I remember getting off the subway that morning, walking up the stairs and into the street, and finding myself in a scene so surreal that it felt as if I had stumbled into the shooting of a science fiction movie.
Hundreds, maybe thousands of people were running frantically, many screaming and crying,and all in the same direction-uptown-and away from the hub of the civic center in lower Manhattan. This alone was baffling to me, since it was a normal work day.
At first I thought it was a big accident of some kind, but when I approached a police officer and asked her what had happened, she said there was an explosion at The World Trade Center. This immediately made me think it was another terrorist bombing attack similar to the one in the trade center some years before.
I continued on my way to my editor's apartment in Tribeca on the Westside, about ten blocks from where I got off the subway. As I began walking, I noticed that smoke was billowing like a gigantic dark cloud all across the sky, and everywhere I looked I saw scores of frightened people running as if they were being chased by some prehistoric monster from a "B" movie.
When I finally got to my editor's apartment, I was just a few blocks from the World Trade Center. I walked up the stairs to her apartment and knocked on the door. She opened it immediately and flew into my arms, crying and shaking uncontrollably, frightened out of her mind. I asked her what had happened and she told me that a jet plane had crashed into one of the trade towers. She went on to say that she had been walking with her dog to her bank that was actually in one of the towers, when she looked up and saw a plane fly right into the building and burst into flames. She said she got so scared that she just turned around and ran back to her apartment.
At that point, although she was terrified, I persuaded her to go downstairs with me to the corner to see the extent of what had happened. At that moment, the TV, which she had on to get the news updates, began a report that was so incredible that I almost didn't believe what I was hearing. It seemed that another plane had crashed into the second tower.
We went downstairs and walked to the corner and looked up. There in front of us, about two blocks away, was one of the most unbelievable sights I had ever witnessed in my life. Both towers had been hit, and there were two big holes toward the top of both buildings with smoke pouring out from the places where the planes had crashed. We stood looking at this scene in disbelief. Some people had gathered to watch the spectacle, as we did, still others were making their way uptown, many running as fast as they could.
We stood looking at the buildings for about ten minutes, then I turned to my editor and said, "you know, I think I see people jumping out of one of the buildings." We both tried to focus more closely on what I thought I saw, since the activity was toward the very top of the tower. Then my editor screamed in horror as we saw two people, holding hands, leap from the building to their death. I could not get my mind around what I had just witnessed. It was too bizarre. A few seconds later, another person jumped, then another.
At that moment, I turned to my editor and said, "that tower looks as if it is going to go down." Just then, as if it was orchestrated by a demolition crew that knew precisely what they were doing, the building began to collapse. It went straight down, perfectly, as if it were planned. Everyone stood transfixed, unable to move, until the building had totally collapsed. In that moment, as the building crashed to the ground, debris came shooting out toward us, exploding, almost like an atomic blast. Everyone in the immediate area began to scream and run for their lives. I grabbed my editor by the arm and we ran around the corner, out of the way of the deadly fallout. We made it up the stairs to her apartment. I told her to pack an overnight bag as fast as she could, then we ran out of there, heading uptown to safer ground.
We walked a few miles uptown to 13th street. I left her at her sister's apartment, then spent the next few hours walking slowly up to 86th street, feeling very much as if I was being swept along in a dream. As I walked along, everywhere I looked, the streets were empty.There were no cars, no commercial traffic, except for police vehicles and barricades, blocking everyone from traveling downtown.
For the next few weeks, New York, as well as the rest of the world, had been touched deeply by all that had happened and went through an amazing, yet totally unexpected transformation.
Walking through the streets of Manhattan, I observed little prayer shrines appearing everywhere, seemingly on every
street corner, adorned with flowers and pictures of loved ones that were lost that fateful day. People congregated around these shrines, kneeling to pray, consoling each other, right on the sidewalks. In all the parks, people gathered together. Chanting groups from every religion and spiritual group offered their love through their hymns and prayers to soothe the hearts of our wounded city. It was very touching and very real.
Even the police officers were open and humble, caring and compassionate. It seemed as if the whole city had been galvanized by the tragedy and come together in an outpouring of love and human kindness unlike anything I had ever seen before, especially having lived in New York City all my life.
I had lived a spiritually based life for the past twenty years, centered around the practice of meditation and the teachings of an ancient spiritual path. My teacher was a wonderful meditation Master from India, and had always taught that the universe was benevolent, that everything that happened was for the benefit and upliftment of humanity. To listen to the reports of this tragedy on TV and in the media, one would be hard pressed to find anything benevolent in what had happened. And yet, to walk the street, to see the people, to experience first hand the actual reaction of the city and around the world, one could not help but feel a sense of hope and love, and a peace that just covered
everything. It was, without question, one of the most magical and beautiful experiences of my life.
Later that week, my meditation teacher called for devotees all over the world to come and meditate. We gathered together to find ways to help the world somehow get through this tragedy. Thousands of people, families and children,came from every city, every continent on the planet. The energy was magnificent.
People with microphones positioned themselves all throughout the audience. There were several thousand people present that afternoon. Our teacher then asked for only the children to give their insights. A few of the children raised their hands and gave some very sweet and heartfelt answers. Then, a little girl, around eleven years old, stood up, took the microphone in her hand and said:
"There are three things I think we all need to do. The first thing is that we need to send our love to the people that lost their lives in those buildings that day. The second thing we need to do is send our love to all of the people who lost their loved ones in those buildings that day. But those are not the most important things we need to do. The most important thing we have to do is to send our love to all of those people who did this, because to have done something so terrible, they could not have had any love in their hearts, and they need it more than anyone."