Five years ago today, I was in New York City recording my CD, Rain & Mud & Wild & Green. I had flown out for the weekend to do some performances. On Monday night, September 10, I flew in to LaGuardia Airport. It was pouring rain. I took a cab to my temporary residence, an apartment in the West Village. I ordered Thai food and went to bed late.
When I woke up, I got ready to go running and called home. Mickey and I talked briefly, and I told him about all the helicopters that were hovering right outside my windows and the unusual amount of sirens everywhere. We hung up, and my phone rang. It was Ben, my producer, calling from his car. He had been in Philly the night before. He was now stuck in traffic on the bridge and said that something had happened at the World Trade Center. I put on my shoes and was about to step out the door when Ben called again to say that he wasn’t going to make it in at all. A plane had run into the World Trade Center, and they weren’t allowing anyone into the city. I didn’t understand. I thought that a pilot must have messed up, or that something was wrong at air traffic control. Then I walked outside and turned the corner and saw for myself. My entire world changed just like lots of entire worlds changed that day.
Through the day, I witnessed the masses of people covered in light brown soot walking toward mid-town, some stopping and sobbing, some hugging strangers, and some just staring forward in total shock. Without even thinking, I found myself hugging people and offering a place to sleep in my apartment. I was in a corner grocery store when the radio announced that first building collapsed. An older Italian woman in the aisle next to me wailed openly.
The worst moment came that night, when I finally turned out the light in my apartment and laid in the dark of what was now the quietest city in the world. It was then I got scared. I was scared of the unconsciousness that had led a handful of people to hold such deep conviction that this was the right thing to do. I was scared of my own unconsciousness. I was scared of the quiet. I ended up sleeping with the light on and tears burning the sides of my face. The air smelled like burning bones. I couldn’t believe I was in New York City on that day. I still can’t.
I flew back home over two weeks later. I kept several of the fliers of missing persons that had papered the streets and buildings and bus stops. Those fliers covered every inch of space. The love and loss was everywhere. There were a few faces that I connected with as I walked. I knew their names by heart. I prayed for them and their families and friends who posted the signs. And I took their fliers with me and put them in my journal so that I’d never forget.
“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
The weeks and months following September 11 were a time for many people to reevaluate their choices and their lives. Everywhere you could hear people saying that they were going to cherish their loved ones a little more, take a few more risks, and take more time to pray and be present to each moment. Among other things, it was a wake-up call.
So, on this five-year anniversary of that day, take some time to examine your powerful role in this changing world. Light a candle today. Say a prayer. Send blessings to the many people who lost loved ones or jobs or homes or pets. If you have continually told yourself to take more chances, and you haven’t actually followed through, then ask yourself how you’re going to begin living a deeply authentic life.
Best-selling author and life-coach Cheryl Richardson sends out a weekly email to her readers. Today’s email included a wonderful reflection that I want to share:
Take some time to think about the state of your life now. Take a walk
during lunch and think about the following questions. Print them out and
discuss them during dinner with family or friends. Spend an hour by
yourself writing the answers in a journal or notebook. Don’t wait for
another crisis to take your life seriously. Do it now . . .
– What were my priorities on September 12th, 2001? Have I continued to
– Am I pleased with how I’m spending my precious time on earth?
– Am I spending enough time with the people who matter most?
– Am I doing my best to listen to the voice of my soul so I make real,
honest choices based on what I most want?
– If today were my last day on earth, would I feel good about what I’m
– Am I sharing (or working toward sharing) my God-given gifts and
talents with others?
– Are there any petty disagreements or differences that I need to just
let go of once and for all?
– Is there someone I need to forgive?
It’s tempting to think that focusing on yourself in the wake of this kind of world event is petty or selfish. It’s not. I believe that the only place you can actually make global changes is from within. It’s only your ego that thinks otherwise. Your ego thinks it’s all out there. And of course, out there is conveniently just too big to worry about. Out there is actually in here. As you do these exercises, remember that the greatest gift you contribute to the making of a healthy world is a healthy you.
Like so many other little kids, no other book had such a profound effect on me than Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl. I still marvel at this amazing human and the undeniable mystery of her short life that impacted so many people. I want to close with my favorite passage from that book:
“It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart. It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more”
I believe that this peace and tranquility can only return as us, once we have the courage to allow no other option in our behavior, our thoughts, and our lives.