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New York City

9/11/11 – Memory to Light

September 11, 2011

(Post 2 of 2 today. Please let your eyes wander from the end of this post to today’s first piece, from Laura Smith, a mom remembering 9/11/01 and every day since.)

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A masterpiece of moments came together in a swoop. They are coming together still today.

. . .

Plans

It’s early July. I have plans to spend the tenth anniversary of 9/11 in New York. My stories will be written by then. The circle that opened there in 2001 will find some bit closure there on September 11, 2011. My pilgrimage will culminate in glorious celebration of the city on the Wonder Walk, the Secret City’s annual 14-hour art and performance walk from the northern tip of Manhattan to the Brooklyn Bridge. There will be much to marvel at and much wonder to behold, in a city that is still healing from its loss.

I have plans to spend August writing in Santa Barbara. I will miss a big portion of my best friend’s pregnancy. But the project is necessary. It’s a healing and a calling. I’ll squeeze in as much time as possible to make up my absence when I get back, and before I go.

I have plans to spend my birthday with my boyfriend. He’s taking vacation from work to come visit for the week and make it special.

Departures

I get a call from a friend in Santa Barbara who says a mutual dear friend and mentor has died suddenly. I feel shocked and sad and unhinged. I feel out of control of my fate in the universe. I set about making it to his funeral, against all good judgment regarding time and distance. But I am resourceful. I have spent a life organizing on the fly like this. I can make it happen. I can begin my stay in Santa Barbara early.

I cancel everything.

In the call to cancel on my best friend, she asks, “When will you be back?” And I say, “I’m, I’m, I’m just not sure.” And she says, with some futility in her voice, “My baby shower is September 11.” My best friend tried for five years to get pregnant. Now, she is living her dream, due in November, with twins.

And I in my spin say, “September 11??” While I’m thinking, “Does she not know me??” And I say, “It’s the tenth anniversary!” And I can hear the loss in her silence, the shock in it, and I can feel the shock in my reply. I can feel the impossibility of it. My best friend. Living her dream. I am not there for it. This dream of my own–these stories that have been trying to get written, too intense to ignore, finally finding expression, ending on September 11 in New York, my dream against the grain of her dream, impossible fusion.

The spin

I tell her I have to go the next morning early. Which means no time to come over and say goodbye. She’ll understand. It’s a funeral. I have to go.

Inside a day and a half I have made all of the arrangements. They slid into place strangely easily. But by the time I finish making them, I am no less unhinged.
I call my friend, Lisa. “Can you help me?” I ask. “I have to talk this out, will you listen?” And Lisa agrees. She listens. And when I’ve spun my wheels to exhaustion, she quietly asks me, “Why did you come to me with this?” And I say, “Why?” And she says, “You know, we go to different people with our problems when we want to hear particular answers. What kind of answer are you looking for from me?” And I say, “Whatever there is for you to say.” And she proceeds–softly, with the precision of a friend whose love observes and waits for the right time to share–to put words to the moments over our years, that I have prioritized death over life, even when we were young and still figuring things out.

And I see all of a sudden that I have chosen death over life. I have chucked my plans that are full of life, full of people I love and who love me back, to be present at a funeral that, while very dear, is a two-hour memorial, for a friend who is gone.

Overtaken

I sit with that. I get it. It is part of the uneasiness I have been feeling in my spin. I just haven’t been able to grasp it.

And Lisa, as my friend for years and years, quietly testifies that it is not the first time. That this impulse in me has had impact on my relationships in the past. And I for the first time am seeing them in this context. Seeing my leaving in this light. Seeing my running toward loss against the presence of love, right here, right now.

I feel the gravity of that. I feel like heaps of shit. I have made a very big mistake. For decades. But for the first time in two days, I am calm.

I hang up with Lisa. I hold my head in my hands. I begin the effort of patching back together what I have undone.

. . .

The Dream

It’s August. I’m in Santa Barbara. I am writing a story a day to give grief its due. From August 11 to September 11, I am airing out grief, telling stories of trauma in my life that came before 9/11, and telling my stories of what I saw that day in New York.

I have come to believe, at the time I begin this project, that giving space to grief by telling its stories is the process of transformation. When we let grief move through us, and outside of us, we let ourselves become who we are meant to be, or who we have the opportunity to be, should we take it.

There is an end to this project, on September 11, 2011. What will the story be on that day? What is the takeaway experience of witnessing, allowing, feeling opening, healing collectively from loss we share in stories?

. . .

Light

It’s September 11, 2011. Yesterday and the day before, I spend in my car, driving to the final chapter.

I arrive. I help set up tables in prep for a gathering. I spend the morning crying while listening to radio interviews and audio files played in honor of the tenth anniversary. I wipe my face of tears while watching videos that are traveling around the internet. I post a poem, remembering what has come and what has gone. And soon, I choose a time to let my crying cease, let the grief be fully felt, and then recede, let light come back into the day, as I get dressed for my best friend’s baby shower.

There are new twins being celebrated today, as we remember the Twin Towers that fell. There are new lives coming into focus today, as we remember the lives that extinguished ten years ago. There is love in a tribe today, collecting around parents and two little humans finding their way into the world, as our nation forms community in remembrance of whom we have lost.

There is life here. There is life in the pain. It’s why it hurts.

There is life in the grief, in astounding volume. There is life past it.

There is love here and love and love and love.

There is light here.

 

(Post 2 of 2 today. Please let your eyes wander from the end of this post to today’s first piece, from Laura Smith, a mom remembering 9/11/01 and every day since.)

. . . . . . . .

(You can read all of the Memory to Light stories in order on the side bar –->)

P.S. I miscalculated. There are, I discovered last night, 32 days between Aug 11 and Sept 11. Today is 31 days + 1. Thanks for reading all this way, or reading bits and pieces. Your presence has moved me into each day’s post.

Thanks for reading Day 31 + 1 of “Memory to Light: 31 Days of Stories, August 11 – September 11, 2011.” It is an exercise in writing about loss, for the purpose of letting grief wake, live, and pass through the system. Grief is transformation. Story is transformation. Our world could use a some wakeful transformation right now. Take a peek at the introductory post for the full story of what we’re up to.

Join me

Consider this project an online story circle. Read a story that moves you. Write your own on your blog. Link it to the comments below, so we can read your piece. If you don’t have a blog, write your story in the comments.

Let your memories live. Let small corners of your grief breathe. Let your loss be swept into the collective experience of people sharing, witnessing, and letting be.

{ 2 comments }

(Post one of at least two today, in remembrance of 9/11/01, in witness to grief in our lives from our collective and individual loss, and in offering to the evolution that awaits us in our willingness to feel. Much love to all we lost ten years ago today, peace to all who lost a part of themselves that day and since. May we together heal, and blossom anew in perpetual healing.)

9/11, and every year since, remembered

On 9/11/01, after I saw what I saw, heard what I heard, I walked with a few students and administrators to an office with a land line, so we could call home and tell our people we were okay. I am blessed. I have a lot of people. But I didn’t have a lot of time on the phone. So I called one household, holding two of my core, with spokes leading to everyone else in my circle, and gave them phone numbers of family to start a calling tree.

Laura bolted out of bed with a grumble to turn on the TV at Suzy’s urgent demand she do so. Suzy was on the phone with me. We connected, I shared phone numbers, we told each other we loved each other, and I went back out into the city. In California, Laura and Suzy watched the news play and replay the iconic videos of the attacks.

Today’s first post is a remembrance from Laura, of that day, of these past ten years, of motherhood and possibility and impossibility and peace, in observation of September 11, 2001.

Setting it free: My poem 10 years later

by Laura Smith

It’s 1 am and I can’t sleep.
4am on the east coast.
I walk to the kitchen to get a glass of water.
Place a finger beneath my daughter’s nose to make sure she’s still breathing.
Can’t shake the feeling that something’s not right.

