Dr. Rhea in her Napa Studio, 10 Years after 9/11, Photo Copyright Briana Blasko
9/11 memorial events have rolled around for the past 9 years without much of a glance from me. Perhaps in part because I have been so focused on the future, and the creation of a positive one. Perhaps in part because my birthday is on the 7th and, defiantly, I have decided that the terrorists do not get to co-opt that time of year from me for negative memorials. I have also disliked the feeling of propaganda and the tendency to simplify the experience, to make morose or beautiful or worse, detachedly political, as if it was not an experience also ripe with the depth and fullness of humanity and spirituality. It certainly was all of that at once.
This year I am taking a look. Ten years is an anniversary for so many of us to reflect on where we were and where we are now as a result. In a sense, for me, it is a celebration. It says: wow, we are going to move on from this. A shock of the sort that many of us experienced that day takes time to heal. It takes time for the being: body, mind and soul to fully regain confidence in the rising of the sun and the hope for the heart of humanity.
The brief summary of my “story” is this (and I am still in awe of just how many incredibly diverse stories there are from that day!):
The World Trade Center was my office building. I worked on the 74th floor of Tower 2 for the two years prior to 9/11 and quit my job 9 months before to pursue my modern dance career full time. I had been away from the city for most of the summer and had returned to my Brooklyn apartment the night of the 10th. I woke up to phone calls, billowing smoke and massive confusion. I tried to go to the store to buy supplies of food but when I got there forgot what I was getting and returned with water. I was so in shock I did not notice the parade of ash covered people walking down Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn having crossed over the bridge from the WTC site. I recall sitting in Prospect Park in Brooklyn with my roommate that afternoon, still in confusion, catching a bit of paper as it landed next to us, floating, ironically peacefully from the beautiful blue sky. A yoga studio held a healing prayer circle that evening in Brooklyn and we went. People started talking about what was happening. No one really knew how to be with it but we tried. I kept praying my phone would ring and I would hear that my dearest loved ones from the tower would tell me they were alive. The moments of the day were moving like near frozen water, mysteriously slow and expanded. Who had lived? Where were they? What was going to happen next? Were we being attacked again? NYC had turned into a temporary war zone.
Over the next three days I slowly heard from all of my colleagues. By a miracle I did not know anyone personally who died that day. I had lunch with a friend a few weeks later, he worked near the 74th floor of the first tower hit. Everyone he knew died. Just like that, our stories could have been swapped. As the days unfolded there were more stories. Friends who escaped and how, fires in the elevator shafts, bags left and running, things that were seen that they would all hope to forget. The horrible fire and smoke that continued to blow into Brooklyn for months. What was burning that no one wanted to discuss, just looks at one another and a recognition of how it felt at the back of our throats. The question on everyone’s minds: what would we do next (both collectively and individually)?
Union Square park turned into the site of a vigil. Hundreds of candles kept burning, posters of missing persons and prayers, and the consistent news that another subway was closed due to a bomb threat. The new familiarity of fire trucks blocking subway entrances. The inability to panic anymore.
Morgan Stanley held a multi-religion service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Thousands gathered inside, all united by the same thing: Tower 2. We hugged one another as the reality of vital flesh sunk in: those we thought might have perished were there, in the flesh. Days of unknown revealed the living. There was this kind of terrible relief. What kind of world was this now? The priest led us all in singing “Amazing Grace” and our united sweet voices filled the cathedral and there was this feeling of heart breaking grace in the face of the unknown.
I left the service and joined in with friends at a bar, yet another local fire station fundraiser trying to raise funds for families. The bar had a series of televisions broadcasting President Bush. He announced we were going to war that night. All around the city were protests of survivors. Things were happening so quickly.
I left New York a month later. Packed up my rusted out Subaru and headed back to Napa, California. Said goodbye to my dance career and set off to discover what was next. I was still in shock, and, I was also full of a kind of blissful possibility. Life had cracked open to an undeniable NOW. There was pain and the joy of such sudden connection with life, the present and others. There was a permanent no turning back. There was new connection with the women who chose to cross the country with me, jokes about anthrax and the best way to share the one gas mask that had been shipped out to one of the women we travelled with by a paranoid (or careful?) parent. We spoke of awakening, new possibilities, and together shared in this post-traumatic ecstasy of life handed back as gift full of wide open futures. We digested the bliss of awakening, survival and atrocity at the same time.
