“No one ever loses…”

St Francis de Sales

St Francis de Sales

This morning as I prayed, I reflected on what this day means. Today’s very apt reflection for September 11 in Give Us This Day comes from St. Francis de Sales and begins:

“We find fault with our neighbor very readily for small matters, while we pass over great things in ourselves.”

When you read that on this (or any day) what strikes your heart? Are we a better people – and I am speaking collectively here – after the events of that day? Peering through the ash and smoke of my own wreckage, I can’t be sure that I am. Being critical is hardwired in me in a particular way that I dislike, and I have been working on this for a long, long time. Long as in moving Continue reading

My 9/11 Story – Part 2

If you read this yesterday, 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.

Again, it is hard to recall with exactitude the order of things. At some point someone figures out that there is a TV in our CEO’s office and even though she is not in, a bunch of us find our way into her office.

The size of the group enlarges so that many of us are crowded into this rather large space. We are transfixed by what we see. It is clear that Matt and Katie, whom we have been taught to believe are there to entertain us, are upset and have no real clue what is going on. The only certainty is this- planes were deliberately flown into the Twin Towers. They keep replaying the video of the second plane over and over again.

There are helicopter video views being shown as well. It’s hazy and smoky and the video is all jerky. This can’t be easy to shoot no matter how you slice it- practically or emotionally.

Suddenly the “Special Report” is broken into with a new Special Report”The Pentagon has been hit. WTF? Am I screaming out loud now…  or just in my head? This is completely totally f**ked-bad, my stomach lurches and heaves, I begin to sob and almost in slow motion I notice that almost everyone in the room is crying. A room filled with men and women, many of them seemingly stoic senior management types; all in tears and anguish. And fear.

This may seem oddly distant to you, but please keep in mind, while not in the thick of it, it was a scant 5 miles away, with black smoke clearly visible in the sky.

Now I am truly, deeply afraid. It’s primal now. Yet somewhere, somehow there is a bizarre calm in the center of me. You can mock my spirituality (NB: I had not fully outed myself as a religious writer when this was first published, nor was it for a very churchy crowd at the time) if you wish, but I know it held me afloat that day. Call it magical thinking if that pleases you; it provided me with the sanity that kept me on course and kept me from tearing my hair out and collapsing.

These moments have a heightened clarity to them. I leave the CEO’s office and go talk to X, my co-worker and the supervisor for the area I manage. She has a sister-in-law down there in the Towers, but remains calm. I know her husband is a NYC detective and that if he’s not in the thick of disaster yet, he will be running towards the event, not away from it. She is like a rock. That is her hallmark, this one… cool, calm and collected at all times. We are co-workers but mostly friends through the ages. She is unflinching. She is staying.

I on the other hand, am intent on leaving. There seems to be no place to go, but I have a clear goal…I want to be with someone I love. There is a reason for this; I am fairly certain in a very calm, quiet way that I might die on that day.

Of all the memories that I possess of this strange and horrifying day, that particular one stands out the most. I was certain I would die and I did not feel in the least panicked about it. Oh trust me, I felt horribly sad that life should end like this. It occurred to me as well that lots of people would die this day and what would that be like in the Kingdom? I had a darkly comedic image (even at that moment! my humor works overtime!) of long entry lines at the pearly gates. It wasn’t even all that spiritual. It just was a real thought.

Mostly I decided that if I were going to die, I would do so with reverence and awareness. Somehow I got through on the phone to a close friend. Close friend? At that time this man and his partner were the two closest people in my life, bar none. (Yes you have noticed a theme- my friend and his partner, my friend in LA and his partner. There is a long and beautiful history of gay men in my life.)

My friend was a teacher at a Catholic high school in Harlem. He suggested I walk up there and we would figure out what to do. The only way to leave Manhattan was on foot and since we lived in the same town, 25 miles north, we weren’t going to try that route just yet. We would be in Manhattan, but we’d be together. I liked that.

It was a comfort to know I would go to be with someone I loved. While I was so grateful to be headed to be with A, I was so saddened that we were separated from B, his partner, who was teaching at another school in Westchester. All I wanted to be was with my closest ones, my dearest companions, that is all.

