Like all of us, especially in and around NYC, this year on 9/11 I recalled where I was on that tragic day and the days that followed. The below passage is an excerpt from a piece I wrote last year for the newsletter of the Chappaqua Friends Meeting where I worship with my family.
I lived in Astoria during both 9/11 and two years later during the blackout that swept the Northeast. Those events in relatively quick succession taught me that the world can come to a crashing halt at any moment without warning. They also taught me that the great love residing within each of us is always seeking an opportunity to express itself, and our world will provide the doorway as needed. The moments that my mind still carries from September of ’01 are so reflective of our life in Queens, the world’s most diverse county. I remember Eric driving around until he found his sister and a couple of her friends who had walked across the Queensboro Bridge from their offices in midtown. They sat in our living room and told us what they witnessed among the masses in Manhattan. I remember the mosque across the street from us, and how it was never a target of bigoted aggression; and also how I’d never much noticed it before 9/11. I remember wondering if the young mother down our block who wore full Muslim head covering would feel safe leaving her home during what the media was reporting as a time of violent reactionary behavior toward Muslims. I never saw anger expressed in my community in Queens. It’s harder to hate a particular group of people when representatives from every corner of the world share your sidewalks, subways, stores, and schools.
When the ’03 black out happened, I was taking a class at Columbia in uptown Manhattan and our computers went dark. What caused our city to shut down this time? Another attack? Massive infrastructure failure was unimaginable. Eric drove in from Astoria to pick me up. There were no stop lights. No subways. Few buses. Just people. Millions of people. Many of them were waiting in orderly lines for buses that would likely not come, or not have room for more passengers if they did. Drivers filled their cars with strangers. Intersections were opportunities to practice kindness and collaboration with the same people you may have honked at or cut off just that morning.
The blackout was our first chance to revive what we’d realized about ourselves after the attack on our towers. What might have been chaos fueled by fear, was instead cooperation inspired by pride. NYC had not only survived 9/11, we were invigorated by it. When we were attacked, workers like Eric lined up to try to help dig through the rubble. The rest of us lined up to try to give blood in hopes that there were survivors who would need it. There weren’t enough opportunities for us all to contribute directly to the recovery effort, so we turned to each other and shared the best of ourselves. Tragedy, on any scale, demands and inspires great love.
This year I attended Ossining’s 9/11 Memorial Service. It was beautiful, especially on a day that looked eerily similar to the tragic Tuesday in 2001. It is not enough to simply remember the events of the day the towers fell. In my reflections, I seek to find new ways to honor the lives of all who died and still suffer direct loss from the attack.