For years, I had to walk around the edges of Our Wound every day to get to and from work. My daily walk around the periphery was never a distracted one. I never plugged into music, never spoke a word, and never, ever rushed by it. Thoughtfully, deliberately, I would steady my pace and silence the noise in my head and on the city streets. For them. For everyone who loved them. A moment of peace.
That peace was only disturbed by the people gawking at our broken heart, selling it, buying it, making a game of it. In my fantasy, I tap each of them on the shoulder and say, “It’s not the fucking Grand Canyon.”
On one particularly slow night, though, I saw an older couple standing right along the edge of the concrete barrier, their faces close to the fence and looking down, trying gauge the depth of something unfathomable. They were obviously tourists, dressed as if for Sunday tea on some great wraparound porch. For some reason, when they looked at me, I was not compelled to protect Our Wound. They seemed to want to ask me something, and so I approached them.
“Are you from New York?”
“Yes, I am.”
Southern blue eyes still on me, they paused.
“Were you here when it happened, darlin’?”
“Yes. I was.”
Miraculously, they left that there, asking nothing more.
And then, after a moment, said, “We’re glad that you’re okay.”
I bowed my head to this infinite kindness, a sea of sorrow welling up in my throat, and wished them a safe visit to our home.
It’s been 16 years, and I’m not entirely certain that I am okay. The events of this day in 2001 are a part of my DNA now, embedded in my programming. It’s the reason my eyes are drawn to big red EXIT signs, why my breath is a bit short in large crowds, why my hands go up in front of my eyes if any image of mass destruction, be it real or for entertainment, pops up on a screen.
It’s also the reason I’m reduced to tears by kindness.
Because on that day, after running and falling, running and falling, and kicking off my shoes to run some more, when I finally reached the river’s edge and could not run any further:
Someone I don’t know, someone covered in debris, equally as afraid but with the look of a Roman gladiator in her eyes, grabbed me by the arm and said, “Let’s go,” leading me around a crowded bend on the path up and away from danger.
Someone I don’t know asked me where my shoes were, and allowed me to take her by the hand, away from the riverside bench where she had been sitting, catatonic, wondering about the colleagues she was supposed to have met on the 105th floor.
Someone I don’t know gave me a pair of her shoes, size seven and a half, broken at the soles but her most comfortable, to soften the impact of 50 blocks already traveled and 128 more to go.
Someone I don’t know walked the entire length of Manhattan with me, checked on my need to sit or drink water or slow down (we never did), his massive presence and steady gait a source of sanity and safety, his proclamation that I walked like an African warrior princess a source of strength.
The world is a mess. But there is also so much right in it. That’s what I try to never forget.
Cathy, Ann, Sue, and Kasim: Wherever you might be, eternal thanks and love.