Ultimately my co-worker and I called our team together; some folks wanted to stay and they would stay with her. Others, like me wanted to go. We left.

Before I left I made sure that I went to my one friend – Z, with whom I had a long friendship. We are not the types to have this kind of conversation, but I was compelled and followed my heart. I walked into this office and he was upset – upset and deep into his “blast all the foreign bastards!” mode and I was appearing as calm.

So all I said was “Z, I must tell you this. I don’t know if I will ever see you again.” This really got him more agitated but I pressed on, “Z, you must know this. I am going to say something that if it doesn’t happen will make me feel like a complete asshole, but we can then laugh about it for the rest of our days. If it does, then I won’t be sorry… Z, you are a great friend to me and I love you very, very much.”

This elicits a torrent of tears from me and from him as well followed by a hug that we didn’t want to end. Let me tell you, we have both laughed and cried about this event numerous times since then. I will never regret having blurted that out either!

Down the elevator I go and into the street. Park Avenue is a river of people flowing north. The day remains gloriously clear and bright. The sky is so blue; a blue that denotes only calm and peace. However a slight glance to the south brings a view of thick, black clouds of smoke.

I enter the stream of northward voyagers. It’s a long walk from 48th Street and Park to Harlem. This whole new shoes thing isn’t working out so well for me. Then I am struck with the thought – you are alive and headed somewhere, be grateful.

There is a deli, I enter it and buy 3 bottles of water; trained from 2 years of living in Los Angeles with earthquake mentality… Fresh water is a must. There are black car service cars (does this term make sense to anyone outside of NYC? The cars are what is black, ok? Town cars that take you to the airport, etc) drivers parked along Park Avenue, all with their radios tuned to the all news 880 WCBS or to1010WINS. People stop and listen. There is no traffic. No cars can go anywhere.

Hundreds of people file their way quietly and calmly up Park Avenue. I snake my way over to Madison, then Fifth. It is the same on those streets. It’s rather like a parade, albeit a dark and onerous one. No clowns, no poop, no floats. Just people, lots and lots of people.

People are just very quiet and very intent on getting somewhere. As I move up through the 50’s, then the Central Park area, the crowd begins to thin. The 60’s seem to siphon off most of my fellow journey-people, then the 70’s swallows a bit more. A few hearty souls are with me in the 80’s and even less in the low 90’s.

Next thing I know I am at 98th Street and Fifth and nary another human in sight. It was weird and I felt as if I was in some old 1970’s era TV movie of the week, disaster genre of course. Great – the world has ended and I am the only one left! That fed more than a few abandonment issue fantasies for me. More tears. At this point I know that insanity is hovering and hovering close.

Oh and then the sounds… the sounds- how could I forget to tell you about the pervasive sounds? While the flood of humans moved silently, there were so many other sounds. And the sounds were not good to my ears. In addition to still hearing sirens, I heard something that was worse. What I heard was the sound of F-16 fighter jets swooping around the sky over my head.

It was entirely disconcerting. They were there ostensibly to protect me – but to me they emitted sounds of terror, of war, of death. And you couldn’t see them… Just the ever-present sound. It was awful for me. Even now I write this and I can feel the physical discomfort in my stomach that I felt on that day.

As I progress into the lower 100’s and am in Harlem, people start to reappear. This was slightly before the most recent Harlem gentrification, so the sight of a white woman in a business suit, and those blasted new shoes, carrying her briefcase on this strangest of days, was probably a bit of a sight. I pressed on. Having been a frequent visitor to Harlem for many years, the place never scared me.

To my recollection the walk was about 5 miles and took me about 2 hours, but I can’t be certain. It was strangely pleasant- noise not withstanding. I had some interesting conversations with myself and even more interesting ones with God.

The further I walked, the more I calmed down; it was entirely cathartic as I got closer to the school. The certainty of death that was locked in my heart a few hours before seemed slightly less likely. Although the way the sounds of the F-16’s punctuated the clear day swayed me a bit. Insanity is like that- abandonment issues one moment and an eerie calm the next.

