When The Towers Fell

How do I remember 9/11?

I was a freshman in high school. Sitting in history class. The teacher had left the room while we chatted amongst ourselves, taking advantage of her absence. When she returned, she mentioned that something had happened, maybe a bombing in the city, and that we were to sit tight. This was before the advent of smartphones; I didn’t even have my first Motorola flip handset yet. Laptops were barely a thing, and Facebook hadn’t been conceived so no one was rushing to check social media for news. Word of mouth was our link to the world.

More time passed and she returned and informed us that we were all being dismissed, released on our own pending parental permission. I found it a bit strange that our mommies had to call in to say it was okay for us to leave, after all, we were high schoolers now! But my mom was on the ball and had done so. Her job was only about 10 blocks away, so I made my way there to meet her with a group of downtown-bound students. All public transportation had been suspended, and the streets were teeming with pedestrians, even more so than normal New York standards, as if we were walking a marathon.

I met up with my mom at her job and we continued from 14th Street, down to Grand Street. I couldn’t see the smoke from where we walked. But at that point I’m not even sure I knew planes had crashed into the towers. The word currently going around was that the World Trade Center had been bombed. Again. I didn’t remember the first one, but that one hadn’t been SO crazy, right? The mood was cautious, yet spirited. With trains and buses halted, and an unknown looming threat to the city, New Yorkers stepped up in solidarity. As we walked through the streets I love, store owners offered bottled water to those journeying home. Apartment building doormen held their doors open, inviting folks to use their restroom facilities. Strangers exchanged friendly words of encouragement. I saw a long queue of bodies crossing each bridge in the distance. I felt for them, since I only had to walk to the bottom of Manhattan.

When we finally made it back home, we beelined for the television and the clarity it would bring. We didn’t even have to specifically turn to a news station. Every channel was broadcasting live and looping raw footage of the morning’s events. Two planes had flown into the Twin Towers, and our beloved buildings had crumbled.

We had just been there the weekend before. Stage Door Delicatessen had been across the street, with their confection-like pancakes. We’d discovered there was a little shopping center in one of the towers. In New York, you are always making new discoveries; you never truly know all the nooks and crannies of the entire city. I couldn’t believe those two towers, the icons of Manhattan that appeared in countless movies and that I’d always used as a directional compass, like the North Star, looking up in their direction to navigate, were gone.

Everything broadcasted was uncensored. The frustration, rife with profanity, the terror, the shock, the desperation, it was all there, unscripted. We watched as those trapped in the tower and resigned to their fate, soared from the windows to a guaranteed demise that was the lesser of two evils in their heads. The sticky web of stifling human emotion wrapped heavily around us, connecting the souls of all who watched. That day, we were all the same. We all felt the same things.

Back then, I was a chat room nerd, who went online every night at the same time to hang out with my Internet friends. That night, the mood was equal parts solemn and anger. There were no jokes and no discussing the latest episode of Gundam Wing.

“If they take the Empire State Building next, I swear to God…” someone typed.

It felt good to make empty threats against unknown (at the time) assailants as powerless teenagers. It felt good to simply expel the emotion we were feeling. Anyone who tried any troll-worthy comments that downplayed the massacre were punted out to the harshest degree. Methodus Toolz could do that.

The next day was a little less raw, but likely only for those like me who were less affected and less in the line of fire. I hadn’t lost a loved one or listened to a voicemail they left about how much they loved me and how they wouldn’t make it home tonight. I hadn’t thrown on my gear and dodged a barrage of concrete on foot to save anyone like the first responders did. My apartment building was far enough away from the debris and soot to affect me no more than some eye sensitivity for a few days after. But I still felt a deep bond with the people of my city, who had so often garnered a reputation for being rude, nasty and uncaring, who were embracing each other and offering helping hands or shoulders to cry on in the true spirit of support. For awhile after, we didn’t just pass each other in the streets. We checked on each other, gave smiles of encouragement and eye contacts of acknowledgement. We gave each other strength.

For months, even years after, I had the wildest dreams. Dreams of warmongers coming to assault our country on ships with motion-tracking explosive cannonballs. Dreams of terrorists hiding in plain view in bodegas launching rocket-launchers at my window. Dreams of an unknown threat eating away at our moon, threatening to plunge our world into eternal darkness because we didn’t have the resources to stop the source or save it. They prompted me to begin a dream journal to explore my subconscious. I hadn’t expected such an aftermath of rippling currents, expanding out to reach me with its tickling tremors.

