Eleven Years



It was one of those days where you remember where you were, what you were doing, who you were with. Eleven years ago today: it was a few minutes after 9 AM, and I was coming out of the 2/3 Wall Street Subway stop and I looked up and noticed pieces of paper falling through the bright blue sky. It was a surprising sight. I continued to walk as I looked up. I thought maybe the paper was ticker tape, related to the mayoral democratic primary that was to happen that day. But somehow, I also knew that it wasn’t. That it meant something different. I thought to myself “I’ll always remember this moment,” not knowing what it could possibly mean. I arrived to my building, 120 Wall Street. The building was an anomaly, the non-profit building of Wall Street. I found out later by pure coincidence I had two friends who worked also at two different offices in that building. As I entered, it became clear that something was going on. Someone was crying in the elevator. Once I got to my office, the headquarters of the organization Jewish Child Care Association, I found out what had just happened. A plane had hit the World Trade Center. How could that be true? It seemed impossible. We turned on the television. It was true, and then another one hit. And then one collapsed. And then the other one collapsed. Each one was unbelievable all over again. Panic hit me. I got a few phone calls from friends and from my mom to check to see if I was okay. Looking out the windows, the streets were covered in gray ash. People ran into the lobby of our building to take refuge. No one knew where it was safe to be. Nowhere felt safe. I couldn’t decide what to do, where to go. Should I go downstairs? Should I go home? It seemed absolutely wrong to go outside, to walk over the bridge, back to Brooklyn. And yet, after hours of waiting, a small group of people from my office convinced me to walk over the bridge with them. It didn’t seem like a good idea, the bridge felt like a target, and yet, what else could I do? My cousin called, who was in Brooklyn, and he agreed to pick me up on his Vespa on the other side of the Brooklyn Bridge. I walked in my small group, thousands of others were walking too, making our pilgrimage to the bridge. Everything was covered in the gray ash. We walked slowly. There were no cars. We made it to the other side. My cousin was there, and rode me home to my uncle’s house, where his wife was waiting with pasta and wine. We all drank and talked manically. I slept at their house that night, in the basement apartment. It was best not to be alone. When I woke up the next morning, the nightmare was still inside me. It was a collective nightmare. Some lived it much more closely and still do. Everyone looked for love wherever they could find it.

Several days later I wrote this:


Finally a place to rest my weary decade-ridden head. I rise and wait for further cities to burn. But we all hear the same song. I don’t mind if you sing, but please remember to drink clean water and not to blame time. Time is always the same. I thought I was born in the wrong time: time (who is older) has proven me wrong.

I am older this week. I am centuries old. Like the rabbi said, I see the face of god in the faces on the subway. The space around them shrinks and turns gray, towards history. But the faces have the colors that painters see. The faces show that our hearts have expanded to show how death has always been part of us. We are older now, but really, we have always been older. We just didn’t see a use for it. Now we have many uses: to walk, to light candles, to dig, to share our own blood, to sing old songs, to embrace ourselves by embracing others.

I am swollen with grief but I am alive. I burst daily in little ways. I try not to hide from the symbols that alienate me. I try to look beyond symbols,beyond unnatural boundaries, beyond fearful unity. I look instead for truth. Every symbol contains a lie. That is natural. But what is left that does not contain a lie? A tree. A dog. A sister. A dance. An office. Perhaps all things contain lies, but to see purely is to see myself in the face of the world. Whether it is ugly or beautiful. All things are both ugly and beautiful. That is truth. We knew this before and now we realize this. I realize this: to be useful takes me on a journey. At one time, I felt my life was stagnant and I was stuck under heavy fallen walls. Now I see that every moment can be a journey and those walls are fear of those journeys.

At a time like this people feel humble. They feel they have suffered less than others, they feel their words and actions are inadequate. People even feel guilty, ashamed of having any petty thoughts, any thoughts other than thoughts of victims. I say it is a time to be as big as possible. To appreciate the words and thoughts and art and breath and life we do have. To say I am not humble, I am human. Anything we do can be important, if we do it with care, thought, truth, strength, courage, love... there are so many people in this world, we all count for something. Unspeakable acts have happened before and they will happen again. It is time to start realizing how our actions affect others, even those who live in other countries who speak other languages who believe different ideologies. It is time not to shrink, but to expand. The more we expand as people, the more people will remember what is to be human. At a time like this, people feel sentimental, they generalize in order to feel better, in order make sense. People are ready to rush to judgement; they call others evil; I don't think I believe in evil. I think I'd rather believe in something a little more human. Evil relates to god, to the devil or god's enemy. It is hard for me to find solace in god at a time like this I know that others need that, and that is fine. But I hope that their connection with God eventually leads them to other beings here on earth. I hope religious leaders are able to help people with that connection. God is important in the way all things are important: plants, humans, dogs, houses, mountains, dirt. If we see god in these things that is fine. But if we see only evil in other human beings then we don't understand them. We have failed to try to educate ourselves. I hope that everyone feels the joy and beauty as well as responsibility of being a person born on earth. I hope everyone who is fortunate enough to have access to education and communication takes advantage of these blessings and passes them on in whatever way they can. The way in which they choose to pass on their humanity, that is the joy and beauty of life, the importance of this act, that is the responsibility of being human.