Time Carries Away…

“History is a relentless master. It has no present, only the past rushing into the future. To try to hold fast is to be swept aside.” – John F. Kennedy 

You never think twice any time you’re doing something routine.  It becomes second nature, your brain goes on autopilot, and rote is an understatement.  It seems as if you operate at a completely subconscious level, and things become very much like autonomic reflexes in the body: things that just happen because that’s the way they are supposed to.  When you have to commute and go to a job on a daily basis, you are very much in this mode.  Go to train station, get coffee and newspaper, read and drink while on the train, change trains, pull into destination station, ride up escalators, walk two blocks, get in elevator, go to desk and turn on computer.  That is very much how my life operated for years; you never expect anything different outside of those parameters except for the delay on the railroad or the store not having your favorite blend of coffee and they’re out of your usual morning paper.  Nothing major is ever expected, and nothing ever did happen to disrupt that pattern for me for 8 years.

One day everything carried along as it should have, until the last part of that routine: pull into destination station, ride up escalators, and then find yourself in the middle of the biggest attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor almost 50 years earlier.  Somehow, it makes not having your favorite coffee or newspaper become irrelevant very quickly.

For the next several hours I tried to get home to my wife and two children, the youngest of whom was only 1 day shy of a month old.  In a way, I’m still trying to get “Home” after 10 years, because from that day onward my life was never the same again.  The comfortable confines of my home would become alien to me over the years, my friends and family would become strangers, and as I lost myself in a haze of booze and ever growing PTSD I don’t think I could ever define what “Home” meant to me anymore, except as a place on a baseball field.  Home couldn’t be where the heart was for me because I had no heart left after a while…so I became a Bedouin of the soul lost in the empty spaces between existence and existentialism.  I was a man without a home and rapidly was becoming a man without a country as my beloved Republic took on the shape of a Police State with each passing law and each passing year.  The very core of my being was destroyed and dismantled; delineated and deleted.  Nightmares filled my every sleeping hour and I would awake screaming.  My waking hours were spent drinking and trying to dull not only the pain of that day, but very much unknown to me at the time a very bad case of undiagnosed Bi-Polar Disorder.  The man who I had become ceased to exist after a while; the lifeless eyes in the mirror that stared back at me reflected eternal nothingness; two black holes at the center of a heartless universe. 

And then I woke up…

Oh, how I wish that were true in the sense that the last ten years have been one long and very bad dream, but that is not the case.  I did wake up and sober up; I got my act together and became a better and more involved father to my children.  I was laid off from my job, but now I had the most challenging one of all as stay at home dad (or “Domestic Warrior” if you like) with no pay but all the benefits of bringing two lovely souls into the world. 

There is always a price one pays for the trade-off of regaining your soul, and in my case it was the disintegration of my marriage.  The one thing that was the strongest was the bond between my wife and I, and that was the price exacted from me for regaining my life.  The Universe demands some tough choices from us, and sometimes it acts with such deliberate callousness that is hard to fathom, but it is always for a reason.  The hard part is figuring out just what the reason is. 

What follows is a piece I wrote two days after that horrible but impossibly beautiful sunlit and cloudless Tuesday in September.  I was still reeling from the events of the previous couple of days and needed someway of expressing myself.  I had originally written this to let friends from a “Babylon 5” fan webite know that I was OK and what had happened to me.  It now is part of Survivors recollections and resides in the Library of Congress along with those of my brothers and sisters of that day.  Professors have also used it in their lectures over the years (Brown and Harvard among them and I have always granted requests for its use for educational purposes).   To me it is simply my story of that day; one of thousands who experienced a defining moment in the history of the world and their lives.  Sometimes you seek out history, and other times History seeks you out… 