4am on the east coast, 9/11/11.
Ten years ago, thousands of people still sleeping in their beds.
Deep in their peaceful REM cycles on a crisp fall morning,
Unaware that they’ll leave their homes for the last time that day.
Unaware that something is just not right.

What did those people leave undone that day?
Lawns unmowed, fish unfed, dishes unwashed?
Last month’s electric bill past due and fallen between the desk & the wall.
Who were they and how did they live, how did they love?
And how do the people they loved continue to go on without them?

And what, I must ask, what in their names, have WE done?
How many times has a mother in Bagdad felt every day for the past 10 years
What the mothers of this nation felt on that one terrible day?
Waiting to hear if her children have survived a battle zone.
Waiting for someone to walk thru the door who will never come home again.

And what, if anything, do we still need to do, 10 years later?
Is it even possible for us to choose peace?
Is it possible for us to rise up as and say that we were wrong?
Can we ever convince our leaders that a war on fear
Is like smacking a kid to teach them that hitting is wrong.

It’s 2am and I might sleep.
I might dream of the stories of my friends who have started to share
Where they were and what they saw and what they remember.
In the sharing of memories and emotions, we breathe it out, and we honor it.
We honor the dead and the grieving and the wounded by sharing and setting it free.

 

Laura writes at her blog hipmamababe.blogspot.com. You can find some of her constantly effervescing brilliance there.

. . . . . . . .

(You can read all of the Memory to Light stories in order on the side bar –->)

P.S. I miscalculated. There are, I discovered last night, 32 days between Aug 11 and Sept 11. Today is 31 days + 1. Thanks for reading all this way, or reading bits and pieces. Your presence has moved me into each day’s post.

Thanks for reading Day 31 + 1 of “Memory to Light: 31 Days of Stories, August 11 – September 11, 2011.” It is an exercise in writing about loss, for the purpose of letting grief wake, live, and pass through the system. Grief is transformation. Story is transformation. Our world could use a some wakeful transformation right now. Take a peek at the introductory post for the full story of what we’re up to.

Join me

Consider this project an online story circle. Read a story that moves you. Write your own on your blog. Link it to the comments below, so we can read your piece. If you don’t have a blog, write your story in the comments.

Let your memories live. Let small corners of your grief breathe. Let your loss be swept into the collective experience of people sharing, witnessing, and letting be.

 

{ 3 comments }

Memory to Light began a long time ago as a book project. It was going to be about souls, of people that lost their lives on 9/11, and attached themselves to “my field.” It was going to be about how, when l started to investigate why I felt so tense and unfamiliar to myself, I learned they were there, and that they had something to say. And I was the channel for it.

Unsuspecting channel. Unexpected job. I called it “Voices from the Ash.”

Over time, the body and substance and delivery of these stories began to change. It started as a journey, an investigation, a challenge to believe–or not to believe. On the journey, it became not only about hearing what the souls had to say, but also about what I was hearing from the living–voices that had witnessed the attacks on that day, and could still speak on their own accord. What the ash left behind.

So many voices

We are so many voices, we humans. We are so many varied and breathing experiences. We affect each other, with the tales we share, of the moments and people that shape us, and unwittingly we go on to shape others in the telling.

My project about loss and grief and transformation has become a collage of voices and memories. Today’s post returns to a September, 2001, NYC, when the voice of another collective speaks for his hurting city, through tears, in public, and in the action of grieving through tragedy together. In the grief, flayed open and pulsing, he finds light.

September 20, 2001

The Daily Show, with Jon Stewart, on Comedy Central
(Opening address is 9 minutes long. Or, you can read moving and pointed excerpts transcribed below, with timestamps.)

“There’s no other way really to start this show than to ask…Are you okay? We pray that you are. And that your family is.

 

 

Excerpts, (cont.)

(3:45) The main reason that I wanted to speak tonight…We’ve had an…unendurable pain, and I wanted to tell you why I grieve, but why I don’t despair.

(4:40) One of my first memories is of Martin Luther King being shot. I was five. And if you wonder if this feeling will pass–When I was five and he was shot, here’s what I remember about it. I was in a school in Trenton and they shut the lights off and we got to sit under our desks, which we thought was cool. And they gave us cottage cheese. Which was a cold lunch because there was rioting. But we didn’t know that. We just thought, My God, we get to sit under our desks and eat cottage cheese. And that’s what I remember about it.

(5:29) That was a tremendous test of this country’s fabric. And this country has had many tests, before that and after that. And the reason I don’t despair is because this attack happened. It’s not a dream. But the aftermath of it, the recovery, is a dream realized. And that is Martin Luther King’s dream. Whatever barriers we put up, are gone, even if it is just momentary. And we’re judging people by not the color of their skin, but the content of their character.

(6:25) All this talk about, “These guys are criminal masterminds, they’ve gotten together, and their extraordinary guile, and their wit and their skill.” It’s a lie. Any fool can blow something up. Any fool can destroy.

(6:47) But to see these guys, these firefighters, these policeman, and people from all over the country, literally, with buckets, rebuilding, that, that is extraordinary. And that’s why we’ve already won. They can’t– It’s light. It’s democracy. We’ve already won. They can’t shut that down.

(7:35) The view from my apartment was the World Trade Center. And now it’s gone. And they attacked it. This symbol. Of American ingenuity and strength and labor and imagination and commerce. And it is gone. But you know what the view is now? The Statue of Liberty. The view from the south of Manhattan is now the Statue of Liberty. You can’t beat that.”

(Watch 9:01 for a lightening laugh, after Jon Stewart’s–and his viewers’–difficult but necessary trudge through the grief.)


. . . . . . . .

(You can read all of the Memory to Light stories in order on the side bar –->)

P.S. Thanks to Matt Stillman and AAS Holmes for the blog post that carried the link to the video.

P.P. S. From a reader, a message of peace in storytelling and social media, that calls upon Americans to pledge and spread a message that Muslims are our fellow Americans: http://myfellowamerican.us

Thanks for reading Day 28 of “Memory to Light: 31 Days of Stories, August 11 – September 11, 2011.” It is an exercise in writing about loss, for the purpose of letting grief wake, live, and pass through the system. Grief is transformation. Story is transformation. Our world could use a some wakeful transformation right now. Take a peek at the introductory post for the full story of what we’re up to.

Join me

Consider this project an online story circle. Read a story that moves you. Write your own on your blog. Link it to the comments below, so we can read your piece. If you don’t have a blog, write your story in the comments.

Let your memories live. Let small corners of your grief breathe. Let your loss be swept into the collective experience of people sharing, witnessing, and letting be.

{ 4 comments }

Beginnings and endings

I hear so many stories of beginnings from people who were witness to the 9/11 attacks in New York. A friend I met recently arrived the day before in a moving truck. Meg got sober the day before, conceived her child two days after. I arrived three weeks before: Grad school started on 9/10. And the stories continue. Was it a season of beginnings? Or was it a heyday of creation, creativity always beginning at something?

When I went to grad school, I didn’t do it alone. I often referred to it as church camp without God. We bonded immediately, the actors, directors and playwrights. Orientation week got us settled into the city, and on the first day of classes and the first night of taping at Inside the Actors Studio, we laughed as Bruce Willis told us he had saved the world 17 times in his movies. We were 12 hours away from a plane hitting Tower 1 two miles south.

Light framed

We would get to know each other deeply in the ways we exposed ourselves in our work. But the events of 9/11 sped that up in a ghastly precursor that blew open the doors of us, ready or not. Being creatives, the only way to survive was to create. Being theatre folk, the way for us to create was to be together, to open up and dive together into the places in us that would be freed.