When they first showed preview pictures of how they were going to turn the sites of the Twin Towers into deep waterfall reflection pools, I thought, “No way!” For some reason I didn’t think it was possible. But they did. They came through and I’ve visited the memorial multiple times and they are beautiful. When I go, I slowly meander through the site and never lose sight of the reason these pools are here in the first place. I touch a few names, gaze over the railings, and reflect. It’s important that I pay mental tribute when I visit, because I remember the collective trauma. Whatever the surrounding reasons behind it, so much human life was needlessly extinguished. I hope that fact remains respected, even over the passage of time.

My city is strong.

~Tael

The Facets of Feeling

I have a problem with the term “chasing happiness.” It’s too simple. The past 2 years for me were a prison of black and white, upbeat happy or pitfall sad. In-between emotions weren’t recognized or permitted. Hell, even sadness was considered intolerable, and angrily acknowledged if it surfaced. The vivid spectrum of human emotion could not be fully accessed. The only emotion allowed…was “happy.” But denying your palate the varied flavors of life through emotional suppression only creates a disastrous recipe.

Happiness. We hold it as the most powerful, sought-after state of being for a healthy, satisfying life. But there’s a problem with those who ONLY wish to be “happy” and banish the other emotions to the dungeon-like doldrums. Happiness is just one shade. Satisfaction, for example, is not as surface-level as “happy.” Satisfaction can run so much deeper and give you a far higher sense of achievement when attained. Contentment, as well, is a warm feeling that echoes softly through your soul putting you in a relaxed state that “happy” cannot achieve on its own. Exuberance is an exhilaratory upgrade of happiness that heightens your mental state with a gripping thrill.

And then there’s the downside of the spectrum. No one wants to be sad. No one wants to be depressed. And no one should wish for it. But when it happens, sometimes you have to feel it deeply. There is no such thing as a “bad” feeling; there is only a poor way to handle it. Choosing “not” to feel it is one such example. You can never truly face your situation by running from the sentiment. If sadness happens to be your reality at the moment, then face it head on, grieve, and learn from it. Fleeing from feelings conquers nothing and produces 0 growth. It’s simply putting a lid on a pot that will continue to boil and erupt later with explosive, exponential intensity.

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It may feel like a curse to feel emotions magnified other than “happy.” If you’re like me and feel things very deeply (mood swings galore as a child), simple words with an odd inflection may cut you deep. Brutal anger may draw a curtain of red over your world. Unfair treatment might make you curl-up-on-the-floor-sick-to-your-stomach with resentment. But buoyant, spirited vibes resound within you, magnifying to a high better than any hallucinogen.

The individual you run into sobbing in public will be one of the most honest people you’ll meet. Unafraid of the world’s judgment, they are showing you their current truth in raw form, without a facade. That highly opinionated acquaintance who constantly vomits their viewpoints that everyone finds “inappropriate,” likely won’t be “two-faced” behind your back because they give you themselves without dilution. The stranger you’ve just met who heatedly shares his indignation at an injustice he recently witnessed is unafraid to display the passion in his heart. Fearless emotion is an amazing thing.

If your goal is to only chase “happiness,” how can you fully appreciate the facets of feeling? Like a brilliant diamond, there are so many glittering sides to experience that grant you new perception at different angles. Angles that illumine paths to reflections you may not have seen before. Paths that lead you to fellow humans who immediately and completely understand what you’re feeling because they’ve felt it as well. They’ve experienced that facet of the diamond themselves. They’ve tasted that emotion and overcome it before and now you’ve created a powerful connection through sharing and empathy.

We need the jarring rage you feel when a friend is mistreated, the sweltering indignance you feel when you’re spoken down to, and the simmering jealous awe that pushes us to climb and stretch for things out of our reach. Going through life cradling one feeling is a robotic pathway of monochrome imbalance. Celebrate the fact that you can feel a myriad of sentiments. Reactions that prove you’re legitimately interacting with the world and people around you.¬†You hear them, listen, disagree, get angered by what they say, happy at their news, sad at their downfalls. Cry when you’re upset, stomp when you’re mad, yell when you’re frustrated. Shout beneath a waterfall like in A Quiet Place and let go of the composure. Embrace the wild freedom of being human.

PharellHappy

Be wary of those who are only ever “happy,” afraid to come face to face with any other emotion. Those are the ones who hide deeper currents that wash over their hidden truths and malfunction their mechanical myths behind the veneer they’ve put up. If your life is one emotion, you’re half-living, and not viewing the full panorama the human soul has to offer. If you haven’t fallen to the lowest point, clawed your way back out, coped through a mind-numbing loss, been picked up by the kindness of karmatic-hearted strangers, and even had your boss comfort you in the throes of devastation, you might not have truly lived yet.

The ending line from the Fruits Basket manga never resonated so well with me before: Repeat the good AND the bad. Do it all, and pile on the years.

Never be afraid to feel.

~Tael