———Phoenix Uncertain: Originally written on Thursday, September 13, 2001—————-

CATHARSIS I: The Road to Damascus

I need to write all of this down right now, while the smells, sounds, and experiences of the past few days are fresh in my mind. I also need to do this now because I’ve gotten some clarity in the past few hours and I don’t know how long that will last for. I have alternated between disbelief, sorrow, confusion, and anger…and sometimes all of these simultaneously. On Tuesday, the man I was ceased to exist. The light has been extinguished from my eyes. I’ve tried to explain things to my wife and broke down every time. I cannot even begin to explain to my daughter Katie how lucky she is to have her Daddy around, nor can I explain to her why her Daddy screams in his sleep or why he shakes for no reason. I cannot explain to her why every time I head a loud sound or bang, I practically jump out of my skin. All I can do is try and take the medication that keeps me normalized and try and make some sort of sense of the whole thing. Now that I’ve just popped a “happy pill”, I’ve got 8 hours to write this all down, before I descend into my own abyss once again. In the past 72 hours, I have witnessed events that I never thought I would see with my own eyes. What you are seeing on your television is absolutely nothing…and I do mean NOTHING…like it actually was to be there. I keep telling myself that something or someone must have had a greater plan for me, and that is why I am alive today instead of being buried under a ton of rubble. Perhaps that plan just to write this document of my experience to share with others so that they may carry on the memory of those who survived like myself, and the memory of those who were lost. Perhaps it is to share with you that amidst all of the evil, I witnessed some of the finest moments of compassion and humanity that I have ever seen…an affirmation of a belief that I have always held: that we have greatness inside all of us. Perhaps it is about the redemption of my own soul, for like Saul on the way to Damascus, I’m slowly coming to the realization that my life has indeed reached a turning point. I also know that there is no going back to the person I was, and I just have to figure out just who the hell I am now.

CATHARSIS II: Abnormal Normality

TUESDAY, September 11th, 2001: 7:22 AM, Little Silver Train Station, NJ
Kissed my wife and daughters good bye as they dropped me off at the station. Took my coffee, laptop, and briefcase…bought a copy of the NY Daily News. Thankfully since the NY Giants/Denver Broncos game ended late, I don’t have to read about how my team was defeated. Read through the paper all the while sipping my coffee on the one hour ride to Newark NJ, where I will catch the PATH Train (a subway between NJ and NY) to the World Trade Center, just 3 blocks from my office at 1 Chase Manhattan Plaza.

8:20 AM, Penn Station, Newark, NJ
Board the PATH train…and actually found a seat! I consider this a good omen for the rest of the day, especially as I was lugging around a very heavy laptop PC in addition to my regular briefcase. It was for this reason that I decided NOT to listen to my CD Player today…it would be just too awkward carrying around a CD player strapped to my waist as well as a laptop and briefcase. I close my eyes to catch a few winks on the 22-minute ride into Manhattan. 8:42 AM, World Trade Center, New York, NY Leave PATH train for the ride 6 stories up a series of escalators to the street level. I decide that my laptop is sitting awkwardly on my shoulder, and that I would fix it when I reached the top of the escalators.

8:45 AM, WTC Path Square (located in the center of the WTC Complex, 1 story Below Ground, where there’s a Shopping Mall)
Reach the top of the escalator, and begin to fix my laptop. As soon as I get myself situated…something happens…a sound…something different. Sounds like a crash at first…then a low rumble…then a “whoosh” throughout the complex. People are starting to run, and once others see people running, they too scramble for the exits. At this point, I think it’s a good time to get the hell out of there, and start to run toward the exits as well. Someone, in his or her haste to get out, knocks me over. I’m falling face first toward a plate glass window in one of the shops. Somehow, I manage to contort my body so that I land on my left knee pretty hard, but my face hits the floor. I’m dazed…compose myself for a minute…and realize I have to get out no matter what just happened. My knee is killing me, but the endorphins take over, and that pain is quickly gone. I feel something warm on my chin, and realize that it’s blood. My fall knocked one of my front teeth into my lip, putting a nice gash in it. I wipe some blood away, and follow another crowd into the lower level of the Border’s bookstore, which also has an exit to the streets…it’s much less crowded, and a calmer exodus of people. I reach the street and exit into the air. There is a burning smell…I’d never smelled anything like it. There are thousands of papers falling from the sky in a quiet procession of calm amidst the chaos. A paper rain, much like one of those party favors that you might have had when you were a kid…you know, the fake champagne bottles filled with confetti. I start to walk across Church Street. I can see smoke, but because I’m so close to the tower, I can’t really see anything. I begin to walk westward toward Broadway past St Paul’s Chapel. As I walk, people are looking up at the North Tower, then looking back down at my blood stained face. I see their eyes are filled with confusion. When I reach the corner of Broadway and look up I can finally see what happened. There, at the top of a building that is approximately ¼ of a mile long is a HUGE hole…several stories in length…plumes of smoke and flame billowing higher into the air. I can only stand there, watching in disbelief as I realize that what we had all feared had probably taken place: a bomb had gone off in the World Trade Center.

