My daughter was born on the exact right month to be exactly 2 1/2 years old on her first day of pre-school. You have to be 2 1/2 to start the “2’s” class and this she was exactly. By luck, because unlike more forward-thinking mothers who actually plan their child’s conception around the most advantageous time to start school, my daughter’s conception was a “happy accident.”
I can remember that night as clearly as I can remember that morning dropping her off a pre-school virgin on September 11, 2001. Some moments are etched into your brain permanently – no matter how hard you try to shake them away, the aluminum powder stays coated to the glass. Some of them good, some of the bad. Permanent etch-0-sketch.
As I pulled out of my driveway that morning, I was full of anxiety for my daughter’s big day. Would she cry when I left? Would I cry? What would I do with the 2 hours of free time – so much to do, so little time. Really, SO little time. I couldn’t possibly squeeze in a gym visit, pedicure appointment, grocery store run, coffee with a friend and everything else I didn’t have time to do since she was born in 2 hours now could I? Life before it changes.
Before I left, I had heard the news that a plane had crashed into a building in NYC. I didn’t think much about it because there had been nothing in my previous experience to think otherwise. My mental picture was one of a small plane carrying a few people at most, the headline reading something like this: “Small plane hits building in NYC killing pilot and 2 others.” While tragic, small plane crashes are not uncommon. But as I continued to drive, the news got more inauspicious. It was a bigger plane. A much bigger plane. And there was another. And another crashed into a field and another one into the Pentagon. Planes were crashing left and right. What was happening? Uneasiness crept in. Uncertainty.
By the time I arrived at the school, thoughts of my daughters’ day were replaced by thoughts of my husband and mother. My mother worked in Manhattan, my husband across the river in Jersey City. We stood around in that pre-school classroom watching our babies at the coloring table, playing Bristle Blocks and dolls unsure of what to do. Pure innocence at work.
Someone mentioned World Trade Center. Oh, ok. Been there, done that. 1993. I watched the first World Trade Center bomb attack from my window across the river in Brooklyn. There was lots of smoke, lots of sirens. My mind found a place to rest, a place to stand on. Ok, it’s like that. And so, reluctantly, I left my pre-schooler with more anxiety than I would have otherwise willing myself into a false sense of security.
My car radio didn’t offer any relief, any explanation as I now drove home instead of to my “to-do” list. There was nothing “to-do” now except get home and call my husband (these were the days before we all had cell phones or at least I had one) – he would know what was going on. Need some answers. Knowing is everything.
Home. No lines getting through. Hijacking confirmed. Towers collapsing. We are under attack. President shutting down all air travel. Back in the car within minutes. Back to pre-school. Need my daughter now. Need her safe. World is crazy. World is different. Everything is upside down. No place to rest. No ground to stand on. Ground? Zero. Pure evil at work.
“Some people, sweet and attractive, and strong and healthy, happen to die young. They are masters in disguise teaching us about impermanence.” – Dalai Lama
People, brave people, have asked me what it felt like to receive that call from the NYC police department. Not on September 11, 2001 but on December 14, 2010. The day I found out my husband, who came home on September 11th battered and bruised from witnessing the 2nd plane go into the towers and finding his way home after a 12 hour ordeal made up of bikes, walking, and hitchhiking, would not return home some 9 years later. It felt like that day. It felt like I was one of those buildings. Sturdy and strong, seemingly indestructible yet living in a fool’s paradise.
Something shifted on September 11, 2001. We experienced our oneness. Our nationhood and the fragility of life. Our collective universal compassion and love. Our vulnerability. Utter dismay, utter heartbreak will do that. And had we stayed there – had we allowed those feelings of tenderness and love to guide our thoughts – we would have found a wisdom and divine intelligence to move forward in the direction of genuine triumph. As it is, we found what is actually true: in the final analysis, we often give lip service to peace and love. We think it’s great until things get serious. And then, when things get really tough, we think hatred is a greater power. And so we went with that. We looked to war to save us.
I had that choice on December 14, 2010. I had the choice to allow heartbreak to turn into bitterness. To hatred. To war. Me against the world, against God, against what I deserved. To give lip service to peace and love and let anger triumph . But it was from a place of strength and grace that I chose another way. I chose to let what broke me stay broke. I chose to stay with the tenderness of my soft spot. And it is in this way that I found my strength and my power. The way of fear, hatred, anger, aggression, and violence may seem strong, may seem powerful but it is an illusion. Like the solidity of those buildings.
The main question we need to ask ourselves today is this: are we living in a way that adds more aggression to the world or are we adding some much needed sanity? Many of us feel deeply concerned about the state of the world. We sincerely wish for things to change and for beings everywhere to be free of suffering, for war to end, for peace and love to triumph. But if we’re honest with ourselves, do we have any idea how to do this when it comes to our own lives? Do we have any clarity about how our own words and actions may be causing suffering? And even if we do recognize that we’re making a mess of things, do we have a clue about how to stop?
So this is our challenge and the challenge for the world—how can we call on our innate wisdom to see what helps and what hurts, what escalates aggression and what uncovers our good heart? With the global economy in chaos and the environment of the planet at risk, with war raging and suffering escalating, it is time for each of us in our own lives to make the choice to do whatever we can to help turn things around. To choose another way. To not just give lip service to words like peace and love.
Now more than ever, we are all in this together.
peace and love, maeve