Last weekend, Rhea MacCallum, my fellow classmate and playwright, posted a letter on Facebook to Cohort 8 of the Actor’s Studio Drama School. She captured with crystalline detail our excited sense of “purpose, potential, community, security and hope.” Her images are so clear, her memory so dear in framing our hopes and courage and leaps of faith and people who supported us to be there taking them, that they tell a story of light I have wished for as this series nears its conclusion.

With great thanks to Rhea, I invite you into the picture of light that brings to life those days in the beginning, as the end of what we knew of our world was beginning, too.

Dear Cohort VIII,

Ten years ago today we introduced ourselves to each other. So much of our orientation week bounces around like a fiery comet trapped in my brain.  As we filtered into Tishman we were continuously instructed to ‘come forward, move to the center, leave no empty spaces’ and the mostly vacant auditorium vibrated with our exuberant energy.

That day, that first day, we met James Lipton.  We were told that our talent was as recognizable as spotting your sister in a crowd.  We were told playwrights don’t hug and most of us promptly decided that we would be the exception.  Then we got up, one by one, alternating sides of the room and introduced ourselves.  Our name, our track, where we were from, what brought us here.

A few weeks later, after the planes hit, after the towers fell, after walking from hospital to hospital looking to give blood, after surviving world altering events, we gathered again, a bonded unit, for a workshop led by Lisa Formosa.  Our homework was to bring a personal object, something of great significance to us.  Our class work was to share with each other what we brought and why we choose it, in three sentences.

Ten years later our orientation week and personal object workshop have become bits of memory strung together in a not so linear fashion.  When I look back at our grad school experience, and think of it fondly, these two events emerge as moments in which I was filled with a sense of purpose, potential, community, security and hope.

This is what I remember…

Henriette’s map of NYC.

The wooden box A’ndrea received from her boyfriend.

Jamie’s chilling rape monologue.

The beer scarf.  I think it was Waldron’s.

Bi with her boyfriend’s wallet filled with cash he’d earned over the summer.

Pema, the freelancer from Santa Barbara/San Diego/San Francisco, who had a 30th birthday/going away party who also received cash… in a wallet?

Holly and her grandfather’s cross, monologue about being invisible and mutual North Dakotian cheering with Brandon.

Naveen and her frog puppet Dostoevsky.

Monica, who left us for Cohort IX, delivered a monologue about feeling like an object.

Chantel and her cherished bookmark

Fred who brought a telegram from his sister and sang and sang and sang his little heart out.

The clown that Vered brought creeped me out.

Kari’s plain vs. pretty monologue.

Sean Harris in his Counting Crows t-shirt and Claddagh ring.

Bob and his backpack.

Nancy who people seemed to already know and talked about a Friday night party at Battery Park City.

Jacqui tripping her way out of the aisle to introduce herself sang Easy to Be Hard, dedicating it to the people working in the Financial Aid office

Moti sang a funny song.  I want to say from South Park, but something tells me it was Russian.

Mr. Lipton calling attention to Ronit who he swore was the spitting image of Susan Saradon.  And a sheep.  I’m pretty sure Ronit’s item was a sheep.

Billingsley, who made me snort when he delivered the line “Fat people make me feel good.”

Eriko and her father’s watch.

Francis’ photo album.

Cole’s navy polo tee.  It’s the only top I ever remember seeing him in.

Terry who made a number of people sit up and take notice when he said he applied to grad school because “he always felt like a fraud.”

Yasmin calling herself a former Muslim and carried a new ID having destroyed all others.

Uran who sang White Snake, “lived all over” and within seconds of knowing me talked ‘shrooms.

Sari’s rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody and her brick napping picture taken on Lucielle Ball’s property during construction/demolition.

Melinda bringing an American Flag and espousing the virtues of exercise in her monologue.

Larry’s Hairy Ape monologue and plaque that was given to him as a thank you gift from a recent production.

Jesus who sat next to me and already had an MA from NYU.

Kawanda who thought life stopped after 25.

Luis’ hand carved lady with his grandmother’s name on the bottom.

Casy brought and wore a brooch of comedy/tragedy masks.

Brian with the mug with his brother’s picture on it.

Nichol who ranted like Homer Simpson, carried a journal that was a gift from his father and had just returned from an amazing hike in Alaska.

Sean Stevenson’s miniature mouse.

Kristen, the NYC tour guide whose friend had recently passed.

Mary, who was still holding onto Beth’s ring when she walked away to go to the restroom, leaving a nervous looking Beth alone.

Sayeeda singing You Are My Sunshine and weeping unabashedly about Ellen Burstyn’s performance in Requiem For A Dream.

Soft spoken Matt from So. Pasadena who seemed to have a case of the sniffles.

Rich, who I met in line at the registrar’s office, brought a wallet with an emblem on it.

The ball from Arnold’s first date.  I think it was orange.

Miranda, who tugged at our heartstrings as she spoke of her janitor father who worked extra shifts so she could pursue her dream and made us all chuckle when she brought in a strawberry air freshener that survived, what was it, 7? car accidents.

Trevor and his passport.

Michael Raimondi who had never lived away from home and brought a turtle from Brandon… I think.

Jonathan and the journal his mother gave him.

Colette brought a book.  I’m guessing it was Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, not that I remember the title from that day.

Doug and his flask.

Aziza’s evil eye.

Stephanie called herself a Jewish drop out and brought a stuffed animal from an ex-boyfriend.

Seibert who sang The Smiths.

Max and his ball.

Nicole Hurley who sang Lean On Me.

Linda, the lawyer, whose conservative mother would rather she was unwed and pregnant than going back to school to be an actor.

Kira who worked the hell out of her Vagina Monologue.

David Salsa, as in chips and salsa, who spoke from the heart about the Smurfs.

Seth, in his white baseball cap, who showed up to the workshop with Papa Smurf.

Jake who sang If I Were A Bell brought a sprig of eucalyptus, one of my favorite scents.

Kristen and her pig.

Poorna and her house keys.  At least I think it was Poorna.  There were definitely house keys.

I remember we prayed to the sun and the moon and the stars.  We burned sage.  We sat in silence.

I also remember my mother being comforted to hear that I was studying playwriting with a Teeter (my grandmother’s maiden name) and a Stevenson (her maiden name) taught by a Laura (my sister’s name).  She wasn’t normally one to view the world through cosmic signs, but she made an exception.  She felt I was in the right place, at the right time, with the right people.

Try as I might, I don’t remember every one from those early days.  Isn’t the brain a funny thing?  Why do I remember, so vividly, Nicole Hurley who I spoke to once, once in my life, but not so many others?  And as for the accuracy of my memory, well, only you can tell me how well I did.

I just wanted to let you know that I’m thinking of you, as I do every year when it gets to be about this time.  And when I think of you, when I think of us, as we were in these days, I smile through the tears.

Lots of love,

Rhea

P.S. from Pema: Rhea brought that day a wooden, multiple-holed picture frame filled with pictures of family and friends and inscribed with “Best of Friends.” It was a thank you gift from a dear friend for having hosted her baby shower.

Rhea’s most recent production, “Independence Day,” won the Audience Award for Best Drama at the Life and Death Matters Film Festival last weekend.

Not her first, and not likely her last award. Congratulations, Rhea. To find out more about her work, find her on her Facebook page.

 

(You can read all of the Memory to Light stories in order on the side bar –->)

. . . . . . . . . .

Thanks for reading Day 27 of “Memory to Light: 31 Days of Stories, August 11 – September 11, 2011.” It is an exercise in writing about loss, for the purpose of letting grief wake, live, and pass through the system. Grief is transformation. Story is transformation. Our world could use a some wakeful transformation right now. Take a peek at the introductory post for the full story of what we’re up to.