CATHARSIS III: Another Ulysses

APPROX. 9:00 AM, Broadway
It’s funny how the mind operates. You know, kind of like when you see a magic trick, you can’t believe what you saw…or when your team makes a triple play…or when you witness a birth. You know you’re seeing something, but your mind sends signals that it’s just not possible, but there it is. From out of the Tower, I’m seeing debris fall…but it’s coming in very irregular intervals. Usually, debris falls in a pattern as a structure is weakened, and at the same rate of descent. This debris was sporadic, and it wasn’t just falling in a straight line from the Tower…it was arcing. I saw it happen once, twice…but on the third time, I saw what I thought was debris MOVE, I thought I saw arms move…and I realized that debris cannot move, nor could it have arms. I had just seen people throw themselves from the North Tower to escape the consuming flames. I began to shake, began to shout “No F***ing way!” and “Oh my God” at the top of my lungs. Someone came over to me and put their hand on my shoulder and asked me if I was all right. I think I said something to the effect I was, but they offered me a bottle of water and some tissues to wipe the blood off my face. I accepted and I asked if they had seen the explosion…and that’s when they told me it was a plane that had crashed into the North Tower. They also told me it was an airliner. The brain couldn’t register that one really…except for the fact that I thought it was a terrible accident, and thank God it wasn’t a bomb. Another person in the crowd came up to me and asked if I needed help getting to where I was going. I realized that my hands were trembling and couldn’t hold either the tissues or water steady and my knees felt weak. Brain kicks in again: yeah, take this guy up on his offer. It turned out he worked for my company but at another location. We began to walk toward my building, and I notice some debris along the way. About a block from my office, right in front of the Federal Reserve Building I see some debris that catches my eye: some tacky looking upholstery that looks like it came from an airline headrest. It was then that I saw a seat cushion and an armrest…THANKFULLY empty.

APROX 9:12 AM, 1 Chase Manhattan Plaza
I walk one block further south to my building, and reach the Plaza. Just as I’m about to turn to enter my building, I hear the whine of jet engines. I look down the block at the South Tower, and see a fireball engulfing the building, showering flaming debris across the skyline, arcing outward and in my general direction. There is a low, rumbling sound, very much like what I had heard earlier…a sound that grew as the flames spread and debris rained down upon Manhattan. The crowd begins to run frantically toward the east, away from the falling debris. I overhear someone say that it was another jet that collided into the South Tower. It was then I realized that this was no accident, that my greatest fears were realized: we were under attack. It was at that moment, I knew that I had to somehow survive this…get the hell out of there…and get home to my family. I had just become a modern day Ulysses.

CATHARSIS IV:The Silence before the ROAR

APPROX 9:20 AM, 1 Chase Manhattan Plaza
I’m pretty superstitious. I usually sit in the same seat for a baseball or football game if my team is winning. I never pick up a penny “tails up”, and I don’t walk under ladders. In some convoluted manner, the Universe played a trick on me, for I work on the 13th floor of my building. It never bothered me before, but on a day like Tuesday, there was just no way I was going to go up into my office…so I decided to go downstairs to the Branch to use the phone to call my wife to let her know I was OK. (A footnote here and an important one because it’s going to come into play later: The Branch is an underground structure, kind of like a rectangular “donut”. It is just below the Plaza, with a circular glass enclosure in its center containing a fountain. There is an opening at the top of this enclosure to the Plaza to let light in. From the Plaza level, there is a circular wall that allows viewing of the fountain from the Plaza, and it’s quite beautiful when viewed from inside the branch at the level of the fountain.)

