9/11 and Hurricanes: A Survivor’s September Reflection

Courtney - New Orleans, Louisiana
Entered on September 9, 2008

I believe that need can be the beginning of truthfulness.

It is the morning of 9/11 seven years ago. I am evacuated from my office building a block and a half from Ground Zero. A man on the street with a walkie-talkie is barking at us, “Go south! Go faster. Go faster! He is screaming, “Go faster!” Suddenly everything starts to shake.

I see the black cloud barreling toward me 1,368 feet high. My mind is almost paralyzed, but not quite. I think in milliseconds. I think, “When it gets to me, I’ll die or I’ll live. I have time for one more thought.”

With every drop of being I inhale and summon the life within me. Then I release it screaming in my head, “Take me!” It is a desperate act of need. My being is in a state of utter tremulous powerlessness and I am pleading for a swift and immediate release from beyond. I have nothing to turn to but Generosity itself.

Miraculously grace comes. I literally feel the life force inside me starting at my toes and rising up through my spine go out of the top of my head and rocket for somewhere and Someone. I don’t know where it is going but it does.

All this happens as the black cloud engulfs me and everything disappears. I think, “Now I know how life ends.” But it is not the end. It is the beginning of truthfulness.

Back home in my shattered state a mantra enters my head. It whispers, “Only people, only people, only people matter.”

On the Sunday after Ash Tuesday this leads me back to Ground Zero. It’s terrifying to enter the Pile, this daunting school of death, but even my legs are praying. I am now truthful enough to know that generosity is security – the only real security there is. This frees me to let go of safety and be kind.

Feeling vicariously the helplessness of those brought low, it seems the whole world has become truthful. Empathy gives birth and it comes in a rush to the site. Even the street people of the neighborhood come in a gang to give us their cups of coins. Miraculously the fellowship forms: everybody belongs to everybody.

Since Katrina I have been a leader of hurricane recovery down in Louisiana. This week as I’ve evacuated from Gustav, and watched the track of Ike, I’ve felt need work its magic once again. Even the rich are poor today – helpless to meet our basic needs and fearful of the future. I watch us in our state of utter tremulous uncertainty, let go of safety and decide to be kind. Dependent on generosity I become more truthful again. Feeling our poverty vicariously the empathy of the world gives birth.

Need is the beginning of truthfulness. This I believe.