anyway. People were searching for connection, for meaning, for life.
There is a Temple near my house and in the coming days there were two WTC funerals there. It was alarming to see the many cars and attendees. This very real vision of the impact was happening, literally in my back yard.
Speaking of Temples, my cousin had just been installed as a rabbi in near-by New Jersey. I went to the formal installment services on a Friday night about 2 weeks after 9/11. This congregation (reform Judaism) had lost 4 people in the attacks. I couldn’t imagine how a new rabbi would cope with this, even one as good as my cousin. It marked his whole time there I believe. Watching all of this unwind was surreal.
My office building in mid-town Manhattan was plagued with bomb threats about 2-3 times a day. Me being me- even at the depths of depression realized it was not real, but it was really annoying. However it created an extra heavy layer of fear for so many. And having to leave your desk, walk 2-3 blocks away 2-3 times a day created problems of its own. Finally they let people decide to leave or not during the scares. I ususally stayed at my desk. That is one sanity point that I could grab onto. (It turned out to be a disgruntled mailroom employee at another company in the building.)
During the subsequent days, weeks, months – I became very physically ill with asthma and breathing problems. In my opinion there were multiple reasons for this. One was that my weight, which was very out of control at that time, got much more out of control. That is one of the worst things for asthma.
I was also an emotional wreck at the time. Ironically I had started with a new therapist on Monday September 10, 2001. Our work would be in a modality called EMDR in order to heal my remaining PTSD. What can I say- great timing indeed. Frankly, some weird karma had me re-open every trauma wound I ever had via 9/11, which I think facilitated real healing.
Why did I suffer from PTSD? As the saying goes, another story for another day, but the theme remains the same… no matter what happens, I lead the most graced life. All evil is counterbalanced by an abundance of good. What can I tell you? It is how it is in my life.
Additionally, I think and we know some of this to be true, the air was completely screwed up. No I wasn’t right there, but particles traveling 5 miles is nothing. It also did not rain for some time after 9/11, which no doubt added to what was blowing around.
As if that were not enough, I was traveling every week on business. It was only a fluke that I was not on a plane or somewhere else that day. I know people who were, as you might and their stories are remarkable. The stress of travel at that time was off the charts. I got so sick so often it was not funny. While it was not diagnosed at the time, I do believe I also had sleep apnea; again weight and breathing challenges contributed to this and stress, stress, stress!
I will add that my first travel after the event was on Monday and Tuesday, September 24-25. Flying over the then still-smoking ruins was horrifying.
If moved to do so, I could write a rather hilarious post about travel nightmares in the first 6 months or so that followed. Of course those days were nothing compared to today’s draconian lunacy of security. Everything from having my breasts seriously patted down by a zealous security guard, a woman at Tampa airport, to having my suitcase get opened after sloppy packing and having all of O’Hare see my dirty panties. It was a mess.
Easy for me to look back and laugh. I have a close friend who is Jordanian but has lived here for 25 years… His life has become a living nightmare and this man travels all the time. He is one of what are many stories of profiling and discrimination run amuck.
While I work less than a mile away from Ground Zero now, I can tell you that I have only been there once. That was in December of 2001; a friend came over to visit from London and she wanted to go. I felt like I was ready. As if one could be ready for such a thing.
It was very cold and bright that day, probably December 26 or 27, 2001. The sky was the same kind of blue as 9/11, which freaked me out. We got off the subway at City Hall and began to walk closer. I could feel my stomach contract in pain and fear. Uh-oh…
The closer we got to the area the more anxious I felt. We came upon St Paul’s Chapel, which was a place of refuge for rescue workers, who were still toiling. Seeing all the posted signs and pictures on the fence, brought me to tears.
Then I looked up and in the place where the Twin Towers had occupied the sky for many years, all I saw was clear, sparking blue sky. That same damned blue sky again! My soul collapsed in that moment; I fell apart.
My knees began to give way and I started to shake uncontrollably. I felt fairly certain that I would vomit or faint, although neither happened. The amount of people in the area alone was overwhelming, but I could not process the location and the information.
