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.