Just before entering the Branch, I meet up with a co-worker who sees me and is pretty amazed at my condition at this point…I can only imagine: A deer in the headlights look accompanied by a bloody face. I try and tell him what’s happened so far. It turns out, he’s not going to his floor either…and he helps me into the Branch. Needless to say, the Branch had been closed to all but employees with ID. I also know the Branch Manager, Assistant Branch Manager and many of the staff well because I’ve worked with them directly when I was in the Branches myself. I got in there; they sat me down and got me some first aid as well as some water. I called my wife, told her I was OK and told her of what I was going to do next: try and take the Staten Island Ferry and get to either my parents or my in-laws and have them drive me home. I just wanted to get the hell off Manhattan as soon as possible, especially with the thought that there were two ¼ mile buildings a few blocks away that had the possibility of collapsing. I called my parents and told them of my intentions as well. Needless to say, I’m pretty shaken up at this point. I decide to sit a few minutes to try and relax, collect my thoughts, and move on. A woman named Maxine (who I’ve never met before) sat with me and comforted me. She also spoke with my wife during my phone call and said she was taking care of me. God Bless her…she was a BIG help. We turned on the radio to listen to the news, to see exactly what had happened, and it was just as we feared: two jet liners were hijacked and were rammed into the World Trade Center…and one other thing that hit us all like a ton of bricks…the Pentagon was also attacked the same way. Nothing was the same anymore.

CATHARSIS V: No World Order

APPROX 10:15 AM 1 Chase Manhattan Plaza
Some people talk about a “New World Order”. At this point in my life, there was definitely a New World, but anything but order. I had finally calmed down, and was about to make my way toward the Staten Island Ferry when the unthinkable happened: That ROAR happened again…that ungodly Roar that still was imprinted in my head from the last few hours… …And then I saw the debris and smoke fill the glass enclosure around the fountain. The ground shook, and we all began to rush toward the escalators that would take us to the vault sub-basements in the Plaza. We arrived down there followed by a cloud of smoke and dust…we made our way through passages that led to the underground cafeteria where security told us to go. My first thought was that my building was attacked, but something completely unexpected happened. We had just found out that one of the icons of the New York Skyline, one of the World Trade Towers had crumbled to dust…and that rubble had spread across Lower Manhattan, washing across the Plaza. We were told to stay put…it was safer here, and there was NO visibility AT ALL outside. More people started to file into the cafeteria…all of them covered in dust…stark white ghosts with terrorized eyes peering from the rubble that had been strewn onto their bodies. Among them were two people who worked in my department. I rushed up and the three of us hugged and held onto each other. We got a table in the cafeteria; got some of the water and wet rags they were handing out to help us breathe. …And we sat…for two hours…and waited for news of when we could leave the building. In the meantime, there was another dull roar in the distance…THAT ROAR… …And the other Tower had fallen. …And God only knew what the rest of the world outside looked like.

