I couldn’t get dressed this morning. Everything seemed inappropriate. All my t-shirts with groovy designs, all my summer dresses, my pants, my surfer shorts, my khakis, my suits. Nothing was right. Showering felt too indulgent, too superficial. Do I put on my earrings or leave them off? Should I bother with my hair? Then I got angry with myself. How could I spend so much time worrying about how to look or worrying about how to not worry about how I looked. But the trivial decisions somehow bog you down.
My apartment was empty and eerily quiet. The windows did not transmit the sounds of the city that usually seep through their panes, they just sat there, silent, glowing hot with sunshine. My roommate, Deron Haley, a former Navy Seal, left early in the morning to go help at ground zero. What was I to do? Stunned and paralyzed by my ineptitude, my lack of helpfulness in the situation, I sat down to answer emails and phone calls. But there was still so little to say, so few words to offer as comfort.
I saw something in the eyes of my friends last night that I have never seen before. A mixture of fear, utter sadness, disbelief, anger, grief. My brother came over and broke down in my arms. He had watched the buildings fall from the roof of his office. I have never seen my brother cry like that before. He cried in spits and stutters, coughing up the pain as it came. I transformed from someone in need of comfort to someone offering comfort. I could not give blood, I could not rescue people from the rubble. I decided to cook and feed people. I went to the store to pick through what was left on the shelves. All the bread and water was gone. It was incredibly unthinkable as a New Yorker to imagine a food shortage of any sort. There are probably 100 restaurants in a six block radius around my apartment. I never bought into millennium fears, people crammed cans of tuna into their basements with guns, gallons of water and a short wave radio in preparation for a new years eve party disaster. This was different… No one knew what to expect.
My roommate and I invited friends over for dinner. It seemed better to be around people than alone, but it was hard to be together because there was so little to talk about. So we sat dazed in front of the TV and took turns making calls and checking emails. I dished out lasagna. “Eat, eat,” I told them, as insistent as my own Jewish grandmother. It was the only thing that made me feel better.
As it grew darker and quieter, we began to feel exhausted and tired of the horror. We attempted to consider watching a mindless movie, even borrowed a tape from a neighbor, but it was useless. No one wanted to deny reality. Most of the people in the room were fellow Harvard Business School graduates, classmates of ours. We all dreaded hearing grim news about friends. Lists of accounted for classmates circulated through our network. Every sigh of relief was matched by a fear that someone unmentioned was never going to reappear from the rubble. I heard from long lost friends, family members and acquaintances. We were all trying to reassure each other that we were ok.
I emailed friends who I reconnected with at a wedding last weekend. Three days ago we were blissfully celebrating the marriage of Andrew and Candy, drinking until 4 a.m., sharing slices of pizza on a corner in the West Village. On Wednesday I woke up and heard that one of them was on the 104th floor of Tower 1 and was missing. He worked for Cantor Fitzgerald. I did not know him well or for long, but I kept replaying images in my mind of his smiling face at the wedding, offering me his jacket when it was cold, conversation in the bar, dancing with the other members of the wedding party, talking about his wife and missing her that night. He was a vibrant, giving, beautiful person. There are a thousand stories of special people lost. Everyone is touched by it, everyone.
I am one of the lucky ones. I have inventoried all my close friends and family members and came up stocked. The comfort in knowing that your immediate world is intact is short-lived and thin. It is impossible to feel happy about your own situation, knowing how many people are suffering with loss and confusion and the unknown. I left my apartment the next morning, walked among the lost and met friends for coffee. We snuck in a few smiles, nervous to express any happiness, and equally nervous to release all the sorrow inside. We walked down the West Side Highway and gathered with a crowd of people cheering and clapping for the police, rescue workers, doctors, and fire fighters who went by. So many moments brought tears to our eyes.
What scares me the most is not what has happened, although it was incredibly frightening, but what is to come. My prayers go to the people we are searching for and their families. My watchful eyes turn to our country’s leadership, hoping that they will act with honesty, determination, and strength. I want to punish those that stole from us so many glowing souls, so many brothers, husbands, wives, cousins, friends, and sisters. I can’t imagine the inhuman evil that drove the cowards who perpetrated these horrible acts. Nothing justifies what we have just experienced. No one has come forth to take responsibility, make a claim, demand, or objective. It was utterly senseless. But while we mourn the innocent we have lost, I also dread a wrath that may sacrifice people that may have an uncontrollable affiliation to a government, a geography or a religion. In America, some of our citizens are being viewed with suspicion. They are not our enemies, they are our fellow citizens. I fear that some people will act with ignorance and with the same kind of hate that fuels these acts of terrorism. Something has gone horribly wrong in the world. I don’t know how to punish, how to heal, or how to grieve.
I have a folder of emails that I have received over the last two days. Some are from family and friends checking in. Some are lists of business school classmates and messages pleading with those who have stayed out of touch to check in. Some are stories, exclamations of horror, and descriptions of how things are. I plan to never forget these days, to hold on to the feeling of thankfulness in my heart and to someday let my children know that every day is special and should be cherished.