Join me

Consider this project an online story circle. Read a story that moves you. Write your own on your blog. Link it to the comments below, so we can read your piece. If you don’t have a blog, write your story in the comments.

Let your memories live. Let small corners of your grief breathe. Let your loss be swept into the collective experience of people sharing, witnessing, and letting be.

{ 2 comments }

Nico:
Woman

Pemsi:
Yo.

Nico:
Whats up?!

Pemsi:
A little nighttime
You?

Nico:
Mid-life.

Pemsi:
Still?
:-)

Nico:
Still.

Pemsi:
Oy, my friend.

Nico:
Seems like every time I turn around, I’m just in the middle of it.

Pemsi:
Zen, man.
That’s very Zen.

Nico:
I try.

Pemsi:
What are you in the middle of?

Nico:
Crisis

Pemsi:
This is poetic so far.

Nico:
I’m sure it’ll get more so.

Pemsi:
Here’s some pop-psych on the fly: the middle of “crisis” spells “is.”
You…is.
You’re BEING.
.…Om
–okay, I don’t want to run amok with your problems.
Are you ok?

Nico:
I suppose so.  I started dreaming about plane crashes.  I feel like screaming constantly.  I thought of buying cocaine.  I want to move to Vermont.  I have been spending more money than I have.  I haven’t been writing.  I eat cookies and drink scotch.  None of it seems to help.

Pemsi:
Ugh ugh ugh.
I don’t know what to write first.
Me. I have been seeking some kind of therapy–psycho-, group, medical, or metaphysical–for at least the past year.

Nico:
And?
No luck?

Pemsi:
Tons of luck actually
I have PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Nico:
From?

Pemsi:
Well. Watching the towers on fire.
And a few things leading up to that.
I pretty much thought it was a crock.
But I guess it wasn’t after all…

Nico:
Have you watched “United 93?”

Pemsi:
…because all this therapy type stuff has been leading me out of my…anxiety, burning head, full body breakout of itchy red spots, anti-social behavior and mean-spiritedness, extra weight…
…let’s see what else, the feeling of not being where I think I should be, feeling like two to twelve different people, and general malaise and malfunction.
I have watched it, yes.

Nico:
I hated it.

Pemsi:
Did you see the movie and it’s giving you dreams?

Nico:
Yes.
I think it was criminal.
It is great. It is a perfect film.
But so were Leni Reifhenstahls films.
Excuse the spelling.
I wish I hadn’t seen it.

Pemsi:
Why did you see it?

Nico:
I was told to.
I’m sorry to hear about the PTSD.

Pemsi:
It was the best thing I had heard in three years.
I was like, “PTSD! Thank god, I knew something had tweaked.”

Nico:
My nightmares have been different since then.

Pemsi:
Since 9/11?

Nico:
Yes.
But you know what about “United93?”
It was a lie.
The movie was a lie
A crime
If you ask me.
I mean that actually.  An actual crime.

Pemsi:
Seems to me it was a dramatic mimeograph of the newspapers.

Nico:
No – it is much bigger than that.  It is the definition of a hate crime.

Pemsi:
?

Nico:
If I am allowed to make racist one-sided generalizations of an entire people through any medium, that does not seek to raise understanding but rather raise fear, hate, anger, sadness, and otherwise further pain and suffering in the world, then I am committing a crime of hate.
Nico:
If, through my actions as a media-maker, I create a one-sided imbalance which seeks to shame, humiliate, and otherwise threaten a specific group, that is a hate crime.
Nico:
Filming U93 and distributing it to thousands of theaters scrawls a message of hate for Muslims across our whole society, and does not once, even a little, seek to help us understand what happened, and why those passengers might be considered heroes any more than those who died on the AA flights that hit the towers.
Nico:
I ask myself why. What possible impact does this film have?
It is war propaganda.
It is the voice of the empire.
It is the blind repetition of the official story.  9/11 TRUTH!!!

Pemsi:
My friend, Gary, said it kills off 3000 people while stroking heartstrings.

Nico:
And we pay $10 to slurp toxic stew.

Pemsi:
I saw a picture that looked like the nuclear sunrise dream this week. Remember that one?

Nico:
Really? The dream?
Well what are we gonna do?

Pemsi:
Spike the soup.
Wake the shit UP
My nuclear holocaust dream had me walking with a camera down an empty NYC street.
There I am in the dream, the future certainly mortal, and I have a camera that will get destroyed in the blast.

Nico:
Well, the one thing that’s sure is that you and me’ll disappear.

Pemsi:
But I’m taking photos anyway.

Nico:
That’s wonderful.
And very sad.

Pemsi:
That dream finally means something, Nico.
If we’re meeting the end, how can I possibly help, or possibly write fast enough to matter?

Nico:
I sorta think you can’t.
At least that’s how I feel about myself.

Pemsi:
But life is about doing, and if I don’t do…then…
Then what?? What is it all for?

Nico:
Maybe unfair to project, but… I don’t know.  We live in a system that is complicated beyond what we can possibly process.

Pemsi:
I think you’ll be annoyed with me for the book I’m writing.

Nico:
What is the one thing, in your life, that if it had been different, would make the most change for you, right now?

Pemsi:
Nico, you have to breathe or something.

Nico:
I breathe plenty.
I’d never be annoyed at you for writing a book.
What is the book you’re writing?

Pemsi:
You know all the healing I referred to?

Nico:
But you’re right, I have to breathe or something. What that something is I don’t know.
Do you ever do drugs?

Pemsi:
It’s universal. And it’s got ghosts in it, so to speak. But they’re ghosts we know.

Nico:
Universal healing… That is wonderful — how do you give it to others?
And who are the ghosts?

Pemsi:
I don’t like how drugs make me lose control. I’m so airy already, I can’t think on them.

Nico:
Ha!
You are not airy.
Do you think of yourself as airy?

Pemsi:
I’m from So Cal. :-)
I believe anything is possible and I leave room for it in my life.

Nico:
Nah.  I mean, I’m sure that’s where you’re from, but I’ve met airy.  I don’t think you are airy.  I think you are

In tune.
And sensitive.
That’s not a bad thing.

Pemsi:
Okay, that’s better than airy, yes. But that being in-tune leads my attention away from the present…like being able to remember where I parked

Nico:
Who the fuck really cares where you parked!
I don’t know – I think you gotta keep it where it is.
I think you have something to say.
You’re asking me what’s the point, and all that?
I think you’re much closer to having the answer to that question than I am.

Pemsi:
All that being in tune led me to a psychic, who corroborated what someone else said that I “have souls stuck in my field.”
So, I stutter, s-s-sou–field?
Wha?
And she says, you have souls in your field from the day you stood on the corner watching the towers burn.
And they are speaking.

Nico:
REALLY?!

Pemsi:
Then she channeled them.

Nico:
That’s fucking insane.

Pemsi:
So, for the past year, I have been writing this book.
Because the stuff she said was profound and bone rattling.

Nico:
It rattles my bones
Just hearing about it.

Pemsi:
And your head and your whole belief system if you’re willing to go there
My skepticism in tow, I have channeled a couple of them myself.

Nico:
And what happens?

Pemsi:
In the narrative or when they come through?

Nico:
Either
Both

Pemsi:
One time, I was craving peanut butter on a sesame bagel.
…ha ha there’s more (but wouldn’t it be funny if there weren’t?)
I don’t eat wheat. I’m allergic. I don’t crave it. But I couldn’t get the thing off my mind.
My breakfast didn’t deter the craving.
…I used to eat bagels and peanut butter every day in NYC, before class.