My 9/11 Story – Part 1

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.

This is a chronicle of what happened to me on September 11, 2001. Please note that I was never directly in harms way, I was 5 miles from Ground Zero, I did not personally know anyone who perished there. Other than being in New York City that day and right after that time, I lost no one or nothing directly.

My heart goes out to those who lost friends, family members, loved ones, co-workers, business associates. These are wounds that may never be healed. I do know many people who did live through it and all of them have such remarkable stories from that day.

The days that followed were filled with anxiety and confusion. And the posters and pictures, all over Manhattan… “Have you seen…” It was at once, completely heartbreaking and compelling.

That day seems to be the defining moment in the contemporary history of the world. In an instant, the seemingly impenetrable U.S. was smashed and smashed hard. In another instant we had the support of the world. In yet another instant that was squandered, in my opinion, by a leader who is a weak bully with world dominion on his mind and some apocalyptic world-view.

Iran is on the horizon as a possible target of war and I am horrified to my core. I write letters, make phone calls, post blog entries and do what I can to keep my voice loud and clear. And yes, I pray. A lot. It is what I do. My commitment to life, freedom, justice and peace for all people and to this world is unwavering. With that in mind, here is my story.

This is written because I need to write it. If you choose to read it, I thank you deeply. If not, no harm done. It just has to come out of me right now.

My memories from this day actually go back to two prior events. One was in April of 2001. I had just returned from a trip to Spain; I was a chaperone with a high school teacher friend, to a group of 12 boys from a local Catholic school. That adventure may be fodder for another story on another day. Anyway, there is a photo from the Alhambra in Granada to the left.

Upon my return from this journey, a young man in my office had all kinds of questions for me. His questions indicated that he was raised to mistrust all foreigners, to believe that life outside our own borders was sub-par and that danger lurked in every corner, once you left U.S. soil.
Oh, and that there was no toilet paper! Since he was in his early 20’s and his parents were only slightly older than me, I found this deeply disturbing. That is how my mother was taught to view the world; I hoped I had broken the chain in our family, anyway. Clearly this family’s chain was unbroken. In fact it had been fortified. (Did people in 2001 still think Europeans had bad toilet paper?)

In any event, this led to a discussion of fear of terrorists, which for me at that time was a concept completely off the charts to me. Do I fear terrorists today? Well, let’s say I fear for the world and that a bunch of guys in Tora Bora aren’t what’s completely worrying me now. What I fear now I feared then – extremist, dogmatic ideologues that want me to see their point of view or kill me. That is what I fear, no matter who they are or where they are from.

So we ended up having a big history discussion where I recommended that he study some past events as related to Spanish and world history. I believe I introduced him to the word xenophobic. He seemed to view any idea that did not glorify America, as anti-American. We talked about the idea that fanatical behavior and extremism were the problem; not Islam. Spin the wheel of world history and find someone intent on going over the edge, add one despot and mix well. That is the recipe of violence, division, fundamentalism and extremism over time.

In 14th century Spain, for good or ill, it was Los Reyes Catolicos (aka King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella) that were of a more fanatical bend. It was the Muslim world of southern Spain, al-Andalus that was a light in the otherwise darkness of the Middle Ages in Europe. In this young man’s eyes, extremist and Muslim were of one definition.

As for me, I am always grateful to have been to Andalusia (as it is called now) in southern Spain two times. To experience what was once the civilization to be envied and admired and that shunted aside by despotic extremists with an eye towards world domination. Hey wait, that sounds familiar!

The other moment in time that was part of the definition of 9/11 for me was Sunday September 9, 2001. Shopping at the mall, I saw a display for a company that chartered a really small plane (2 passengers and a pilot) that was being advertised for “special occasions”. A rather large cardboard cutout showed a fashionably dressed couple getting into the plane and another image of the plane on a clear night, flying with the Twin Towers as a backdrop. “Happy Anniversary Honey!” – it did not appeal to me!

