The day when everything changed

I taught my 2nd day of full-time classes that day. I had no idea that anything had happened because I was commuting to school. I fell in the middle of Tremont Street, in Boston, just minutes after the 1st tower fell. Some man reached down and helped me stand up.  I didn’t realize that I had fallen at the same time as the 1st tower, until the 1st yr anniversary when we all stopped in stillness in the same Tremont train station…steps away from where I fell a year before. That day, I bustled to my new teaching job. I began introductory breath awareness work w/ students. Thirty minutes in and a young man barged in to announce: “There is a bomb. School is closing.” I was confused. A bomb? I calmed the class and encouraged them to remain connected to breath awareness even in this moment of panic. We all began to walk down the stairs. I still was confused. The young man who had blurted out the panicked statement saw my face and realized that I had no idea what he was talking about; that I’d actually misunderstood him.  There was no bomb in the building.  However, school indeed was cancelled. Standing in a large enclosed staircase I looked down at him. He blurted out “Oh I’m so sorry, you don’t know what’s going on. The Twin Towers – they’ve pancaked. Two planes crashed into them and they’ve collapsed.” I stood a flight above and felt my legs collapse again.  Unlike earlier in the morning, they held my weight, for I froze in my steps.  The view of this upbeat, handsome music theatre major and the sound of his voice became distorted.  It sounds cliche now…but truly…to remember every moment of that day, from the fall in the street to the time that I returned home, was a kind of suspended state of shock.  After I heard the words spoken by the unwitting student, in that moment, I truly feared that this was the beginning of World War III…and in a way, I suppose I was right. For me, since the age of about seven, New York City had been the epicenter of my imagination and ambitions.  I wanted to live there, create there, be part of the world there. To imagine that the WTC could be demolished was beyond any possible comprehension beyond an episode of some Twilight Zone episode.

I found my way down the stairs, and began to wander aimlessly. A colleague warned me not to go to the student union, not to look at any TV or listen to a radio, until I was safely back in Rhode Island. “Get home safely first, Laura. Then you can see it.” They were the wisest words.  And so as I travelled the 50 miles home, it was as if I was suspended in time. It was the quietest commute I’ve ever experienced. No one spoke on the train but whispers. No planes flew overhead once I got in my car.  There were no cars on 95.  Yes, on 95!!!  It’s as if the world had suddenly become frozen.  And this still seems accurate in a way.  The world has been in a kind of lock down, of a sort…war began that day, and has not stopped since.

On that drive, there was an eerie silence on such a beautiful cloud free day. I arrived home. My Mother had recently moved from Arizona to live with me. I unlocked the door. She greeted me w/ surprise “You’re home so early.” There was freedom and delight in her voice. I met that light, first w/ silence and then began to cry. Gently responding: “Oh Laura it’s going to be okay, whatever it is.” I stretched out my arms to hug her and sobbed “Nooooo, it is not okay…I’m sorry…” My grief cascaded and began to frighten her. She clutched me. My frozen state met up w/ her fear, “What is it, Laura. What’s happened.” All I could say in response was: “Nothing will ever be the same.” She began to cry hearing my dark insistence. “The Twin Towers have fallen. They’ve been hit by 2 planes. That’s all I know.” We walked to the couch, sat close to one another holding hands, wept, said a prayer, and then turned on the tv. We barely turned it off for 2 days straight. We sat there and wept.  I had to go back to school and teach the following day.  I didn’t know how this was even possible.  I had lived in New York City, friends lived there still. My brother was to have flown there the day prior.  The world had changed and yet I had to return to the place where 1 of the planes had originated.

Indeed, none of our lives has ever been the same. I’m still teaching voice and breath awareness, but no longer at the same school. My Mother is still living with me. But our lives, all lives, have shifted in countless ways…and there’s no looking back. For me, being present, really taking the time to listen and see, finding kindness in the heart of others, for myself…these are the only things that have come to matter. Many of us in the U.S. have been so sheltered and naive.  Others have lived with terror, of course. But we *do*  know this more deeply here now, than ever before. I keep the families that were left behind, in my prayers. I take one step at a time. I treasure my vocation as a voice/speech teacher, my family relationships, my friendships, all with an ever deepening appreciation.  Gratitude is the legacy…and looking for peace…w/in myself, my relations, in the world.  I try to be more patient w/ others and myself.  I’m not always successful.  But this is part of the growing awareness.  I meditate more frequently…I love the faces of the people in my life.  I am ever glad to be alive. When I’m not, I dig deep to find out why.

May we all embrace our gifts *and* our brokenness. May we find a way to build stronger, healthier, more creative and kinder communities: one hand, one breath, one step at a time.  We’re only beginning.  Beginner’s mind is the joy…finding the wisdom in falling and getting back on my feet.  Life is simpler now, in a world that perceives ever greater complexity.  Paradoxes abound.

Blessings to all.