Nico:
Crazy

Pemsi:
So I kept thinking of them on this day, and even after breakfast, couldn’t focus on my work.
Said screw it, went to the deli, ate it. Tried to work. Couldn’t.
Finally…I was like, what? What?? Then I realized. It’s not me.
I got a pad of paper out and started asking questions, and the answers came out fast.

Nico:
Someone else

Pemsi:
Named Andy

Nico:
We are prisms splitting the light of our life.
That’s crazy, Pemsi.

Pemsi:
Yeah.
An image of a firefighter, and a little kid three or four years old, standing at his feet.
I talked to the psychic after that, and mentioned it to her, and she tumbled out with the rest of it, little kid and all.
…and speaking of prisms of light, I channeled another one named Barbara
Her message was much longer and so amazing. And she spoke of the tribe of light.

Nico:
Requiem aeternam. Et lux perpetua luceat eis.” (May they rest in peace and may Perpetual light shine on them)

Pemsi:
You asked how you give universal healing to others…from what I can tell, you heal yourself, and then you share it, or better, you heal publicly so that people can heal with you.

Nico:
Pemsi, though, you aren’t responsible for channeling these spirits – you don’t think you are do you?
Please – that is such a crazy burden!
What are you going to do with that?

Pemsi:
I don’t know that I feel a burden so much as a possibility. It’s been a healing journey, so I only get tweaked about the responsibility stuff when I imagine the world is going to end.

Nico:
You are one of the few good souls.  That’s what I think.

Pemsi:
I guess what I mean is, I do feel the burden sometimes, but I’ve always felt it…I just didn’t know what it was till now.
We have to just do. Whatever the thing is that we’re called to do, whether the world is tipping its hat or not.
And I can’t deny the presence of those hanging around me, strange as it seems.
Strange is the new normal.

Nico:
Strange is the new normal.
It is indeed.
Oh my god – my head is tired.
I need to drink some more and down load some porn and get ready for work tomorrow.

Pemsi:
Yes, me too. All of it.

Nico:
It has been wonderful chatting with you
And… Well… And hearing that you are healing things.
That is worth a lot.
I sorta wish we could toast or something.

Pemsi:
Thanks Nico. It’s like a non-nuclear sunrise to chat with you, all while still being….the bomb.
A digital text toast will have to suffice.

Nico:
Digital toast it is.
Night.
Thanks for the good talk

Pemsi:
Night. Thank you too. (rainbow image)

Nico:
Ah!!!! You know what rainbows are, right!?!
Or are you taunting me.

Pemsi:
Hope.
Promise.
Gay?

Nico:
Oooooh – read your email – I think it might be at the bottom of the forwarded message.  If not – I will tell you tomorrow.

[Bottom of forwarded message:]

Every time you see a rainbow, think upon this:
I do set my bow in the cloud and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth.  And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud.  And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh: and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh.

. . . . .

Printed from an IM chat in 2006 with my friend, Nico, classmate from grad school in NYC, cohort in the school year that followed 9/11/2001, and comrade since.

(You can read all of the Memory to Light stories in order on the side bar –->)

. . . . . . . . . . .

Thanks for reading Day 23 of “Memory to Light: 31 Days of Stories, August 11 – September 11, 2011.” It is an exercise in writing about loss, for the purpose of letting grief wake, live, and pass through the system. Grief is transformation. Story is transformation. Our world could use a some wakeful transformation right now. Take a peek at the introductory post for the full story of what we’re up to.

Join me

Consider this project an online story circle. Read a story that moves you. Write your own on your blog. Link it to the comments below, so we can read your piece. If you don’t have a blog, write your story in the comments.

Let your memories live. Let small corners of your grief breathe. Let your loss be swept into the collective experience of people sharing, witnessing, and letting be.

{ 9 comments }

Day One

I’m in New York.
I used to live here.
9/11/01 was my second day of grad school.
I watched flames and smoke from a street corner near class.
Many students left soon after.
I didn’t have an apartment yet.
But I stayed, realizing that I had prepared for this day so thoroughly that I sent one set of storage boxes to my parents in the Midwest, and the other to Suzy in California: In case I died, I didn’t want my parents to have to wrap their heads around the evidence of a life lived creatively.
Being here was a dream realized.
There was no better place for me to be in the world.
Where would I go?
Eventually, the grad-school-in-NYC part of my life ended.
I’ve been back lots of times.
But I’m nervous now.
Because it’s the first time since I lived here that I’ve allowed myself to feel the trauma of the events.
Don’t act surprised. I’m a late bloomer.
And I had an iron cage around a tiny heart.
Since nearly losing it–and by losing it I mean comparing myself to homeless folks on the street and finding that maybe the only thing that separated us was charity–I started a slow return.
This visit is part of that return.

Not Worth My Tit

The overarching theme in the 9/11 interviews I’ve led this week: New Yorkers see the crushing need for peace more than anyone else. War is reiterating, on foreign soil, the death, destruction, fear and anguish that knocked the wind out of our nation on that day.

The more life we extinguish, the less ground we gain. The more death we espouse, the less distance we travel in healing our grief and, in so doing, the schisms of the world.

Quotes of NYC graffiti:

“Our grief is not a cry for war.”
“We were born innosent and kind.”
“One Love. People get ready.”

Your Tat is not worth my Tit.

here is new york

The quotes above are from photos at the New York Historical Society photographic exhibit, “here is new york: remembering 9/11.”

The photos are simply exhibited, no frames, 11″ x 17″ hanging on string with binder clips, filling all the wall space and strung above-head across the rooms as well. The exhibit covers two large galleries of space with photographs taken by scores of photographers at or in relation to 9/11.

They show survivors, rubble from the WTC, layers of dust, writing in the dust on windows of abandoned cars, emergency workers, onlookers, blast views, planes headed into the towers, jumpers, distressed onlookers, stunned, dust-covered survivors holding their foreheads in one hand and a water bottle in the other, the international sign for grief and disbelief–the hand over the mouth, missing flyers, impromptu memorials of candles and flowers and cardboard, butcher paper, chalk on the sidewalk overflowing with sentiments, shopkeepers and volunteers feeding emergency crews, prayer stations, revenge signs reading “Wanted Dead or Alive” with a picture of Bin Laden, a humvee squeezed onto an antique, tiny downtown street, more dust, papers scattered about a church graveyard, countless tears, that clear clear 9/11 sky, nyc concrete corridors every last person facing the direction of the smoke, watching in disbelief, subway stop memorials, people staying together, strangers in each others’ arms, firemen holding hands on their way into the pile, kids’ drawings, sisters and fathers and migrant workers and traders missing, blood, twisted metal, mettle, post-apocalyptic organization, blue sky….

I will post more of the quotes later.

A Habit of Lists

Here are the quotes I copied from the 9/11 photos at the NY Historical Society exhibit. Days have passed between my being there and being here, and I thought for a few minutes that I might not post the quotes after all. Am I bombarding people with 9/11? But it strikes me over and over again that what I’m doing is healing. And others, from what I hear in response, are healing along with me by watching, listening to, or being a part of mine.

It’s raining outside here in Santa Barbara. Land of the Maxfield Parrish sunlight and clouds, views and mountains, sky. It rained in NYC last week on 9/11. Interesting to me that out of two galleries of walls filled with 11″ x 17″ photos, the one that struck me the most was a simple cityscape, point of view looking down an EMPTY avenue, even more distinguishing, the absolute clarity of sunlight the photo caught. That is the photo I got stuck in all those years ago, and that’s where I’ve been walking around since.

