Friday, September 11, 2015

Wake Me Up When September Ends

Three thousand miles away, there was tiny little flyspeck me still semi-thwacked from partying the night before at my South of Market residence hotel.  I boarded the 21 Hayes outbound to go to my job as a Grants Assistant at Catholic Charities.  There, on the bus, I overheard two women talk about planes crashing into the World Trade Center in New York.  Not until I got to work did I understand the scope and breadth of the tragedy -- we all of us huddled around televisions in conference rooms as we watched the scene unfold over and over again.  America had been attacked, a city devastated.

Brian Cahill, then Executive Director of our agency, the mission of which was to serve San Francisco's needy, disabled and elderly, told us we had the option of staying at work or taking the rest of the day off.  I took off, on foot, to look over what I could of the city that had always been my home.  I walked from Hayes and Stanyan to Haight Street.  I was immediately struck by the silence.  Everything and everyone seemed unable to make a sound.  There were no planes, few vehicles, and no chatter on the sidewalks.  Pedestrians were pretty scarce, actually -- a tourist trap like Haight is usually thronged that part of the day, teeming with visitors.  The few people I saw were all gathered at those storefronts that had televisions on.  Those televisions were the only source of sound.  At a pay phone near Buena Vista, a handful of gutter punks stood around with the receiver off the hook and were feeding quarters into the phone and listening.  But I heard no words, no conversation.

I ended up at my boss Ruth's apartment, where we watched footage of a woman from some 80-something stories up drop her shoes out a window, and then jump.

It was horrifying, and that horror continued for years.  Today, the wounds inflicted that day are still gradually healing.  The scars will always be there.  September 11, 2001 was a day of heroism, fear, sorrow, shock, denial, anger, and in small, humble places, tenderness and caring.  As a human, a former meth user, and a Buddhist, I am of course absolutely aware that everything is relevant and everything is connected, that there is no inside exclusive of any outside, that all hearts that are living beat, and that even the dead speak.  In fact, though few are heard, can we say that anyone is truly silent?  Yet that day, at least in the surface world of samvrti satya (the apparent world of cause and effect), the silence was overwhelming.  It was necessary, unavoidable, blameless, appropriate -- yet it was also in some ways detrimental and crippling.  As the activists of the 80s reminded us, silence equals death; and didn't the NYPD always tell subway riders, "if you see something, say something?"

I guess we can debate which is more appropriate, silence or talk.  Then again, we can't have one without the other.

In an abrupt, 180 conclusion to this remembrance of an infamous day from a life-long Californian, I'd like to quote Willie Jolley:  "The past is a place of reference, not a place of residence."  I'm not going to criticize how anyone else observes today, but I'd just like to say I intend on avoiding television, accessing social media sparingly, and thrusting myself into the present as wholly as possibly.  Blessings and love to everyone.  Take care.