It’s been a long time without you, my friend

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Somebody asked me what I usually do on 9-11, and while I don’t really have any rituals, writing here has become a tradition of sorts. It helps me. It’s therapeutic and it’s important.

I believe that 9-11 enters my mind in some way most days—certainly more often than not. And while the visceral memories fade during the year, on the anniversary they return.

I remember so vividly that I could re-enact my experiences on that day in stunning detail. I don’t remember what I was wearing, but I remember what I was doing, who I spoke with, what I saw, what I ate. I can picture myself in my little apartment on Charles Street, blowdrying my hair and watching the news. I’d turned it on just after the first plane hit. I remember the anchorman’s tone when the second one came, when we could no longer pretend it was an accident.

I remember the phone calls, first to my mom and then to my ex. Nothing registered – at least not the loss of life at that moment, nor the implications for the rest of mine. I think on some cellular level we all knew that nothing would ever be the same, that life would be divided into pre- and post- , but I’m not sure most of us could have understood  just how intractable the change would be.

It was a perfect day. It was sunny and crisp and blueskyed, where the night before had seen torrential downpours. The night before we’d attended a benefit party for Women in Need and then darted from awning to awning to have burgers at the Cedar Tavern.

I remember standing on 6th Avenue in a stunned crowd of people watching the towers burn. Wondering, briefly, if I should go back for my camera and deciding not to. Ron, the homeless man I knew in my neighborhood, called out to me as I crossed 10th Street. “Laura! They hit us!” I spoke with him briefly and told him to stay safe, not yet understanding that that was impossible.

I got on the subway and most people knew. Got off in mid-town and learned that the towers had fallen. Loss of life was beginning to register, but certainly not to the extent that it would.

My coworkers, gathered around a live news feed, one in tears because her husband had gone to the buildings for a meeting that morning. He would walk in hours later, stunned and alive.

The rumors about the planes heading to Los Angeles and Chicago, learning about Pennsylvania and the Pentagon. Phone calls coming in from friends and family all over the country. Emails from people abroad.

Erika and I walked to my parents’ place, where my mom made us lunch (tuna salad on toast and potato chips) and from their windows we could see the smoke and chaos consuming lower Manhattan.

Walking, more walking, visiting with my dad, heading west and meeting Michel, then going down to my apartment. We went to Gus’s for dinner that night, ate Greek food because that was our plan and what else could we do? The couple behind us, an older couple, sounded as though they were on a very early date.

We went to a bar after to meet up with friends, including one who had yet to hear from her mother. She would learn, at some point, that her mother had stayed home from her job in one of the towers.

The Missing posters all over my neighborhood, the trickling in of information about so-and-so’s friend or family member who had died. The smell, that acrid smell of death and chemicals that clung to the air for months afterward.

I’m not sure which day I found out about Jonathan, but I think it might have been two days later. I hadn’t seen him in a bit, hadn’t known he’d changed jobs, hadn’t even heard of Cantor Fitzgerald until it was demolished.

That Friday a group of us volunteered at the site, feeding the rescue workers. We wore hard hats and goggles. The piles of steel were still burning. The heat was palpable.

The next day I went up to the country, travelled up with Phil; he had a house not far from my parents’. My dad picked us up and I spent the weekend with them. I remember taking a walk down their road and fearing snipers hiding in the woods. I remember seeing the biggest f-ing caterpillar I’ve ever seen.

How many times did I watch the planes hit and the buildings fall? It was unavoidable and yet I didn’t resent the coverage. I needed to see it, it was part of the process. My process.

The dreams continued for months. Dreams of buildings exploding and airplanes falling from the sky.

I remember the Portraits of Grief. I saved Jonathan’s and one day, months or maybe years later, I reread it, turned it over and saw the Portrait of someone else I’d once known.

In a very weird way, and please hear me out on this, I miss the aftermath of 9-11. I miss the closeness and kindness and we’re-all-in-this-togetherness. I miss the burying of hatchets and the overlooking of petty differences. I miss the tacit empathy and comfort we provided one another. The feelings of pride in my city, of gratitude for what we were able to do together. The checking up on one another. The collective therapy.

I don’t miss the flyers that stayed up for far too long, and I don’t miss the smell, and I don’t miss the frantic barking of dogs.

I don’t know what I will do tomorrow, I’ve started my 9-11 ritual early this year. I will think about Jonathan and I will think about others and I will probably watch some of the reading of the names. I will try to be a very good person tomorrow.

I will wish that we would all be kinder to one another, that we could all have compassion and celebrate our differences, that we would always remember to tell people we love that we love them, and that we would never take another day for granted.