Fast forward to 9/11, Tuesday morning. It is a glorious day. I go to work in mid-town Manhattan wearing a new suit and brand new shoes. The day is really spectacular. I get to work around 8am, coming from my suburban home. While sitting at my desk, someone comes to my door and shouts, “a plane flew into the World Trade Center!” Immediately I clicked onto Yahoo (I am not even sure Google existed yet, if you can believe that!) and saw a photo image of the smoking tower.

My mind immediately conjured up an image of that tiny excursion plane, having somehow gotten off-course and hitting the building. Many of us had similar small-plane thoughts, but mine was tied directly to the display I had seen at the mall on Sunday.

As I tried to find more information about the event, my computer froze on Yahoo, so I just went back to what I was doing. Frankly I was not at all concerned. I mean – I felt bad, but…

Not too long after this, the young man with whom I had discussed Spain, xenophobia, toilet paper and history with shows up at my door. He is wild-eyed and clearly frantic. Practically in tears he says, “The other building… they flew into that too! It’s an attack! It’s an attack!”

Now I am preternaturally (still, I might point out) programmed to not react in that kind of fear. Actually if I am very honest, I am preternaturally programmed in a very fearful way, so as I result, I have tried to train myself to react otherwise. God has been very good to me in general, in keeping me on that particular path of openness. This is in direct contrast to having suffered from extreme PTSD at that time. And you wonder why I love God so? The reasons are many… Anyway, I digress.

Speaking of preternaturally disposed, I am very much hard-wired to sarcasm. We won’t even explore what that means in relation to my psyche right now; I have spent years on the couch examining that one. My immediate need was to say something to the effect of “yeah, right!” and to this day, I marvel at the fact that the words were in my throat. And they just stopped. Yes- just like that- I did not smart mouth him. I am grateful that I did not.

Now somehow, I knew that something was happening. And happening a scant 5 miles from where I was. Something was happening that I knew was very bad indeed.

The next few minutes are confused… People running in the halls, shouting different things, fear was palpable in the air. I tried to go onto the internet- it was jammed from before, still no access. Suddenly the phone was not working- I was trying to make phone calls. It was working and then not working. My cell phone was not working at all.

The order of all this will never be clear to me. I finally get through to a friend in New Jersey who is home on maternity leave… she is paralyzed with fear and can’t speak. All that she can say is that we are under attack. I finally hang up; she’s not making any sense.

My assistant is hysterical; her husband works at the World Financial Center, next door to the World Trade Center. My office neighbor is blank with fear; her sister-in-law is in the Towers. There are no shortage of stories similar to this. (For the record, those two people were both physically fine, although had to go through a lot to heal.)

Finally, I get a dial tone again and call my really close friends in Los Angeles; by now I am screaming, hysterical. One friend is an attorney in a big firm in a big tower downtown. My screeching and insane voice tells him not to go to work; I’ve woken him up, he has no idea what I am saying. He and his partner click on the TV while trying to get me take it easy. They see what is happening, they stop trying to get me to calm down. It is only a little after 6am in LA; I have warned them, I hang up.

All of a sudden I have this heightened awareness. Here I am on the 21st floor of a glass and steel tower – a place that no outside noise ever, ever permeates. Except for today- all of a sudden I my ears are filled with the sound of many sirens. It is surreal and otherworldly… You can’t hear the outside world here. Today you can. There must be some seriously very bad shit going down out there, is all I can think. Seriously very bad shit…

To be continued…

From October 2007: Ground Zero, If Those Who Died That Day Returned… iPods, Cameras, Cell Phones, Blackberries, Hate and Fear

I know that the story about the Park 51 Community Center and so forth has died down. That said, I decided to republish something from my old blog. 

This post was originally published three years ago, in October 2007. That was on a blog is no more. Bear in mind, that was a different time in my life and I was a bit angrier than I am now. However, I came across it and it struck me that I wanted to put it out there, better late than never, in light of all the sanctity of Ground Zero talk. 

In any event, October 2007 was my second visit to Ground Zero after 9/11, the first visit was in December of 2001. This was my reflection written nearly 3 years ago. 

