I was already towards the end of my shift at work when the first 9/11 attack took place. I was a cashier at Sam’s Club in Asheville, North Carolina at the time and the first thing to catch my attention that morning was there was a small crowd of co-workers and customers gathered around the large screen televisions in the electronic department. It was strange at that hour to see a crowd in electronics, so I assumed it was a product demonstration or some sort of thing. My relief showed up so I made my way to the break room in the back to retrieve my personal belongings and head home to a four day off stretch that I had been anticipating for weeks. My mind was not on the chatter in the store, but on the quickest route to the time clock and my mini vacation.
When I arrived in the break room there was a large crowd gathered around the television set mounted on the wall. Between the heads of people watching I could see a skyscraper on fire and thought ‘why all the excitement over a movie?’. As I gathered my keys and jacket from my locker I kept being drawn to the fragments of television screen I was able to see – mostly out of curiosity of so many people being in rapt attention at that hour of the morning. I edged my way closer and soon joined everyone else in slack jawed amazement – it was a live shot of New York City and a skyscraper was on fire. I caught a quick glimpse of the news scrolling along the bottom and saw the words ‘plane crash’ and ‘Twin Towers’. Rather than fight for a better view I raced out to my vehicle and drove the short distance to my cabin on the river.
I tried finding any news on the plane crash on my car’s radio but there was only the usual fare, so I got to the cabin as quickly as possible to see what was going on. When I arrived and turned on the television every channel had a live feed, so I settled in to CNN news and spent the next four days and nights froze to the screen. I don’t know any other way to describe what happened to me aside from I ‘absorbed’ 9/11. Soon enough I got the details of what was really transpiring – that we as a nation were under attack by unknown assailants, and not long after I began my vigil the second twin tower was hit by a large jetliner. I recall gasping and not being able to breath for quite some time as uncontrollable sobs rose from the depth of my being.
Every emotion that I witnessed on the television screen over the next few days rose up from the depths of my body and washed over my awareness. I felt everything – all the rage, sadness, fear, inconsolable grief and even the jubilation of the Middle Eastern crowds that danced in the street in triumph over our open wound. I have lost many people in my life, but have never shed as many tears as I did those days. It seemed so unreal, like a big budget Hollywood movie unfolding before our eyes. I remember nearly passing out when the first of the twin towers came collapsing down. I fell to the floor and hugged my legs as memories rushed into my consciousness.
I was a long haired popular guy out for a weekend adventure. Our little group of mischievous malcontents were bored and at the end of a long night of partying and mayhem. No one wanted to go home, and when no one offered a suggestion of what to do next I suggested rather coyly, ‘How about breakfast in New York City?’. Everyone’s face lit up at the thought of an all night adventure headed into the Big Apple – a 7 hour drive away! We did not arrive in the city until the next mid morning – Sunday…and the streets were very quiet. It was the first time any of us had been to New York City, and our wide-eyed open-mouthed gaze surely gave us away as neophyte tourists that we were. But we were young and dumb and were building memories that only the cool kids in the crowd had the courage to.
I was driving in the heart of the financial district when these two huge buildings caught my attention. At a stop light I leaned my head out the window and looked up…the buildings went on forever into the midday sky. We were all small town and small city kids so the sheer size of the twin towers were beyond anything that we had ever experienced. We pulled over quickly and as a group ran across the street to touch the buildings. It was the strangest sensation – I was deathly afraid of heights, but I could feel my body’s anxiety touching something so massive from ground level. It is the only time I ever had that experience in my life. Like dumb kids we did all sorts of stupid things like lay on the sidewalk looking up the face of the buildings. I recall kissing one of the buildings. I know we spent nearly 30 minutes in rapt wonder filling our brains with every little nuance of the towering giants before moving on to further adolescent adventures. But I never forgot the sensations of that day back in 1985…a treasured memory for a tactile personality.
I was so horrified to see people jumping from the windows of the remaining burning tower. Thinking back to the unimaginable heights of those buildings I visited as a young adult, I could not imagine that personal choice of jump or be burned alive. I was moaning in anguish and solidarity, so ashamed to be a witness to such a private moment. The second tower came falling to the ground and I cried as I never had before in my life. What could anyone possibly have done to deserve this horror? Holes were being punched into the lives of thousands of people – mothers, fathers, children never to return home again. The newscasters were nearly as silent as the viewers were – how does one put a spin on such horror? You could feel as well as hear their attempts to be professional and unemotional crack at times, then another newscaster that had managed to gain composure started speaking whatever came to their minds. It was the most surreal morning that I have ever lived in my life.
The events of 9/11 impacted many of us on a much deeper level than just the loss of life and the half-assed posturing and response to the terrorist attacks. At the time I was running a popular spiritual chat room on MSN. We spent a few weeks rehashing the day of 9/11 and the days that followed, but soon the group disbanded and we just went our separate ways. Spirituality just felt hollow in the reflection of a world gone mad. Over the years I have heard others say that they, too just dropped out of the spiritual community and found themselves neck-deep in a mundane life. Suddenly there was a weakened economy, bills to be paid, anger and bigotry rampant, and a war being forced down the throats of the global community by Washington elites gone mad. All the while my health was taking a drastic downturn and I found myself in the throes of death.
I know that 9/11 impacted me deeply. It happened at a time that I was soaring with newfound wonder at all things spiritual. I had spent nearly six years as a kind of wunderkind of metaphysical ability and was embarking on what I thought was going to be a career in teaching and healing. I had a great deal of support to become all that I might become – people adored me and I adored being in the spotlight. After 9/11 I walked away from everything, and with the illness taking most of my attention I never looked back. For years following 9/11 you could see the drying up of the spiritual community. Websites and chat rooms were dropping off the radar left and right. The enlightenment community online became ghost towns of tumbleweeds. The subject of 9/11 came up, but people were burned out on it. We were years into a senseless war here in the states.
To me, on a macrocosm/microcosm level, 9/11 was the body hitting back hard against the rising spiritual awareness of the 1980’s into the 1990’s. We were on a high of awakening and Self discovery, and the body was losing its grip on its reality. The attacks of 9/11 brought nearly everyone back to the world, back to the base level fears and hatred, and back down to the daily grind of taking care of the body’s survival. I awoke during the years just following 9/11 but the world was never far behind me, constantly nipping at my heals for attention. It is only of late that I feel that positive progressive flow returning to the spiritual community at large. But we are mostly like shell shocked people trying to get over our post traumatic syndromes. There is still a great divide between people – a great fear to open up and be naked. Many have given up on the joy of discovery through experience and settled into the relative safety of word attachment…they refuse to get out of their heads for fear of experiencing the wonder of their lost innocence.
I watch the replay on MSNBC every September 11th, commercial-free the moment to moment unfoldment of that day. I do not want to forget anything about it. I am not burned out yet. I feel the necessity to know what I witnessed on that day – to relive the horrific loss of life, and to share with my fellow humans the loss of my own innocence of the time. That day changed me, and many upon this planet. It is important to witness everything that is of these times, and try to see where it fits on the microcosm/macrocosm spectrum. We are all sharing the incredible exponential quickening that is the afterimage of these times together. I stood beneath those megaliths of human endeavor years ago as a child of wonder…I do not intend to ever let go of that child in me. Most of all 9/11 reminded me of how important that awe of the natural and man made world is…it nearly broke my heart, but the spirit lives on ever brighter from the ashes of that day.