I think I post this every year, too, because I think it’s beautiful, a snippet of a poem by my supremely talented friend:

In the blinking of an eye
Soon everything will change
From a blue September sky
The brimstone falls like rain.
If true Love
Soars the heavens
Pretend and we can fly
Soon everything will change
My love
In the blinking of an eye.

Neil Thomas, September 2001

I may write again tomorrow. Then again, I may not.

 

Where did all the blue skies go

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I started to write a post on the 4th of July and decided not to publish it, didn’t finish it. I couldn’t find the words to express what I was feeling, couldn’t quite figure out how to acknowledge a celebration of our country’s freedom when so much of the world is not free. I don’t usually get political here and it felt inauthentic somehow, though my feelings were 100% sincere.

That was four days ago, and I think had a fair amount to do with a new friend I’ve made, through my cousin – a fellow who lives in Iraq. I reached out to him after the latest spate of suicide bombings in Baghdad and he was, of course, devastated and angry. He asked to see photos of the mountains and woods where I spent the long weekend; he wanted to see beauty and positivity and freedom. He sent me a photo collage of the victims of Sunday’s attacks, and it was a collection of beautiful, young, vibrant faces.

The next day there were attacks in Saudi Arabia. This week two young black men in the US have been killed by police for the “crimes” of selling music and driving with an allegedly busted tail light. Last night, snipers shot and killed five police officers in Dallas and wounded several others.

I do not know how to react to any of this. I am infuriated and saddened and tired of feeling helpless and I don’t know what my recourse is.

I do know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Donald Trump is not the answer to any of this. Hate begets hate. Intolerance begets intolerance. Ignorance is dangerous and hubris does not a successful leader make. And I do not want to speak his name more than absolutely necessary, so that’s that for now.

I am in New Orleans again, working through the final third of the book. And it is hard to concentrate on what at times seems such a trivial pursuit in light of all that is happening in the world around us. But this is my job, and so I will do it.

Since I was last here about six weeks ago, there have been terrorist attacks in Syria, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Turkey, Somalia, Israel, Yemen, Pakistan–and that’s just off the top of my not-terribly-informed head. Since I was here, a monster shot and killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

There is so much to grieve in this world. And there is so much to love and admire, to those of us who are fortunate enough to live in places where we are allowed to love and admire who, what, and when we choose to.

I’ve been accused of having a Pollyanna-like outlook on things. I don’t. I’m more realistic than I let on. But there are many people who can speak of the world’s atrocities much more eloquently than I can, and I appreciate the opportunity to learn from these people and their words.

I have long been saddled with a need to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, to believe that people are inherently good. I am fortunate to have many good people in my life.

But it’s a scary, uncertain world, and I am aware of this. So if I veer toward light and love in the things I write and post and choose to talk about, do not mistake it for blindness. I can’t fix all the bad, and so I choose to try my best to contribute more good.

Time for coffee and Chapter Ten.

We can work it out and get it straight or say goodnight

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Some things have happened around me lately that serve as poignant reminders that we never know what others might be going through, that we can never assume others have it all together and think as highly of themselves as we perceive them to be. That good fortune is not so much about material comfort as it is about internal strength, and that success means something entirely different to every single one of us. We tend to get so wrapped up in our own heads that we believe our beliefs before they’re fully formed. We convince ourselves that this one’s a this-person and that one’s a that-person and he/she/it has more this/that/the-other-thing than we do and therefore they’re winning or at least they have a higher score than we do. Someone said to me, someone who reads this, “I didn’t know that people like you get depressed”. Someone said to me today, “If I can’t feel good, at least I can look good.” We assume all sorts of things about others based on who we think they are and in so doing, we lose the opportunity to see them as they want to be seen. Pain knows no boundaries, doesn’t care about physical traits or higher education or income bracket, upbringing, race, creed, religion, doesn’t care how popular you are or how clear your skin is or how easily working out is for you. It doesn’t care that so many people love you and you have so much to offer or you’re funny or honest or hardworking or talented. It finds the cracks and it seeps through and if we’re not prepared, inured to its power to wreak havoc on life, we can very easily give in to it.

Be kind to each other. Know that we all have something we wish were different. We’ve all had our hearts smashed and our spirits broken and our dreams ridiculed. We’re all in this together. Love as much as your heart will let you, whatever that means for you. Love, in all its many forms, is actually all that there is.

You’re a butterfly, and butterflies are free to fly

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Yesterday was the funeral for someone who was once a very dear friend, a brilliant, artistic, successful, strong willed, exotic beauty who was a good friend in high school and then again for a few years in the early – mid 2000s. Unfortunately we had a falling out in 2006; we were both going through transitions in our personal lives and we met up for dinner on a night when we were in entirely different head spaces and there were drinks involved and it spiraled out of control and that’s the last time I saw her.