Going back to NYC last week was the first time I “faced the music” so to speak. Went to the observances. Let my grief surface. Let myself be someone who grieves over this trauma. Before I returned, I was so interested in how it is we move on from grief. How it transforms us, and how we in turn transform. But being at the World Trade Center site, as the names were being read, as the rain was falling, across the water as the lights were shining upward into a black sky in remembrance, made me realize there is no hurry. There is no scramble to be fixed. Grief takes its slow steady time, unwinding like the coils of a snake languishing in sunlight, loathe to leave the rock that has been warming it. Grief transforms. We are changed by it. But first grief is grief. Its own spirit and will and breath. Before it moves through, it inhabits. The exquisite journey is to cohabitate.

The quotes:

“Not in our name.”
“This is no time for cowboys.” (Sign around the neck of a life-sized John Wayne cut-out.)
“The news makes me cry.”
“Patriotism scares me.”
“END WAR” (Written in block letters inside a ONE WAY sign.)
“PWPD/FD Meet Here – FLFD” (Written in the ash and dust on a van window.)

Names from some of the photos, that were on missing persons flyers:

Farah Jeudy
Antoine Jeudy
Mary Ortale
Peter Ortale
Barbara K. Olson
Melissa Vincent
Jonathan Ielpi
Deanna Galante
Patrick Sullivan
Tonyell McDae
Samantha and Lisa Egan
Jupiter Yamblen
Carlos Mario Munoz

Later, after the flyers that were captured in the photos were rained away, lists like this got compiled. A few phrases about each person, serving as a public memory.

www.september11victims.org/

(This links to a list that came up in a search today, Sept 1, 2011. The above domain is no longer active, but there are many tributes and online memorials that list and honor each victim of the 9/11 attacks, a Google search away.)

. . . . .

The posts here are a record of my 2007 return to NYC, to interview people who had been there on 9/11/01, and attend commemorative events, memorials, and the annual reading of the names. I posted these day by day while in NYC and after, on an earlier version of my blog. They show up here in their original order appearance.

 

(You can read all of the Memory to Light stories in order on the side bar –->)

. . . . . . . . . . .

Thanks for reading Day 22 of “Memory to Light: 31 Days of Stories, August 11 – September 11, 2011.” It is an exercise in writing about loss, for the purpose of letting grief wake, live, and pass through the system. Grief is transformation. Story is transformation. Our world could use a some wakeful transformation right now. Take a peek at the introductory post for the full story of what we’re up to.

Join me

Consider this project an online story circle. Read a story that moves you. Write your own on your blog. Link it to the comments below, so we can read your piece. If you don’t have a blog, write your story in the comments.

Let your memories live. Let small corners of your grief breathe. Let your loss be swept into the collective experience of people sharing, witnessing, and letting be.

{ 0 comments }

Campfire

I don’t remember arriving home that evening. I do remember passing bars crowded with people in suits, windows open and doors, cocktails, beers, wondering aloud, faces wide, heads shaking, news glowing like a campfire. Where else to go?

Vigil

The next day nobody knows whether or not to go to school. Late morning, someone posts its closure on the website. It is inside the Lower Manhattan cutoff. We stay away for the week. I find an apartment in Jersey City. During the week, missing persons flyers paper the city. Union Square itself becomes a shrine, candles and vigils, posters and chalk, visitors paying respects to the lost, to their shock, to their city, through the night. I find myself walking there when I have no where else to go, leaning into the low park wall, feeling the cool spatter of rain. Watching, listening, waiting for an answer in the presence of all these people. A channel change. A tide.

Here now

When class resumes, we sit in a circle like zombies, wondering the substance of an art degree in the wake of our city’s event. The loose, watery practice of actors and writers pretending to be something we’re not. What are we doing here, now? Our teacher summons the fires of hell and heaven and future and past, imploring us to understand that the voices of artists are the voices our culture needs most, as it finds its way through this rebirth. That imagination is not pretense, that creativity is deepest truth.

Breeze

I refuse to go to Ground Zero or get close. One night, I share a seat on the PATH train to Jersey with a man whose boots and jeans are covered in thick dust. It is the end of the day. While everyone is tired and quiet, his body seems held up by only his skeleton, the rest of him slumped into the seat, swaying. No one speaks.

The smell of jet fuel and demolition still wafts through the air on a breeze.

Possessed

One day we sit in a clown workshop. The teacher tells 40 of us, sitting on the floor in a circle, facing outward, to each put on the smallest mask, the clown nose. There is ritual to putting on a mask. You let it hover in front of your face, and as you set it to rest there, you breathe into the mask, thereby breathing life into it. It comes to life, and from you comes its character. It’s a possession. You watch a crowd of people in masks and you forget there are people you know underneath them. They screech and howl and strut. They laugh and stutter.  And barely do you notice the person delivering the character.

On clown day, the teacher counts to three and has us all turn at once to face into the circle. We are quiet. There is Nichol and Rhea and Collette. In red clown noses. Rich and Mary and Doug and Kristen and Terry, a room full of people in a circle sitting on the floor, sun light settling in late afternoon corners. No one speaks.

I lose it.

Crack

I start to giggle. I mean, a room full of people, in silence, with straight faces, and clown noses. Everyone’s clown face swings to look at me, and I in mine am laughing. I can’t stop laughing. My voice gets high, people smile, tears come to my eyes, I am laughing so hard now I double over. When I sit up everyone is still looking and me and I laugh harder, I break with laughter, double over again, and as I am bent, feel a wave rush up from my gut. A catch a sob in my throat and press it back, confused.

Quieted, I take a breath, look up, see the red noses, and lose it into guffaws. Again I double over. Again I am possessed by pain. Again I push it back. Stop. Catch breath. Rise to look at peers. Let the fear of maniacal sobbing quell the outburst.

When it is over, I sit in the circle. I feel alone. I remember the swell in my throat, my heart, my chest, like I am going to crack, and I wish I could let myself. Break in the moment. Be taken by clowns.

 

(You can read all of the Memory to Light stories in order on the side bar –->)

. . . . . . . . . . .

Thanks for reading Day 21 of “Memory to Light: 31 Days of Stories, August 11 – September 11, 2011.” It is an exercise in writing about loss, for the purpose of letting grief wake, live, and pass through the system. Grief is transformation. Story is transformation. Our world could use a some wakeful transformation right now. Take a peek at the introductory post for the full story of what we’re up to.

Join me

Consider this project an online story circle. Read a story that moves you. Write your own on your blog. Link it to the comments below, so we can read your piece. If you don’t have a blog, write your story in the comments.

Let your memories live. Let small corners of your grief breathe. Let your loss be swept into the collective experience of people sharing, witnessing, and letting be.

{ 2 comments }

Oh my God

The rest of the day is a series of memories out of order. I leave the give-blood line. Walk across 6th Ave. Back to the school. They are clearing out the lobby to accommodate triage for the nearby hospital. Someone leads a handful of students to administration to use the landline. Cell phones are out of order. The cell towers were on top of the World Trade Center buildings. I call Suzy. There are people crowding the office, waiting to use the phone after me. “Suzy, turn on the news.” It’s early in California. She grumbles. “I’m okay. I need you to call my family.” She turns on the TV. “Oh my God.” I give her my brother’s number, because he can reach the rest of the family. I give her my grandma’s number, because I want her to hear from Suzy directly that I am okay.

Dust

I walk south. I don’t know why or how far. The back door of school is at 6th Avenue and 11th Street. (When they shut down Lower Manhattan the next day, they close it off 12th Street and below.) Shadows of leaves dapple the sidewalk and the people on it. We are stringy. That is, no one is really focuses on anything and we are not walking anywhere in particular. I see someone on the steps of a church. I wonder if that is the place to be right now, I wonder if I should go in. I decide there is too much going on outside in the world to go away from it. I don’t know what I should be doing, but I know I want to be available to it all. I don’t know what is going on and I want to. In a city of strangers I run into Bill. We met at Mia’s place on the Upper East Side. It’s where I’m staying till I find a place to live. He tells me he had to get out of Tribeca. It’s the area of town closest to the rubble, the smoke, the epicenter. There are people walking past us going north, covered in dust. We are standing in the way of foot traffic. He tells me he’ll probably see me tonight at Mia’s. He needs someplace to sleep.

