In 2001, three weeks after the deadly terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, a friend and I boarded a plane for New York City. When I took my seat, I felt anxious until I replayed what I knew – I looked behind me and imagined the terrorists standing there, holding box cutters and bellowing orders. I felt the fear and the shock. I heard a passenger call out, “Let’s roll,” as they stormed the cockpit. I was making it real and for whatever reason, I felt calmer
That was why I was heading to Ground Zero. I had seen the planes crash into the towers on TV over and over, the buildings crumble like graham crackers, hunks of metal flying though the air, people jumping to their death, but it felt like a movie. I thought that seeing it with my own eyes would stop the fear and my vivid imagination and help me see the truth and find acceptance.
My subway ride stopped many blocks short of the crash site. I had to get off at the Fulton Street station, find an exit that wasn’t blocked off, go up the stairs and walk the last several blocks. On my way there, I slogged through an invisible blanket of sadness, disbelief, grief and death. I followed my nose to my destination, the sickly burning smell that turned my stomach and made my eyes water. I stood as close to Ground Zero as was allowed. I watched white steam seeping upwards from the earth. Directly in front of me stood an armed soldier in camouflage. His muscles were hard, his boots were hard, his rifle was hard, his commitment was hard, but his eyes were soft. Hundreds of people were gathered, staring and silent. Rain fell as a lone voice shouted, I… LOVE… NEW… YORK!
I suddenly became aware of what felt like thousands of souls rising in the ethers. I could almost see them. I could feel them in my bones and when I headed home, I had found some acceptance. For me, it’s always better to see things with my own eyes so I can stop making things up, but that isn’t always possible. When I watch reruns of the riots at the Capitol Building on January 6th, incidentally my birthday, I see thousands of raging people smashing glass, looting sacred objects and breaking into offices, all without masks or any other kind of protection. A part of me feels like it’s a movie, but I can’t go there and replay the crowds of racists and desecrators to make it real. I can’t go inside the Capitol and see the hallways where hordes of rioters walked the halls, yelled threats, took selfies in top official’s offices, and I can’t see the National Guard with their shields and guns. But I know it was real. I can feel it in my bones because I’ve been living through this unrest and helplessness for four long years. Something had to give. Some kind of explosion was inevitable.
As I continue to watch the news and see what’s coming next, facing a surging virus is hard, witnessing desecration is hard, watching hatred playing out in angry people is hard, seeing extraordinary denial is hard, but my heart feels soft. I love my country, my friends and the privilege and abundance I get to experience. I love my commitment to being a good human being. And I love the sadness, the sense that I want to hold sacred the things that my ancestors worked so hard to attain. Freedom. The right to believe in what I want. The right to see everyone as equal. The right to make choices and to create beauty. And the hope that there will be better days to come.