I remember I chose to wear the strappy high-heeled shoes to match what felt like would be a powerful and playful day.
I remember I took the bus instead of walking the five blocks to Lexington Avenue.
I remember hearing the bus driver being informed that there was an explosion downtown, and all buses were being rerouted from the area. I was headed to midtown so it wouldn’t impact me.
I remember the subway’s loud speaker cackled its garbled message. We all laughed that they never fixed anything in New York. We boarded.
I remember exiting Grand Central Station, and walking a few short blocks to my office next to the Chrysler Building.
I remember being greeted with, “What do you know?” I responded simply with “What?” I remember being informed that there were rumors of terrorists attacking a building.
I remember that while I was momentarily dazed, my office mate was trying to find out how to donate blood. I was ashamed at my slowness to action though in retrospect, no useful action could be taken then.
I remember that the phone lines were down, our cell phones were out, and we couldn’t get on the Internet’s news sites which were beyond capacity.
I remember our email worked. My friend in Washington, DC and I wrote back and forth as we both tried to figure out what was happening. I then emailed my family and friends, who don’t know Manhattan, that I was safe.
I remember that the whole world knew of the attack on both towers before we heard about the planes.
I remember that although we were located next to two potential terrorist targets, it was 11:30 am before our office announced that it was closing for the day.
I remember that I had already left, heading for my church where I could hopefully do some good.
I remember that all the subways were ordered stopped. Buses and taxis were allowed to travel only one way, out of the city.
I remember Park Avenue and all other northbound streets were filled with people walking in one direction, north. I chose the wrong day to wear my strappy high-heels.
I remember seeing my friends on the steps of St. Barts and hearing, “I am glad you are well” repeated over and over, and then for months hearing “stay well” instead of “good-bye.”
I remember this church that normally holds up to two thousand had standing room only for their noon service. We mingled looking to account for those we knew. One of my priests led the service while still unsure if her husband had survived. I remember people being clear in their speech. We would say “I know for sure…” and “the rumors are…” so we could all make the best decisions.
I remember the only stories I heard were of survival, not death. One man had not missed a day of work in over ten years, and this day he had chosen to go with his daughter to an event at her school.
I remember how I thought I would never hear the end of the sounds of sirens or of fighter jets. I needed to convince myself that these screams meant that people were receiving care.
I remember how on the day after, two people reached for the last two containers of milk on the store’s otherwise full shelves. The woman who got there first gave one to the man. Familiar with the barren supermarkets that follow major quakes, I realized we had no fear of not getting what we needed. We would not be abandoned.
I remember that a friend gave me her house key should I need to escape to Connecticut.
I remember how for months I embraced countless strangers as they cried. Whether in my church, at the park amid the dog runs, within the pungent subways or on a street of any name, for a few moments each space became sacred.
I remember being on a bus in mid-October when a woman started to scream. Another woman, calm yet loud enough for all to hear, said, “We all grieve in our own way. We will just give her the space she needs to do so.” We did, and the grieving woman slowly calmed.
I remember that despite tradition, the cabs didn’t honk for over one year.
I remember that living in Manhattan and seeing New Yorkers’ compassion and desire to make the best out of all situations gave me a sense that humanity had a chance.
Yet some days, I remember too much.
I sometimes wonder what it would have been like had I been raised in India. Would she embolden my heart and call me to her as she does now?
Would I be fearless riding in taxis that crowd four into two lanes? Would I inhale their plentiful exhaust as oxygen? Would I notice that Bangalore’s midnight air holds a sweet perfume or that Puttaparthi locals don their sweaters when the temperature falls to 90 degrees? Would I count the days until mango season?
Would I see a pink moon as ordinary? Would I intuitively know how to sidestep an oncoming car even when my back is turned? Would I be a master of negotiation? Would I know how to use a color palette to create beautiful, exotic combinations that challenge Western eyes? Would I tire of guarding my ice cream from slender, agile monkeys? Would I become blind to the poverty or the need for clean water and sanitation?
Would I truly understand that creation and destruction are equal and necessary forces in life, neither inherently good nor evil? Would I expect prominent holy men and women to help show us how to live a balanced life in the midst of beauty and chaos? Would I finally choose love over fear?
If I lived in India, would I be aware of her charm and seduction or only see her inequities and horrors? I would like to think that I would see both—the creation and the destruction—and make efforts to resolve the profane.
India, will you awaken my stagnant eyes and help me now to see full, clear, and brave? Will I see through life’s dichotomies, be present, and tend to this road I pave?