A few years later we exchanged a brief email; I apologized for my part in things and we agreed to, as they say, let bygones be bygones. I reached out to her this past spring when I was getting ready to host a gathering in honor of the people who’d come to town for my high school reunion; I wanted to let her know that she was absolutely welcome in my home if she had any desire to attend. I didn’t know  then  – in fact, none of us did – that she was sick. A few weeks ago – September 5, actually – I had what I guess was a prescient dream about her. I don’t recall the details, just that it was troubling. I sent her this: “You were in my dream last night. I hope you’re doing well.” I didn’t expect a response, but I certainly didn’t expect that she would be no longer with us less than two weeks later.

This is a very weird grief – at first it was just bewildering, then I felt an uncomfortable detachment that I rarely associate with death – I guess it was due to the fact that so many others are mourning more viscerally. Now that’s gone – Saturday it turned into heartbreak, sadness, confusion, and regret for the way things ended between us. I chose not to go to the services yesterday, not because of any ill will whatsoever; these sorts of things evaporate immediately in the face of death. I chose not to go because I felt that I need to mourn this one in a private way. And I’ve begun doing so. I’ve prayed, I’ve asked for forgiveness (and I know I’ve gotten it), I’ve wept and I’ve done my best to keep to myself on this. I tried to talk to my mum a bit about it but she doesn’t, as we know, like to hear about these things, so I keep it in and talk to myself and the universe and to my departed friend. I had second thoughts about not attending yesterday but I feel in my heart it was the right thing for me to do, to mourn her in private and let those who were more actively connected to her spend time together. I’ve been through these things enough that I know there are no rules as to how or where or when one grieves. It is such an intensely personal thing; I remember when a friend died some years ago and another friend made the active decision to not attend the services. This was confusing but she told me that the services are really hard for her for reasons that have nothing to do with our friend – and that she chose to honor him in her own way. I absolutely get it now.

And so I will choose to do the same with our beautiful Khakasa, who is now in the stars. She was always a star, and she always will be.

Gone from my Sight

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side,
spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts
for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck
of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

 Then, someone at my side says, “There, she is gone.”

 Gone where?

 Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,

hull and spar as she was when she left my side.

And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me — not in her.

And, just at the moment when someone says, “There, she is gone,”
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!”

-Henry Van Dyke

My sole intention is learning to fly …

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According to the internets I might have that lyric wrong, but the essence of the two versions is the same. Learning to fly, finding one’s bearings after being set adrift. It’s hard to do, and accepting this is the only recourse for beginning to heal a broken heart or beaten soul or combination of the two. The process is exhausting and there are regressions along the way, but if one has some semblance of determination, the powers-that-be will reverse what’s seemed like a spell of misdirected punishment and the world will be brighter.

Despite all my foibles and missteps and temper tantrums, I think the people who choose to stick around know that my love is boundless and my loyalty fierce. I do have a fair amount of people in my life, and this is because, for whatever crazy reason, excellent people have come my way. I’ve met plenty, plenty of toxic people along the way, some of whom have disguised themselves as knights in shining armor and all-weather friends, and as such I’ve had my spirit broken many times. But through it I’ve held onto a faith that comes from some mysterious source and I’ve not given up on the universe. I can’t. Otherwise, why am I here? I’ve accepted the fact that mine will be a hard-won happiness; I’ve walked through deluges and spent years in foxholes and I’ve raged and rebelled against a world that’s at times seemed hell-bent on watching me suffer through life. But I’ve gotten back up, licked my many wounds, and struck out again to make mistakes and continue to fight for light and love. Because, I think, you don’t get one without weathering the other. I guess I’d rather keep battling because the moments of beauty, tranquility, and bliss are brighter and more powerful than one thousand demons could ever be.

When I was a kid I thought the song “Torn Between Two Lovers” was “Torn Between Two Leopards”.

Third time’s a charm:

I wish I could show you, when you are lonely or in darkness, the astonishing light of your own being.

I do, and I mean that for all of you.

The band in heaven, they play my favorite song

ImageI’m learning that there is little that can be done when someone is hellbent on convincing you that they are inherently flawed, and therefore bad. Of course they are flawed – we all are – but bad is another story entirely. If someone we love turns on us, rejects us, this does not mean we are bad. This means we were not meant to be with that person, and tough a pill though that may be to swallow, it is a far cry from being a Bad Person. And really, you know this. It’s a cry for help, an excuse to spin your wheels, a reason to attach to everything that doesn’t quite go as planned. I’ve been heartbroken, betrayed, lied to, used, rejected – I’ve venture to say that everyone reading this has been through these things. We’ve also suffered disappointments on the work front and parents – or children – whom we can’t relate to. None of this makes us bad. This makes us human. However, worth is in the eye of the beholder, and so if you are feeling unworthy, please know that this alone does not make it so. Hard times cause self-doubt, but self-doubt needn’t perpetuate to the degree that it does.