CATHARSIS VI: A Hole in the Sky

APPROX Noon, 1 Chase Manhattan Plaza
Now I know what my cat feels like when I let him out of his carrier after we bring him back from the vet. He always wants to get the hell out, and yet he steps out gingerly, unsure of what he can expect. I kind of felt that way as I exited our building after we were told to head toward the East River. I also felt like a B-Movie actor on one of those bad 50’s “Day After…” movies, the ones usually used for cannon fodder on “Mystery Science Theater 3000”. There was dust everywhere, and it looked like it was snowing in September. There had to be two inches of dust and debris on the streets as CJ (one of those guys I mentioned earlier who worked with me) and I made tracks for the South Street Seaport. We’re wandering around, towels around our faces like some post-apocalyptic version of TE Lawrence and The Shadow trekking across the Nafud, or Paul and Jessica across Arakis in “Dune”. We looked back where the Twin Towers had been…the same two towers CJ and I came through every day from the PATH (she’s from North NJ)…the same two towers that had dominated the skyline since we were children (we’re both 40, born a month apart). There was nothing. Absolutely nothing…except for a huge black cloud where those beautiful towers once stood gleaming in the sunshine. It was as if you used a photo program on your PC, highlighted the Towers, deleted the image and filled the blank area with smoke. It hurt to breathe (and I’m a smoker, so I can just IMAGINE what a non-smoker would have felt). The dust stung your eyes and skin. It was raining dust…a horrible snowfall on a late summer day…a snowfall that contained pieces of building, asbestos, paper, jet fuel, and God only know what else. I was reminded of Good Friday for some reason… We finally got to the River, and began to follow the exodus uptown toward God knows where. All CJ and I knew was that we had heard there were ferries still running to NJ (the SI Ferry was shut down at this point, so my first plan was abandoned) and we had to catch one. The air was clear, and I decided I REALLY needed a cigarette at this point (NOTE: A martini was my first choice, but the bars were closed). I offered one to CJ…who hasn’t had a cig in 10 years…she took it, we lit up and moved on.

CATHARSIS VII: Dorothy and The Scarecrow

EAST RIVER ESPLANADE: Approx. 12:30 PM
I’m thoroughly convinced that The Universe has a sense of humor. CJ and I stop and look out at the river just below the Brooklyn Bridge. We can see hundreds of people walking across the Bridge to Brooklyn, the same for the Manhattan Bridge in the distance. It’s actually a beautiful day; there are no clouds in the sky…there are people just sitting on benches on the esplanade looking out at the water…some are fishing…some are making out. Order amidst chaos. We had just come from chaos into one moment of perfect beauty. I think to myself that this is really a beautiful day, and I imagine myself at the Shore or in my backyard with my kids…and then it hits me… …No beach to walk on unless I get home. No backyard and no kids and wife unless I get home…and God only knows what else happens on this day. Snap back to reality…we’ve got to get home. CJ and I meet a Police officer who says ferries are leaving from Pier 11 for NJ and directs us Uptown. Just a slight problem…Pier 11 is just South of us a few blocks, so CJ and I are headed in the wrong direction. Like I said, the Universe has a sense of humor…

SOMEWHERE ON THE LOWER EAST SIDE: Approx., 1:00 PM
CJ and I have walked for a while. I’m still carrying the laptop and briefcase, and I really can’t feel the pain in my knee yet, but at least my lip has stopped bleeding. Needless to say, both my shoulders are killing me. We walk around trying to find Pier 11, just Dorothy and the Scarecrow trying to find Oz. We walk through neighborhoods that we would never walk through regularly, and people are coming up to us and asking if we are OK (we’re covered in dust at this point). They give us water and comfort. We see others helping people…a woman in a wheelchair giving directions and a bottle of water to two people…four people hugging in the middle of a street glad to find each other…Police Officers with their arms around people offering them comfort as well as direction. I realize at this point what my Dad always said about the blackout of 1964 (he was trapped in the subway) that New Yorkers are people who put all differences aside when in a crisis. We finally find a cop who points us in the right direction…we head back downtown.

CATHARSIS VIII: Just Click Your Heels Three Times…

PIER 11, New York, NY: Approx. 2:00 PM
We found OZ. No emerald city here, just a bunch of ferries that were going back to New Jersey. CJ and I parted company here. She headed back to Jersey City and one of the few remaining trains that were running out of Hoboken. I got on a high-speed ferry bound for the Highlands on the Jersey Shore, about 10 miles northeast from my house. I decided I’d worry about how to get home from there…I’d walk if I had to. The Police search our bags before we get on… The ferry is VERY comfortable, complete with bar that is, unfortunately closed…it costs approx. $18 each way, about twice my cost for the trains (which were NOT running at this time), but they were ferrying everyone at no cost. They gave us water, and there were two clergymen on the boat, a Catholic Priest and a Minister, both Chaplains of the Highlands Fire Department. A call comes over the loudspeaker asking for 50 volunteers to take the next boat. People get up and leave, willingly with no problems. I see the Priest and yell out, “Father, are you riding this boat?” He says yes. I decide to stay.

