Fear, Potential, and Everything Else

Two days ago, a friend and I sat shoulder to shoulder on a pier looking out from Brooklyn, facing the Manhattan skyline.

It was night, so it was dark, but the air was balmy and it felt more like mid-summer than mid-September. It was quiet, but not empty. The jangling sound of dog’s leashes and the low murmur of conversation across the pier could be heard consistently. And the skyline, well, coming straight out of the skyline were two lights shining, dramatic against the dark sky, reaching up and up, reflecting on the clouds above it.

I don’t remember 9/11.

Something about that unsettles me a lot. I was here, but I wasn’t. I was alive, on earth, probably playing with dolls or something similarly inconsequential, while the largest terrorist attack occurred on U.S ground.

As an adult living in New York now, every year at 9/11, I go through the same emotions.

Horror, shock, and in a weird twisted way – guilt, because I feel horrible that it’s taken me this long to understand the gravity of that day.

Yesterday, I found myself reading things about 9/11 – particularly transcribed phone calls and voicemails left for family members of those who lost their lives on Flights 11 and 175. I couldn’t help it, I couldn’t stop reading, as nausea grew inside me, as my mind was literally begging me to stop.

When I was a kid, for some reason we had a VHS in our home of a documentary about 9/11. It was graphic and detailed and scary, and my mom had kindly asked of my older siblings that it not be shown to the younger kids. I don’t know if I begged, or if my older brother was actually out to traumatize me, but I have clear memories of watching that VHS over and over in our basement, terrified beyond words. That is where my 9/11 memories begin, at 7 and 8 years old.

“Don’t worry, Dad, if we go down, it’ll happen quickly.”

Those words were said from a son on a plane, to a Dad on the ground, over a voicemail*.

When I read that, my heart exploded in anger. I suddenly wanted to punch G-d in the face. I wanted to yell and scream, and at that moment, I had no clue.

I had no clue how we all just kept walking around in a world that is so clearly so deeply flawed and messed up, I had no clue how anyone could ever bring more children into this planet.

I couldn’t believe that it took me 22 years to reach that point of absolute disgust.

And for ten minutes, I sat seething, and I wrote words like this:

“What exactly is the point?

Some days are overflowing with meaning and purpose and you can see it all written across the sky. You can smell it in the air – it’s called beauty and growth.

Some days are just dry. They’re regret-filled, and maybe tear filled, or maybe just tired. They’re hard to get through, and they feel hopeless and pointless.”

And then I stopped writing, because I didn’t even feel like putting words in the world. Which is why I’m writing the rest of this this today.

I don’t have any answers, not a one.

I know that when I sat on that pier, in the dark night, I saw what I thought were two low-flying planes right over the skyline. My stomach clenched and I said “what the heck are those planes doing?”

And my friend showed me that they were helicopters. And I remembered me that helicopters fly around the city every single day, and we had already seen a whole bunch of them.

I was comforted for a moment, before I realized that one day, not all that long ago, for real, people looked up and wondered “what the heck is that plane doing?” and in the next moment, everything was lost.

It was just a normal September day.

I was watching the recordings of the live CNN coverage from that day, and I was blown away by the way that the anchors continuously discussed the first plane crash as a horrific accident, a horrible mistake.

We live in a world today that a horrific mistake would be assumed to be a form of terrorism, and that makes my stomach sick.

I live in a world that my stomach clenches in fear all too often. I spend solo subway trips examining every face, trying to find the one who would be willing to murder us. I look at the world with fear cloaked glasses, and it’s not just because I’m paranoid, it’s because thousands of people in this country, in the last 18 years, have woken up assuming today was going to be normal, and never saw the end of that day.

And I’m learning that to get through life on this planet, you have to ride out the fear, ride out the pain, and hold on to the days that make life feel like potential and goodness can’t be contained.

Because something else that happened this week is that I began teaching creative writing and debate, and I met a whole bunch of teenagers that made me smile for the future.

And that is what this life is about.

Big ideas, and growth, and kindness.

And the real question is, why did I feel like I had to write about this this week, when I actually spent a good amount of my week in a space of happiness?

So, I share this post, because evil and pain are intertwined with our lives, and not allowing ourselves to feel that pain is a disservice to ourselves and an injustice to those who have been lost.

But I pray for this for you, and for all of us: for days that are overflowing with meaning and purpose, when you can see it all written across the sky. You can smell it in the air – it’s called beauty and growth.


*I don’t know if these transcribed messages are verified and true, but even if they are not, the emotions and meaning are 100% representative of the truth.


Featured photo by me.


I Don’t Remember It

Fifteen years ago, I was four years old.

I don’t remember the towers falling.
I don’t remember the pain.
I don’t remember the whispers from the adults.
I don’t remember the horrific images in every living room in America.
I don’t remember any of it.
My entire life though, I’ve heard about the tragedy that changed America at its core.
I’ve lived in New York for three years, and I’ve come to embrace the intricacies of the city streets. I love to disappear among the millions of people and explore each brick and alley.
New York is intertwined with my entire life, I visited constantly as a child.
Both my parents grew up in Brooklyn, and I have plenty of relatives here.
I mean to say that New York and I are not strangers.
But the tragedy that shook the state is distant. It never felt like it happened in my lifetime, though I heard about it all the time. I stared at the empty place in the skyline. I watched the freedom tower be built up. I was well aware that it took place.
This year though, fifteen whole years later, it felt very real.
Perhaps because of the rising numbers of terrorist attacks all over the world. Perhaps because I’ve been on edge, living in a certain state of fear, that it suddenly opened my eyes to what really happened that day.
I read personal accounts, I cried as I heard parents, spouses and children tell their 9/11 story.
I don’t remember that day, but I grew up in the aftermath of it.
I grew up in a country that was afraid.
And as the years have gone by, we have just been growing more frightened.
Today, I spent the day in DUMBO. A charming, beautiful part of Brooklyn that presents you with a view of the whole of the Manhattan skyline. The gaping hole was blatant.
Today, I went on the subway. I waited on a stiflingly hot elevator. It was crowded, there were all kinds of people on it.
For a moment, I locked eyes with a woman dressed in a burqa. For a moment, I thought about how she felt today. Does she feel guilty? Does she feel threatened? Is it a dangerous day to be Muslim?
Then I realized that she had nothing to do with that day, just like nobody else in that elevator had a hand in bringing that day to its tragic start.
We are all people, living in the same city, feeling the same feelings.
We are all so afraid of each other.
We all avoid eye contact.
In the last few years, we have created a broken nation. We have built up walls and angry words, dividing ourselves with things that don’t matter in any way.
Let’s not wait for another enormous tragedy to begin loving each other.
To pull down the walls.
Just a few weeks ago, the Olympic Games ended with Team USA wildly in the lead.
That was a moment of great pride for me as an American, although I did nothing to achieve that.
Let’s get that feeling back.
I don’t remember 9/11, but I have seen what it has done to our country.
I don’t want to see another 9/11.
 I feel quite lucky that I can’t remember the depth of the tragedy. I can’t imagine how it would have altered my perspective on everything as a child. I grew up blissfully unaware.
But I’ve grown up now, and I’ve woken up.
We live in a scary world.
Let’s at least not fear one another.
photo credit: Getty Images