A story I often share with clients about the lesson of trusting one’s intuition and the illusion of “security” that came from this experience is this:
During the weeks that followed 9/11 I recall being in some of the confusion about what I would do next, why I had quit my job and the “security” that I had working at Morgan Stanley to jump into the unknown of what at the time was to be teaching yoga and dancing professionally. I lamented having given up the security when I actually had a chuckle to myself. That “security” was currently on fire in rubble over the horizon. What is real security? From that moment I knew it was listening to the voice within, following the truth of one’s being, living life full out.
Ten years later I am still celebrating that realization and giving myself constant reminders of the lessons learned that day. They fuel me and my actions both personal and professional. They fuel my passion to serve others to live fully and with love and faith in life. It takes extreme courage to face adversity and to come out alive. I actually think sometimes the most obvious and extreme cases of trauma offer the most opportunity for awakening. How disempowered we allow ourselves to become by the trifle inconveniences of our daily lives. How disconnected from our own hearts and those of our neighbors both near and far. Do I wish that things like 9/11 and the countless atrocities that have occurred since then both individually and collectively did not exist? Yes. Am I thankful for my own awakening experience of 9/11 and how miraculously it opened up my dedication and capacity to live and to serve others? Yes. I realize that it is these very atrocities (both personal and collective) that awaken us to the immediacy of life. Daily I see this in my practice: it is so often the varieties of physical, mental and emotional pain that tend to awaken us to pro-actively live our lives.
I continue to hope that my own experience of recovery and renewal from the trauma of 9/11 and shocks of the day can assist me to help others who have gone through such traumas. Life is a joy of experience and awakening. It takes courage and dedication to experience it this way. Not to smile while ignoring the darkness, but to smile because of the full knowing that it is the only real viable option to truly live in a world and life experience that will always be full of both dark and light.
I believe we need to remember things like 9/11. Not for fear. Not to feed our consistent love of drama and the morose. We need to remember so that we can stay alive and learn to love.
These are the primary lessons that came to me during that traumatic time 10 years ago:
1. What we think is permanent can be taken away in the next moment.
2. Live now. Most of the reasons we create not to do something are absolutely meaningless. Life is happening right now, as rich as we desire.
3. Choose to love. People are hungry: they need places to live, clothing, food, education and love. They need to experience this feeling that they are cared for. If they are not being provided with love, they are becoming the opposite. We have the power to transform ourselves and others through love. It is a daily and moment by moment choice.
4. No matter what happens we can choose how to respond. We can be victims of life’s traumas or we can rise above like the Phoenix who rises from the ashes. Every life experience can be an excuse to negativity or permission to create the positive.
5. I believe the way that we can honor those who lost or gave their lives is to fully live ours.
I am so thankful and amazed it has been 10 years. It still feels like yesterday to me in many ways. Like a little fire at my behind motivating me to keep going on a daily basis. Yet how much gratitude I have in the awesome ways that my own life has unfolded since then. The dreams of service to life and humanity have been unfolding since the frustration I felt that day, having no real skill to provide to go down to ground zero and be of service. How unplugged I felt from being able to give that day, and how grateful I am today to feel like I have the capacity to give and to uplift life. How grateful to be a part of the dance of life, again, today. What joy and possibility there is. What healing. What possibility for loving connection. What fun.
P.S. Oh Yeah! I have to thank those who stood solidly by my side during that time, encouraging me to move through this in a positive way, while they themselves were going through it. My zone healing chiropractors Dr. Jason Ditullio and Dr. Peter Goldman. Their office was destroyed, yet they opened a temporary one right away and started helping all of us (many of their clients worked at the Trade Center since it was across the street) to move through it all. They even taught my first “Concept Therapy” class a few weeks later in which we all sat and talked about how to move through life constructively. In the MIDST of it all. Thank You for showing me how to live full out and for inspiring me to do the same, and for all of the others that were there living with love and assisting life while it was happening.