NY HARBOR, Approx. 2:20 PM
The boat leaves, and the Scarecrow decides to look back at the Emerald City. The Towers are gone. The Black Void is still there. The Scarecrow loses what Brains he had left and breaks down. Like the Towers, I’ve just crumbled into a pile of rubble.

IN TRANSIT THROUGH NY HARBOR AND THE ATLANTIC:
 The Minister sees me and comes over to talk. He was in Viet Nam for two tours of duty. I tell him what I’m feeling, and he tells me what happened to him. He’s describing what I’m feeling to a “T”. I’m amazed that someone else can describe what I feel…and realize just how fragile we really are as humans…and I also realize at this point, I’m not the same person who woke up that morning. We both pray publicly. It is my first time praying in public since I was 14. Like I said, the Universe has one hell of a sense of humor.

CATHARSIS IX: …And Say ‘There’s No Place Like Home’

HIGHLANDS, New Jersey Approx. 3:00 PM
We arrive in New Jersey The Minister walks me off the boat and asks if he can do anything else, and I tell him he did more for me than anyone in a very long time. I follow the crowd off the gangplank. We are told that we will have to present ID. We are also told that if we are covered in dust we will have to be decontaminated. I am told to go to the “left” line. My belongings are put in a bag; my laptop and briefcase are scrubbed by men in isolation suits by hand. I am told to stand forward a man with a fire hose that then proceeds to spray water on me from head to toe. As he is doing this, I can see the NYC skyline in the background. What two gleaming towers, had once dominated, was now dominated by a huge cloud of smoke and a gaping hole where the towers should be. I was told to turn around so they can spray my front. They do so…and I have been baptized into the New World. I’m handed my belongings, and a Police Officer takes my statement as he was informed that I was in the WTC when the first plane hits. It’s the second time that day that I’ve told my story…but this time more emotions are coming out…and I find I cannot look anyone in the eyes when I talk to them… I’m directed toward a bunch of vans, busses, and private cars where I’m told that someone would drive me home. I walk slowly, drenched…laptop and briefcase still present…away from the water and toward a parking lot. All I can do is stare straight ahead and make no eye contact with anyone. I feel like I’m there (here) but somewhere else. A woman named Doreen asks me where I’m going, and I tell her. She says she volunteered to give rides to people, and really has nothing to do…mainly because she was just laid off from Nike the day before. She offers me her cell phone to call my wife…it’s the first time we’ve spoken my phone call in the morning. I tell her I’m coming home in a few minutes. Doreen assures her I’m shaken, but OK. We drive off to my home.

CATHARSIS X: Who Says You Can’t Go Home Again?

We arrive at my house…and I run to my wife (holding our month-old daughter) and my 4 year old daughter, Katie. Everything comes back to me in a big rush…I break down. We all thank Doreen, and I give her a big hug goodbye. In the next few hours, I try and explain things to my wife…and some of them I can…most of them I cannot. We call my doctor who tells me to go to the ER at the Local Hospital for a chest x-ray and some tests…apparently the stuff I was exposed to may have contained asbestos…and God only knows what else. While getting tested, they had me speak to a Psychologist…just like others who were coming in. I told my story the best I could, and she was a HUGE help for my family and me. I needed to talk and I did…and I realized that there is a lot I still have to deal with.

CHARTHIS XI: Phoenix Uncertain

I’m hanging in there as best as I can…and for the past five hours, I’ve been spilling my guts out for those of you I know, and those of you I do not. This has been my story, and there are thousands of others such as I. I mentioned before that I am not the same person I was when I woke up on Tuesday. Quite frankly, I’m not sure who the hell I am anymore…but these things I do know: *I am a Father of two beautiful girls *I am a loving husband of, quite simply, the most amazing woman on the planet AND THOSE THINGS ARE THE ONLY THINGS THAT ARE MY LIFE! Please…just take the time to hug your kids, wife, partner, loved ones…NEVER take them for granted! Hold on to your friends and keep them close…chances are that this has touched us all in one way or another.