In my workplace we have a “mobility program” which loosely translates into, you don’t have an office or cube anymore, you work from home a lot. Given my life in two cities, my job in transition and more, this program works for me. It was a little sad to give up my office recently, but not that sad really.

In any event, I have gone “mobile”. Which I suppose is better than going “postal”!

So while I worked from home during the day, I did head into Manhattan for dinner. My plan was to get to Grand Central Station at about 4:15 and walk down to just south of Union Square, where I would meet my friend.

As I waited for the train I had a little epiphany moment and decided to go to Ground Zero. If you read any of my 9/11 series of posts, you will know that I only went to Ground Zero once, in December of 2001. 

Anyway, I knew that this could not be ignored so when I got off the train at Grand Central, I whisked myself off to the subway.

It was weird to think about going and I wondered how I would feel. So imagine my shock and surprise when I got there and felt… (insert song from “A Chorus Line” song here…) nothing, I felt nothing.

Well, maybe that is not completely accurate. I felt ambivalent. Also I felt some anger at the fact that despite the proclamations of Rudy Giuliani, President Bush and myriad of other voices that “America would win!” (win what?) we still have not built anything there.

God knows the hole in the ground was filled with construction vehicles, construction workers and noise. There were security people posted all over the place. But what is going on there? Seriously?

I felt very sad about the dead and imagined them, prayed for them. My heart felt heavy over this place. It thought of how before, I had such a great sense of the deaths here and now, a void. At which point, this thought came upon me – what if the 9/11 dead could suddenly come back to life! What would they see here? What would they think or feel?

They would see what I saw- tourists by the busload. A group of what I believe were French-Canadian teenagers on a field trip who were busy goofing around and kicking a soccer ball around the platform where you can stand. The several teachers who seemed to be their chaperones… looking bored and chain smoking. A homeless guy was playing “Battle Hymn of the Republic” on a recorder and begging for change. (now there is a metaphor for you!) And cameras… so many cameras! Lots of photo snapping -snap, snap, snap. People pouring into the PATH station, which lies underneath, as if unaware of the macabre location. Such is the life of a commuter.

The dead would see cellphones – so many more than were around when they died. They would see Blackberries in everyone’s hands as they walked and read. They would notice the ubiquitous white ear buds of a million iPods and other players, as we tune out the world around us.

They would notice that Manhattan was awash in 3 particular types of retail establishments… There are more Duane Reade Drugstores than ever, Starbucks on every corner and banks on every street. How many damn bank branches do we need? (2010 note: Banks, oh the banks, if we knew then what we would start to learn less than a year later…) Oh – and the nail salons everywhere.

We have become a city of Starbucks drinking, manicured, Duane Reade shopping bank people. Is this what the dead would see?

Sarcasm aside, what the dead might sense as they looked around, would be a mix of anger, ambivalence, hate, fear. That struck me as so sad. They died so that we could all be self-righteous and fearful? How pathetic is that?

The whole thing upset me so much, although in a very different way from being upset in 2001. 

Anyway, feelings flying, I did exactly what I did last time I was there in December of 2001. I fled, although with very different emotions, to Trinity Church, the oldest Episcopal church in Manhattan, a few blocks south of Ground Zero.

The last time I was down there – and filled with emotion from what was still so raw, I ran there in tears and feeling so much pain. This time I felt an emptiness that I did not know what to do with. So it was off to Trinity, to see if I could make some sense of this.

Ah Trinity, a beautiful place. It is very soothing to me. You’ve got to love that old “high church” feel… velvet seat cushions and kneeling pads. I spent some time there trying to reconcile the horror of that day and the lack of change at the spot and the whole spectrum of thought and feeling that have defined the subsequent years. It felt very hard to get clarity on any of it, so I just surrendered to my prayers and the silence.

In the end I said my prayers, left, walked up Broadway to get to 11th Street. It would take me awhile, but the walk would do me good.

As I proceeded by the WTC site, one block away on my left, I was struck with a familiar feeling from December 2001… Where there were once buildings and no light there was nothing but sky, blue blue blue sky.

There was nothing.