September 11, 2011
Ten years ago today I was a college student and lived in the East Village. After the first plane hit the World Trade Center, a friend called and told me to look outside. Then my TV and phone lines went out. Running to school, the only place I thought felt safe, I heard people in their apartments and cars screaming. Another plane hit the second tower. Then the towers started falling. I spent the day talking with NYPD who set up a headquarters in our building. I waited for hours to use a payphone to call my parents, and I sat, under that clear blue sky, with friends, watching what felt like thousands of people covered in white dust running uptown.
I remember thinking that this must be what it feels like to be at war— to have your city bombed and to feel completely powerless and scared. I felt connected to everyone who has experienced war, knowing that my experience, although scary, was nothing compared to what most people have been through. I thought, this is what fear feels like.
A few months ago, my father died. It was sudden. It’s been painful. Before this, I had never experienced grief in such an intense way. I was shocked by the physicality. My eyes stung and my throat hurt and my blood felt watery. My lungs didn’t seem to be working well, and breathing was a serious effort. I felt like my body shut down. My heart hurt. It still hurts. And that’s just the physical. Emotionally, I felt like a sad zombie. I wasn’t sleeping. I was constantly bursting into tears. At some point, I was reminded that people die at every moment, and their loved ones feel just like this. I thought this is what it feels like to mourn.
Ten years later, we are commemorating September 11th in New York City. Where I lived at the time, all of the bus shelters, street lamp poles, any wall space was covered with signs of missing people. I remember for months, staring at those signs– so many different faces of every color, age, background, all missing, most dead. When I thought about our losses on September 11th, I thought about those pictures. I felt sadness for all of those lost lives. This year, I’m thinking about them and all of their loved ones who have felt what I’ve been feeling in mourning and in grief. If this is what grieving feels like, I wonder how the world continues to turn, how anything gets done. If millions of people all over the world are going through this same, involuntary process of grief, how is it possible that we continue to make wars, consciously killing, if anyone with any power has ever felt like this?
After my father died, I was struck with this sticky, painful grief, but I was also faced with a caring and kindness and love that I didn’t realize was possible. And that made me remember the coming together of communities and the love that New Yorkers and the entire world extended to each other after September 11th. I remember visiting St. Paul’s church downtown where people came each day to offer rescue and recovery workers food and supplies. The pews were used as beds and the walls were covered with children’s art. Musicians came each day to play music. It was beautiful. And this is what it feels like to love and be loved. This is what it feels like to connect and care.
It’s in my meditation practice that I cultivate my own capacity to hold both love and fear. Sitting with both, holding both, is impossible and necessary, and this is what it feels like to be human, to be alive. Today at By Love Alone: A Day of Meditation on the 10th Anniversary of the World Trade Center Attacks, at the Shambhala Meditation Center of NYC, I offered the chesed, lovingkindness, practice where we blessed our loved ones, all those affected directly and indirectly by the attacks of September 11th, those who we may know or not know who are difficult for us to love, ourselves, and the entire world with peace (shalom), joy (simcha), lovingkindness (chesed), and compassion (rachamim).
If you’re reading this, please take a moment to do this practice or at least just the last part: breathing in, you can say in your mind or out loud “May we be blessed,” and with an exhale, “with peace.” Breathing in: “May we be blessed,” and breathing out, “with joy.” “May we be blessed… with loving kindness.” “May we be blessed… with compassion.” It’s my hope that through this blessing practice we can remind ourselves that this is what it feels like to love. This is what it feels like to know peace.
May our practice of sitting with love and kindness let us know peace. May this peace not stay only with us, but radiate out in to the world through our thoughts and words and actions, and may we be of blessing. May everyone know peace.