One feeling that overwhelmed me was a feeling that I had when visiting the Dachau Concentration Camp near Munich, Germany…. I pretty much lost it there- oh who am I kidding, I fell apart at Dachau. Anyway what I felt in Dachau and what I felt in lower Manhattan were the same… The oppressive weight of a place where many people died violently. That is how it struck me anyway and it felt more than I could bear at the time. The presence of souls not at rest maybe, I don’t know.
My friend wanted to get closer, but I simply could not do it. Off I went to nearby Trinity Church, a place where I had found comfort and silence before (I have a slight case of Episcopalian envy, all those velvet kneelers and pillows in the pews!) and fell to my knees. I heaved, I wept, I prayed. My friend came to find me a bit later; I had calmed down, but was not the same for the rest of the day.
Why haven’t I been back since? I just don’t want to go. From time to time I ponder a visit to the Century 21 Department Store, which is/was right across the street from the WTC site. However, I always decline. Is a bargain really that important?
The sky always seems empty when I drive downtown on the West Side Highway. Or when I look out the windows on that side of the building from my office. Very empty and strange indeed. It is a void. I never liked the way the buildings looked you know; however I do miss seeing them.
The thought often comes to me that someone who worked in that building may have been fearful and xenophobic, thinking that they wouldn’t travel outside the US, so that they could stay safe. And then the macabre thought follows that they looked up from their desk and before they could process it, a 767 flew in their window. A dark thought maybe. It is why I don’t want to live in fear; anything could happen anywhere, anytime.
From the second floor of my house I can see the Hudson River. For many months after 9/11 I felt tremendous bursts of anger when taking in the view. Yes, I hated the hijackers for using the river as a visual guide that they were on their way. They stole my river is how I felt.
From my front porch, I can always see the “Towers of Light” display that is done to commemorate the event. As you might imagine, I am not much one for this sort of thing, but this one is different for me. It actually looks amazing and no matter what, a lot of people died that day or thereafter, that did not deserve to. I stop and say a prayer for them. And think of all the people (have you seen Sicko?) who still suffer today after giving their all to try to help. Oh no, I feel an anti-Giuliani moment coming, I am moving on.
Somewhere in the spring of 2002 I very slowly started to come back from around the dark side of the moon. In its own crazy way, 9/11 was a gift. That gift was a key and the key unlocked the trauma that had dogged me most of my life. It hurts my heart to see that this is how the gift came, but I have had to make my peace with that. And I have been compelled to pass the gift on in the moments that I can. It has taken me to almost right now though, to be in a really good place.
Today I am about 50 pounds lighter, but still have weight to lose. (Special thanks to someone who is reading this and who helped me get started on that journey. You know who you are. Mwah, I love you , my ***-aleh.) Weight is a huge life challenge for me; luckily I am otherwise very healthy and try to keep it that way. The 50-pound reduction helped a lot though. I will keep at it.
Speaking of 50, I will turn that age in about 10 weeks. That piece of information delights me completely and I am grateful not only to be alive, but also to have the life I do. To me it is a remarkably blessed and graced gift, this life.
In April of this year I married a man I have loved in one fashion or another since 1978. We had a hiatus- say from 1980 to 2003. It is a great story about timing, fate and love. Or what is called in Yiddish, beshert. I could not be happier. I never had a child of my own, which was very much by my own choosing. That said, Mark has an incredible daughter whose life I get to share. When she tells me I am the best step-mom ever, tears fill my eyes. Frankly I never saw that one coming and I love it. What a reminder to keep the heart wide open.
In these years I have been able to travel to the Middle East not only once, but twice. Life has blessed me with great Muslim friends and I have a unique window into that world. For me it is all about building bridges. Reconciliation is my goal on many levels from the most personal to the most global. I struggle with my love/not-so-love relationship with Israel but I know I will return to that place, which is very special to me. In fact, if I could go to Israel tomorrow, I would go without hesitation.
The PTSD is pretty much behind me and I have been graced with healing that is so profound and deep that I almost can’t find words for it.
The words I do find relate holistically to my life, my heart, my spirit and the words are always exactly the same… Thank you God.