September 11th, 2001 began like any other day for me, as a Social Worker in a nursing home in Philadelphia. I had walked into the dining room on my floor where some of the Residents were finishing their breakfast. The tv was on and what I saw, felt very much like an action movie. A plane had just crashed into one of the Twin Towers. I shook my head in utter disbelief when I realized that this was no movie….it was a real life horror production. And then the plumes of smoke rose from the second impact. Reports began coming in from DC and then Shanksville, PA. As for most people, in surrealistic shock, the events fell into all too vividly clear reality. My next thought was that I wasn’t going to give the terrorists my fear, since I know that collective emotions feed destruction or creation. I chose love over fear in that moment. One of the mixed blessings of dementia; as was the diagnosis of some of my Residents, is that they had no clue what was swirling about in the world at that moment. Some of them were Holocaust survivors, so they knew the horror of hatred. The staff members comforted each other as well as those of the Residents who had the cognitive ability to know what had transpired, as we rode the emotional roller coaster.
I had another pressing reason to remain calm. My sister in law and brother in law lived in Hoboken and worked in the financial district; she in the fitness center at American Express, he at one of the companies that printed stock certificates. I was unable to reach her by phone, and so, like everyone else, needed to wait and pray. Later in the day, I did hear from her. She had taken the ferry in and had arrived in time to see the second plane hit and was able to turn back around and head home. He had been late getting to work and never made it to the city, blessedly. In the months that followed, I heard so many stories like that…delays that would have frustrated people, now were hailed as lifesaving. Would that we remember that in times that are not crisis laden.
September 11th was a huge mixing pot of the soup of the human experience:
anger, fear, rage, compassion, love, relief, denial, mobilizing, retaliation, reconciliation, determination, heroism, healing, cooperation and co-existence.
In the wake of it, came two things that for me, were reinforcements of what I know is so…that even in the face of darkness, a light radiates brightly. The first was what I saw written in white paint on the back window of a co-worker’s car that has since become a bumper sticker that I have gratefully had on my car. “God Bless The Whole World, No Exceptions”. The second was a song by Philly area singer songwriter John Flynn called “I Will Not Fear” that echoed one of those initial thoughts I had on that day 10 years ago. People began working together worlwide as a paradigm shift took place. We became a gobal community, not so much polarized by nationality, borders and boundaries, but instead, joined at the heart, in order to survive and thrive.
My friend, Sherri Rosen sent me this story about her experience and asked that I offer it to you; from the perspective of a New Yorker.
“I didn’t think too much about 9/ll coming up this year, 2011, until a mutual connection of a friend asked me to speak on a panel regarding 9/ll. The panel would speak after a performance of this play called Orange Alert: people’s experiences before, during and after 9/ll.
It begins today in NYC and runs through until Sept l8th. I said to the man interviewing me about being on the panel, “oh my story is different, you probably won’t be interesed. I went to live at Ground Zero after the event. There was silence.
He said “most people were running away and you went their to live. That’s amazing”
My oldest son, along with his girlfriend and her young son at the time survived 9/ll. They were headed into the direction of the World Trade Center at around 8:40AM when they realized that a crowd of people were running towards them away from the buildings. My son later said to me “mom, we saw things that no one should see in their lifetime.” I didn’t hear from him until l2 noon that day. I had no idea whether he was alive or dead. The next day, I took a train into the City from NJ, where I was living at the time. I was the only one on the train and when I got out into the streets of NYC there was no one. But I headed straight to where my son and his girlfriend worked. I just wanted to hold them, touch them, and know they were really alive.
It got me thinking about the 7 years I lived there. 9/ll changed the course of my entire life. I had no plans of living there, I was going to move back to NYC from central NJ in 2002 to Gramercy Park. That’s where I belonged, but then the real estate broker, who was a friend of mine, told me about the apartments in Ground Zero and would I take a look at some of them. I did and then to my surprise I received what I can only refer to as a “calling” to move down there and help heal the community and the neighborhoods. And that is what I did. I became friends with the gardner, Richard, of City Hall Park. Richard takes care of 8 acres around City Hall Park and I learned so much from him about what was in the garden from 9/ll and about The Memorial Grove at City Hall Park, where 6 or 7 trees that survived the attack at the WTC were replanted in this Memorial Garden alongside trees that survived the Oklahoma bombing. I call this place the Green Cathedral.
While living downtown I became an interfaith minister and part of a vibrant community called Tribeca Spiritual Center, headed by my dear friend, Rev. William Grant. My other dear friend, Rev. Salima, was the other interfaith minister that was part of this dynamic trio. We would give services to the community every other Sunday within the doors of The Hallmark Senior Residence located in Battery Park. TSC was originally located in Manhattan Community College, but after the event, TSC lost its space, because the school was so badly damaged, so they met on street corners, helped their neighbors organize, met in the Bubble Lounge and eventually were asked to be in The Hallmark Senior Residence.
One year I gave a service in The Memorial Grove a/k/a The Green Cathedral. I wanted to give a memorial service around things that survived and thrived after 9/ll and I wanted to be around those trees that were replanted there. Many of us cried and hugged those trees in gratefulness that something like that had survived such an ugly and evil event.
I also began working with the seniors who lived on the 2nd floor of The Hallmark. These people had Dementia and Alzheimers. I had never worked with this segment of the population before, but I jumped right in. I managed to connect with a music therapist at The Jewish Hospital for The Aging on W. l06th Street, and was invited to participate in a music session with folks who had dementia and Alzheimers. I will never forget seeing a man humped over in his wheelchair appearing lifeless and when he heard the music he began humming the tune and he came alive. I learned that to work with this segment of the population we would sing songs together, see photographs of people, places and things, and have visitors come in from all over NYC and even Scotland to sing to these people about their lives. This was a part of their brain that worked and they came alive.
I also did healing work while I was there. I have many skills and one of which is being a publicist. So I took my publicity skills and booked my healing teacher, Dr. Peter Levine, the creator of Somatic Experiencing, and began booking him on radio and tv interviews so he could help people deal with the trauma. He would give them first aid for trauma such as telling them not to watch too much tv, stay away from the radio, be around people you love. Simple things, but things we need to be told when we are suffering from trauma. A group of us also setup a trauma hotline right after the event. It was for anyone that was in trouble and needed help.
So the gentlemen that asked me to be part of the panel really opened up for me how my life changed when I went to live at Ground Zero. I will never forget.”
Ten years later, we are more resilient than ever, a global family that sometimes is dysfunctional but sticking by each other nonetheless. Like it or not, we need each other. Honoring the memory of those who died on that day, whether by happenstance or choice, in the line of duty as rescuers, I challenge us as a planet, to heal through the power of love.
http://youtu.be/g0tSC8x3V9E I Will Not Fear by John Flynn (I was there for this performance and it still brings tears to my eyes)