Futile

I am back in the vicinity of school. I see Randall and Tim and Thuy, and maybe a few others. We are aimless, walking, unsure, but begin to look for where to give blood. Over our shoulders we watch the smoke gush into the sky. We wonder if we should be breathing the air. We realize there’s no where to go where that it isn’t. The sun is hot now and we have been walking for a while. We reach the hospital in the East Village. We can contribute. The line is not huge. There is a woman sitting at a small table in front of the sliding doors, and next to her an immense standing banner lists who is not eligible to donate blood. Two people in our party of five make that list for being gay men. We swirl on our own planet of discombobulation and disbelief for a moment, our long walking mission futile, and move on.

Fall

Thuy and I walk toward Uptown. We walk 30 blocks, 40 blocks. Around 50, we get on a bus. It moves more slowly than we walked, traffic inching northward impossible, cars feeding into the avenue from every street. People pressing up the avenue, in droves. I understand the meaning of droves. Once in a while, I see one person walking south, in contrast to the bodies moving northward. Invariably the person is crying, hand on face wiping tears, shoulders pressing forward. The bus is so packed we hardly breathe. Tensions are high. We get off the bus two blocks later having rested long enough to push out, and walk another 20. On the way we talk about class. Theatre. Stage. Experience. The play this might turn into someday, characters walking, walking, walking their way through. How Thuy said she wished she’d never seen the buildings fall. How I thought that if I’d seen them fall, I might believe it.

-to be continued-

 

(You can read all of the Memory to Light stories in order on the side bar –->)

. . . . . . . . . . .

Thanks for reading Day 20 of “Memory to Light: 31 Days of Stories, August 11 – September 11, 2011.” It is an exercise in writing about loss, for the purpose of letting grief wake, live, and pass through the system. Grief is transformation. Story is transformation. Our world could use a some wakeful transformation right now. Take a peek at the introductory post for the full story of what we’re up to.

P.S. Names were changed in my story today, in the interest of focusing on the story rather than the identifiable in it.

Join me

Consider this project an online story circle. Read a story that moves you. Write your own on your blog. Link it to the comments below, so we can read your piece. If you don’t have a blog, write your story in the comments.

Let your memories live. Let small corners of your grief breathe. Let your loss be swept into the collective experience of people sharing, witnessing, and letting be.

{ 0 comments }

I have stopped in the telling of this story several times now. I have erased, re-written, changed tense. My story is no more profound than anyone else’s that day. Maybe less so, if we’re keeping score on the level of tragedy. (Pearl Jam is playing right now, and Eddie’s singing about keeping score.) It baffles me right now, how difficult it is to remain focused on the words there are to type. It’s medicine and I don’t want to swallow it. I’ve told you in detail stories about my brother’s death, my family’s emotional ridges, my view of the way it was for others. But crap if I can’t stand where I was standing  and tell you what there is to tell.

I’m here

The sky. Unbelievable and blue. New York. Oh my god, I’m HERE. I’m here. The morning, I can feel its coolness in my nose when I breathe. It lines my lungs. I round the corner heading to class and two guys from school are running past me to the corner. I hear them say, “Building on fire…” as they go past me. Six minutes, it’s all we have till class starts. They’ve drilled it into us for a week: don’t be late! And I think, “I wonder what they do in New York City when there’s a building on fire.” I’m from the suburbs. We have room for fire. I slip down to the corner and see what I see. It’s the World Trade Center. Those twin towers down at the end of the avenues I have only just learned are the way to tell south from north in the jungle of concrete I emerge into every time I get off the subway. People are converging on the corners of the intersection. It’s a Superman movie. I think we’re all looking for Superman. The sun is so bright, it looks like studio lighting.

Fire

The hole. There are flames all around it. It is way too high for any fire hose to hit. How will they handle that here? They can’t extinguish that, can they? My heart begins to sink but I haven’t noticed yet. I have begun to count instead. How many floors, estimating, has the plane blown into the building? How far reaching into the building do the flames go? How many offices and how many people at work at this hour? I realize my minutes are up if I’m going to be on time to class. It’s the first day, after all. I employ every aptitude toward photographic memory I ever practiced while walking to school on the mornings I’d have tests. Studying on the fly, freezing the words onto the page in my head. I do it here, so I can study what I see while in class. Only when I get to class do I finish my calculations and hear, at the end of them, what they are headed to: the estimated number of dead to whose houses the coroner will be dispatched  tonight. I begin to cry.

We sit in a circle in huge studio with a linoleum floor.

God this story continues.

Reflection

There are 13 of us in chairs, sandwiched by floor to ceiling windows lining the whole, immense fourth-floor. Our teacher introduces herself. She goes with it as much as theatre training allows: use the moment. We don’t know what is happening outside other than there’s a hole in the World Trade Center tower. We can hear phones ringing beyond the walls, hear sirens screaming endlessly down the avenue, and feel tension in the air around us getting so thin it will break. A couple more people are silently wiping tears from their cheeks. I look past the shoulder of a student, out the window facing the building across the courtyard, and I see see the reflection of smoke, billowing impossibly thick up the face. A row of students lines the windows. I watch them, riveted, not moving, watching. At one point, we hear screams outside and the row of people runs away from the window. All of them except one person, ducks his or her head and dashes from the window. I wonder what made them do that.

Globe

Class is over. An hour and fifteen minutes has never lasted this long. We go downstairs and the courtyard between our school buildings is full of students and teachers. Everyone is gathering here till more instruction is given. Two planes. Two buildings. Pentagon. Pennsylvania. Military jets ordered to shoot down planes still in the air. Chuck, a student who has come to grad school from a career in the military is ticking through the events that occurred while we sat in class. Buildings collapsed. I sink to the concrete step. I see people all around me but don’t register faces. “They’ve done it,” I think. I don’t know where the thought comes from, but I am proud of myself for knowing it. Then just as out of the blue, I wonder what to do when “they’ve done it.” What now? Feels like a we’re a scene in a snow globe, fixed, shaken, waiting for the snow.

Give blood

I walk out sliding glass doors from the lobby. The tiles inside are deep brown, the light coming in the door and that to which I emerge is other-wordly. It is so bright, the light. People are walking toward the avenues. Where am I going? No answer. What am I doing? No answer. I follow my feet to the right. Toward the avenues. There is a woman standing in the middle of the street, wearing a backpack, holding a sign that has been printed on a piece of white paper on an office printer: GIVE BLOOD. I wonder how she got that done so quickly, and now she’s directing people to action in the street. She is haloed in sunlight. You can see it lining her hair, her backpack, her arms. She is pointing people toward the hospital two blocks away. I haven’t been to that side of the Village yet. I cross the street and stand in line. The line is two blocks long. It doesn’t move. We stand a long time. Other people come along and hand out bananas and water and some sandwiches and food items and say, “You’ll need to eat. Take one and pass them down.” I put a banana in my back pack. We hear again and again, after the line hasn’t moved, that there are virtually no wounded in the emergency room. That the give-blood lines are all winding around the city. But there is no one to give blood to. I wonder what I am doing there alone. I leave the line and walk back toward the direction of school to see if I can find anyone I know.

– to be continued –

 

(You can read all of the Memory to Light stories in order on the side bar –->)

. . . . . . . . . . .

Thanks for reading Day 19 of “Memory to Light: 31 Days of Stories, August 11 – September 11, 2011.” It is an exercise in writing about loss, for the purpose of letting grief wake, live, and pass through the system. Grief is transformation. Story is transformation. Our world could use a some wakeful transformation right now. Take a peek at the introductory post for the full story of what we’re up to.

