Tuesday, September 11, 2012

11 Years Ago.

Last year, I finally wrote down my memories of 9/11 and the days immediately after. Today, in the spirit of healing and peace, I share an email I wrote the weekend after the attacks:

"My boyfriend lives on the Lower East Side, about 3 miles from the Trade Center. On his roof, he has what used to be a breathtaking view--the entire NYC skyline. Unfortunately, the prevailing image these days is the smoke coiling through the sky.

We went on the roof Friday night at 7 with one little candle. After fighting the breeze, we finally managed to keep it lit. Surveying the other rooftops and street below, it appeared that we were the only ones who had received the vigil e-mail.

But a few people must have seen us up there, because we slowly started seeing others gather on their roofs. We all smiled and nodded at each other--unheard of in New York.

The waiters and chefs from the Middle Eastern restaurant across the street even stopped serving for a few moments, to step outside and bow their heads. It was a beautiful sight.

Later that evening, we were walking by Bryant Park in midtown. A shrine had been set up with hundreds of candles, but Thursday's rain had evidently put them all out. A young man hurrying by (no one ever strolls in New York) stopped, paused to look at the darkened shrine, and took out his lighter. He spent about 15 minutes patiently lighting and relighting the candles.

Bryant Park was to have hosted "Fashion Week" last week--there were tents and runways set up for the event. It has been transformed into a volunteer recruiting/supply drop-off center. I've also seen many bars/restaurants with "Emergency Supply Drop-Off" signs in their windows.

On Sunday, our church in Chelsea was filled to capacity. People actually sat in the aisles and stood in the back for the entire 2-hour service.

During the homily, the priest said it's easy to ask, "Where was God on Tuesday?"

I certainly can't answer that. But after seeing events like the ones I've described, the generosity of my students in giving of their time and supplies for the victims, and the hundreds of collection centers and shelters springing up in Manhattan, a city that once seemed so cold and unfriendly, in just a few short days...I can certainly say I've seen the face of God a thousand times over."

Saturday, September 08, 2012


Last Wednesday, I woke up to a beautiful summer morning, anxious to start my new job downtown. I kissed my family goodbye and strolled down the block to my easy new commute--a trolley and el ride into the heart of Center City.

Little did I know how quickly life would change in just a few hours.

After a pleasant morning of meeting my new colleagues, learning about Quakerism, and enjoying a fabulous lunch at Marathon, I strolled through Love Park towards the el station. I pulled out my phone to see that my aunt had called (who lives down the street from me). "Don, it's Aunt Marilyn. I have Rocco, but please call me back. It's an emergency."


Upon returning her call, I found out that our neighbor's house (which is attached to ours) had caught on fire. I texted Nick, my dad, my other neighbors, anyone I could think of who might be able to beat me home. It was the longest ride of my life.

When I finally got off, I was greeted by fire engines, cop cars, and the sickening smell of smoke--a smell which triggered horrible flashbacks to another sunny September day many years ago. My neighbor Sandi (whose house had caught fire) hugged me, sobbing and apologizing. She had simply put on a Crock Pot and gone out for a few hours. Their house was now completely destroyed.

Piecing together the story from others, here is what happened. A neighbor heard Rocco and another dog barking like he had never heard before. When he looked outside, he saw smoke pouring out of Sandi's air conditioner. He called 911 just as an off-duty cop was driving up our street and saw the same thing. My aunt immediately notified the cops that we had a dog, and they got in through a window to rescue him. They said there was so much smoke and soot in our house they couldn't see the poor little guy.

My dad and aunt escorted me past the insurance adjusters, who were already swarming like vultures. We walked through the house, which reeked of smoke and was covered in soot. Immediately my eyes started burning and my throat closed up. I tried to pull myself together to call our insurance company, who said they could probably get someone out "a week from Thursday." !?! As Nick dealt with them from his cell phone across town, I was asked to sit down with some amazing Red Cross volunteers who gave me some advice (get Rocco to the vet, wash any clothes you can with dish soap), and provided us with a debit card to get some groceries and toiletries--since we were NOT to return to the house to inhabit anytime soon.

A restoration company showed up and told us to take out 2 weeks' worth of clothing which they would do a rush cleaning job on. 2 weeks...? That seemed a little extreme, but we grabbed what we could and set off to camp out at my parents for the night.

In the interim, we traveled down to North Carolina for a wedding--and while the wedding was absolutely gorgeous and wonderful, getting there and back was a nightmare due to insane flight delays. Teege and Kelly were troopers, but it took a toll on all of us after an already crazy week.

We didn't get back until 9:30 Monday night (oh, and we were all starting school the next day), so we stayed at my folks' one more night. The next evening, we moved into the lovely Residence Inn in Berwyn, which is geographically inconvenient but clean and quiet. We also get a hot breakfast every day, which helps a lot. The kids keep calling it "an inventure."

Family and friends have been great--dropping off extra clothes for the kids, care packages, dinner and playdates--and both of our schools have been extremely supportive. Still, we're terribly homesick and anxious to just be back in our home, which won't be for another week at this point while the restoration crew does their thing (air scrubbers, sanitizing everything, washing ALL of our clotes/curtains/linens/etc., replacing carpets, repainting, etc., etc., etc.)

In the midst of all the stress, we keep reminding ourselves how lucky we are. So we have a smelly house for a few weeks. So we'll have to deal with construction next door for the next 6-8 months. So we had to take TJ's first day of kindergarten picture in a hotel instead of outside our house. So what. We didn't lose anything--or, more importantly, anyone. Nobody did.

We just can't wait to get back home.