We Were Not Alone But No One Spoke Out Loud
On 9/11/01, I woke up on a couch in San Francisco having crashed for the weekend before at a friends place.
I had been living in LA at the time and was producing lots of events. I was loving it all, but was worn out and wanting to escape. I had wanted to move back to New York City that summer but a big ridiculous (and unnecessary) drama with one of my events prevented that. I was dizzy with exhaustion and needed an escape.
I hatched a plan to drive up to San Francisco, stay for the weekend and then drive back down the 1 at a leisurely pace over the course of a few days. No reservations, no map. Just... 'whatever'. I had heard that Marie Osmond, suffering from post partum depression had simply taken off one day and driven up the 1. The image had stayed with me and I had it in my head that I would do the same, except in reverse.
I arrived in San Francisco on the Saturday before 9/11 and stayed on the couch of a friends place and enjoyed a beautiful weekend in the bay area.
On Tuesday morning, I woke ready to start my trip. My friend turned on the TV and I saw what looked like a very fake sci fi movie. Only, it was, of course, real. He and his partner and I sat staring at the TV unable to look away not believing what we were seeing. For hours. We tore ourselves away for a few minutes and drove to the KFC near the Safeway. We were not alone but no one spoke out loud. It was almost shameful that we would eat when so many never would again.
The next day, I drove like mad back to LA. I wanted to be in New York, but, of course, I couldn't. I would go to a memorial in West Hollywood the next night. I would sit on my couch for about a week numb to everything. Barely eating and not talking for days.
When I emerged I knew that there was now a new normal where these things were possible. Well, they were always possible, but we felt too far away for them to happen to us.
The days of 'before' felt like a hundred years ago. The days of 'now' were frightening and stark. But, eventually, like all trauma, we overcame. Or at least, we think we did. I'm not always sure.
The terrorists wanted to divide us, and, some days, it seems as though they succeeded.
But I don't think that they did.
The memory of that awful day is blessed with the stories of heroics and bravery in the hours, days and weeks afterwards; of missing friends discovered safe; and the assistance that people gave each other.
I believe that 'we helped our neighbor on 911' is more American than 'let's keep our neighbor away'.
This is something that's truly embedded in the American spirit - more than divisive politics, warring religions and economic hardship.
We are going through challenging times now - but the things that divide us are not greater than the things that unite us.
And yes, I know that sounds like a Pollyanna Hallmark card. But I don't know what value there is in giving into the division.
I think, no, I need to believe that we can overcome it.
It's scary .. this isn't easy stuff and most of us are, I think, sometimes too terrified to know exactly what to do to fix it.
But, like the morning after an illness where the spew has left your body, we will wake up feeling tired but rid of the sickness. We will shower. We will put on our clothes. Tie our shoelaces. We will comb our hair (for some of us, what's left of it!) and go about the business of living.
Always remember, never forget, but continue living. Amen.
Photo: Andrew Altenburg, 1986