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Today was difficult, so difficult. In the Jewish tradition we bury our dead quickly, which means we don’t have a lot of lag time to get used to the idea of someone’s passing before we ritualistically mourn them. It was difficult and beautiful to see so many people honoring Lily, speaking of her love of life and excitement over every new adventure, her utter devotion to her family and to her husband of many decades. Her children spoke. My father spoke. We buried her – quite literally, as is also tradition. It was so … final. I will take from my relationship with Lily the notion that love and life matter more than anything, that family and friends come first, that being generous has little to do with material possession, and that we dance on this planet once in this form, so we might as well turn the volume up loud. Lily was life – even if I didn’t think so before, there is no way now that anyone could convince me that physical death means the end of spirit. She is, still, way too vibrant for this. I’m sad, but I’m so much better for having known her all these years, and so much more comforted by the notion that she’s still around.

Dream a dream with you

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This was a lovely weekend that began with music and included a trip to the ocean, a movie, and the requisite tears and laughter. Friday night we went to the pier in Hoboken  to see Wilco and Bob Dylan; there was an opening act followed by the cloyingly named My Morning Jacket, who are good musicians with unmemorable music — to me, that is. Apparently there are many people who disagree, as scores of fans were singing along. To each her own, says I. It took me a while to wrap my head around Wilco, despite the fact that I’d seen them play several times — I’m a good friend — but now I absolutely get it. They’re fantastic performers. (I’m such a good friend that, loathe as I am to admit this, I took a dear friend to see Dave Matthews many years ago as that’s what she wanted for her birthday. I’m sorry.) And Bob Dylan was excellent – clear-voiced and strong and we were close enough that we could see his blue eyes.

A few days before this show, a person I know who is undeservedly arrogant took great pleasure in telling my friend how much Dylan was “going to suck” and that he had it on good authority that the man is a hopeless junkie. This took place in the same room where I had the following conversation with a former friend a few years ago:

FF: What are you guys up to?

Me: We just had an amazing night – we saw Paul McCartney at the Apollo!

FF: I’d rather stick needles in my eyes.

Be that as it may, you pseudo-arrogant twit, what is it in your DNA that makes you derive pleasure from shooting down other peoples’ excitement? Or from trying to break their spirits? Can you – any of you – imagine saying to someone, “You’re going to Cancun? It’s going to suck.” “You’re dining at Babbo? That place blows.” “You got into med school? I’d rather skewer kittens on knitting needles!” It’s the opposite of schadenfreude, which, as we know, is the phenomenon of deriving pleasure from the misery of others. This is about deriving misery from the pleasure of others. Baffling.

Less baffling but quite irksome: people who spend the duration of a live musical event – or any event, for that matter – watching it through the screen of their SmartPhone. The uploaded concert is never as good as the event itself. Nor is the photo of the sunset. I take photos – I have some beautiful ones of the sunset in Montauk – but I do so pretty sparingly so that I can be in that elusive moment to the best of my ability. This Friday is the annual birthday sail for my friend E. One of the guests who usually attends (but isn’t this year, I’ve just learned) tends to spend the two-and-a-half hours of the trip photographing, tagging, and uploading. There’s a  feeling of  “if you can’t prove it it never happened” to this behavior. I love photos – I miss film, I love my digital camera. But unless one does something with them, makes a thing of beauty out of the evidence, capturing seems a poor substitute for experiencing.

Why am I so ranty today? I’m actually in a good mood.

Another thing. I really wish people wouldn’t walk their dogs off-leash in this town. The proliferation of off-leashers and the advent of the Citibike is an ominous combination.

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I know that for some of us, this moment is less than ideal. I know about the singularity of heartbreak and the feeling that it might never get better. I know about walking out on the street feeling entirely vulnerable and about never knowing when the tears might sneak up and fall without your being able to do anything but stand helplessly by. I know about the only solution being the problem itself, about pleading with the gods that the other person just open his or her eyes and see what seems so very obvious, and about waking each day with the sinking feeling that we’re right back where we started from. And, dear L, I know about walking headfirst into a situation that we absolutely know just can’t yet (yet!) be what we want it to be, and that has caused us pain and sadness, but that holds some sort of power we feel incapable of resisting. And I know how fruitless it is when people warn us not to do what we’re going to do anyway and worse, when they judge us and get mad at us and give up on us. I will never give up on you, sweet girl – on any of you, for that matter. I can’t fix it, but I can promise you with everything I have that you are not alone. And that, if you allow yourselves to have the faith that’s been challenged so many, many times, it will get better. In the meantime, know that I am here and that I want to be the best I can be and I want you to do the same.

Love yourselves.