Join me

Consider this project an online story circle. Read a story that moves you. Write your own on your blog. Link it to the comments below, so we can read your piece. If you don’t have a blog, write your story in the comments.

Let your memories live. Let small corners of your grief breathe. Let your loss be swept into the collective experience of people sharing, witnessing, and letting be.

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In the years following 9/11/2001, I had a jarring experience that I needed to write about. Not sure how to wrap my arms around the task, I started an exploration that has continued since. The exploration included interviewing people who were in New York or Washington DC that day, talking to professionals in the field of grief and trauma, questioning philosophers, healers, holistic practitioners, attending plays on the topic of loss on 9/11, listening to survivors’ stories, visiting the New York Historical Society, art galleries, and returning to Ground Zero for the reading of the names, on several anniversaries.

In 2007, I returned to New York City during the week of September 11, and interviewed several friends, and one stranger, who were there in 2001.

What strikes me in reading the interviews now, and in listening to the conversations, is the depth of processing that took place in our talking. Six years later, we were still in the deep, working it out. There were emotional treatises on government action or inaction, and long reports on how people were seeking, personally, to understand ourselves and our places in a post-9/11 New York, country, world, and existence.

Fear, sadness, guilt, patriotism, shame were all in heavy rotation. For me, the interviews are a snapshot in time, each voice testing the tide, as we pulled our way through a roiling current.

The conversation that follows is part two of the interview posted yesterday. My subject had had a seat booked on United Flight 93, and changed it the night before take-off. The highjacked United Flight 93 crashed in a Pennsylvania field the next day, after passengers stormed the cock pit and forced the plane to miss its target.

Conversations on Fear

P: I interviewed, my teacher from that day. She said, “I immediately was sad because I knew we were going to go to war.”

She said, “From that point on, I have felt sad because the way that we felt on that day, how terrified we were and how we had no idea what to expect next — that’s the way our country, our government is making Baghdad feel. That’s how Baghdad feels every single day, still after all this time.” She said, “To be there, to live there in New York City, and to experience that happen and then to know that we are by extension part of—”

B: Repeatedly

P: “–other people’s experience of that terror, I just can hardly—”

B: And historically inflicting that terror and more. Hiroshima.

[Long pause]

B: I went to a seminar three or four months ago. It was about being fearless. Al Gore was the speaker and he was phenomenal. He talked about how we had an opportunity at 9/11 to respond. Imagine if we had responded peacefully, with love and understanding, instead of going into this military eye for an eye. Where does that get you? Violence begets violence and the cycle continues. But if we had responded in a way that – you know the whole WORLD was with us. You remember seeing candlelight vigils in Germany and Japan, our previous enemies! The Soviet Union. Here’s the world coming together. And we have since, I mean if you think about the perception of the United States in the world right now, it’s never been worse.

P: And what an opportunity to shift the direction of our entire way of doing things.

B: This was the subject of the conference. If you live your life and your actions are based on fear, even if you think you’re taking strong actions, but if they’re the result of fear–like in our nation’s security, we’ve got Homeland Security and our mission in Iraq is for security of the United States, and our way of life and democracy–it’s all still based in fear. It’s acting for the wrong reason. It’s acting on the worst instincts of human nature.

P: The fear, shoring up security. I’m sure some of this is necessary. But I get deeper and deeper with the themes of my book, and one of the themes I’ve discovered is grief and transformation.

And how there’s a time of grief. Yours might be five days, mine might be five years, someone else’s might be five months, that kind of thing. But at the end of the cycle we turn around and discover that we have transformed. That’s the point of trauma.

… 9/11 wasn’t a bomb in a marketplace. More than 52 people died. It hit our financial center. It affected the world in waves. It was an Achilles heel. When there’s a trauma to that extent, and then you factor in the theory that when something disintegrates, something else comes up in its place. Well, let’s disintegrate our whole tradition of responding with war or fear. What I’m trying to say is that we have an opportunity to create in the void that has been left, new ways of relating. And I see that in areas, but of course I still see parts of our society gripping on to old ways of doing things, while watching the old ways just not working. Warfare is not the same as it used to be, and the whole notion of being secure, having army bases in Germany, those don’t even make sense anymore.

B: And how presumptuous of us. And how desensitized everybody is. Every day in the paper? Every day in Baghdad?

P: Every day there’s a body count.

B: Some bomb. Some explosion, and it doesn’t even register anymore. The current administration fosters fear. Every time they’ve done something wrong, they raise the threat a level. To distract people to, “Remember the fear! Remember the fear!”

P: That’s a terrorist government! Hello, the use of the word “terror” in order to keep people in line.

B: Yep, but we’ve turned that word “terror” to “safety.”

P: Being Fearless. What an activist conference to have in the face of everything we’re under right now.

B: That’s why I think it drew so many people. I think there were over 1200 people.

. . . . .

P: …How do you begin to wrap your head around…what has happened, six years later thinking, “One of those seats was mine [on Flight 93].”

B: …I don’t know I just have extreme faith in the universe. Who knows 10 years from now, or whenever? My number’s up…

P: …It makes me wonder about the rest of your life, the people there are for you to touch, and the people who will touch your experience.

B: Which way it unfolds.

P: Each of those moments we cross paths, we change each other in tiny ways, and each of those interactions is part of grid that changes who we are forever, whether that’s good or bad.

B: I think it also has to do with your relationship with and your idea of death. For Tom, he’s very afraid of his death, and mostly of death of people he loves. I don’t know maybe I’ve put up a barrier, but I’m pretty stoic about it. …If I was on that flight it would have been my time to die.

. . . . .

P: It goes back to that theme of fear, becoming fearless. Courage is, even while you’re fearful, being in that space and seeing what comes of it…If our country’s government is leading us by fear–

B: Which it is.

P: Fear of death, fear of loss, of life–

B: Fear of loss of our financial security.

P: If we’re afraid to die, then we’ll always be controlled. By all our fears, by not going outside, by not walking at night. We’ll always be controlled by that fear. But if we’re aware, consciously aware that we’re gonna die–

B: We all are gonna die.

P: Then it seems like we’d be less controlled by the things that we don’t know. And that when we’re less controlled by what we don’t know, our lives unfold to… this mystery, this beauty, this constant beauty. Everything is always new.

B: Well, it’s such a distraction. If you’re afraid of death all the time then basically death’s got the better of you. Because you’re living your life with that end in mind and you’re not really living your life. It’s like Elizabeth Edwards. I loved what she said when she just found out that she had recurring breast cancer and there was no treatment for her. People were stunned that she was continuing with the campaign. She said, “You know, I really have two choices. I can start to die or I can continue to live. I want to continue to live. If I quit the campaign, then I’m starting to die. I’m not gonna do that.”

I just thought, that pretty much sums it up for all of us. You can start to die or you can continue to live. And that’s courage.

 

(You can read all of the Memory to Light stories in order on the side bar –->)

. . . . . . . . . . .

Thanks for reading Day 17 of “Memory to Light: 31 Days of Stories, August 11 – September 11, 2011.” It is an exercise in writing about loss, for the purpose of letting grief wake, live, and pass through the system. Grief is transformation. Story is transformation. Our world could use a some wakeful transformation right now. Take a peek at the introductory post for the full story of what we’re up to.

P.S. Names were changed in my story today, in the interest of focusing on the story rather than the identifiable in it.

Join me

Consider this project an online story circle. Read a story that moves you. Write your own on your blog. Link it to the comments below, so we can read your piece. If you don’t have a blog, write your story in the comments.

Let your memories live. Let small corners of your grief breathe. Let your loss be swept into the collective experience of people sharing, witnessing, and letting be.

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