We have all been transformed in one way or another by this event. We are all filled with a plethora of emotions…I certainly know I am.

Let us work together to seek justice for those who have been killed or injured. Let us offer a hand to those who need it, whether or not they have been there first hand. Let us all show the strength of humanity and compassion that we are all capable of. Let us rebuild our city, our nation, and our fragile planet.

Let us go forward with one voice that says we shall never allow this to ever happen again.

God Bless You, Your Families, The United States Of America, and our Beloved Planet.

Kenneth Austin Walsh- BORN: Mar 14, 1961 DIED: Sept 11, 2001 REBORN: Sept 11, 2001

————————————————————————————————————

I can look back at 9/11 and understand part of the Universe’s reason behind making me go through what I had (outside of some very nasty karma I must have generated in a previous lifetime): the person I could have become after I had graduated college and before I became firmly entrenched in the grips of Corporate America was allowed to take root again over the past few years the one who had the inquisitive soul and spiritual nature was allowed back into me once again.  I am still exploring what for me is still foreign territory yet so familiar.   I’m writing a book about the past ten years of my life (I’ve been doing that for years, but now I have a new sense of purpose with which to do so: I have more pieces of the puzzle and those happen to be the ones I need to write what I have to)…and I am also writing about what has been revealed to me through grace and redemption, and what I see as being necessary for our race to achieve its rightful place in the universe: Human Beings being Human; not as we have done most recently and been incredibly shortsighted spiritually challenged creatures who cannot live in harmony with the Planet let alone with each other.

Someone had read something I posted in a political discussion on Facebook and wrote back, “This is why you were born: to be Witness and Warrior”.  That kind of blew me away because perhaps that is my purpose in life; after going through so much and understanding coming from my own experience medical condition, perhaps I can now go on to fulfill whatever I was placed here to do.  After all, there has to be a purpose, because I should have been dead many times over already in my life.  Perhaps some things that I thought were permanent in my life were only transitory to get me to where I am now.  Perhaps even though I love and long for those parts of my life, I have to leave them behind in order to fulfill my purpose, which I am gradually believing to be to somehow help this planet and those who live on it live in harmony with each other…and it doesn’t have to be a great big role in the grand scheme of things either.  Perhaps it is just as simple as a one off book and raising my two girls to become on their own the agents of change that I could not become…or to exceed my own efforts and go on to even greater things themselves.  I always joke with my oldest daughter Kate how I’ll be holding the Bible as she is sworn in as this country’s first woman Chief Justice of the Supreme Court…I’ll be 92 and in a wheelchair and my grandchildren will be holding the book under my shaking hands as I see her sworn in.  Then I’ll drop dead at the reception.  Or perhaps my daughter Grace will thank me in her speech after winning her Tony Award for best actress in a play…perhaps even one I wrote a decade or two earlier with that part in mind for her eventually. 

Or perhaps History will once again come calling and take me along, swept by the tide that I cannot swim against and I will find myself in the position I used to find myself in quite frequently in my youth: as a fighter for the oppressed with righteous indignation at those that dare to tear down the human spirit and the human road toward greatness.  I am not only good with a word, I am good at a speech…I just have to get past this little thing called PTSD that prevents me from being in large gatherings…. but perhaps the Warrior will find a way to do that.

I used to have a lot of Survivor’s Guilt, and I still do from time to time.  I have a lot of regrets, but I regret nothing at the same time.  It has brought me to this point in time; this moment where I now write these words confident in the fact that The Universe always unfolds, as it should.  I am a very different person now than I was 10 years ago and in many ways a better person.  I have had my convictions tested and I have won almost every time, especially when it comes to morality.  In the face of the ultimate betrayal, I still maintain my own sense of self worth and a core principle: when you take an oath, you honor it.  Good men and women keep their word; it is their bond.  There is no crime in admitting that you cannot give your word; the crime is in giving it and reneging on it.  That is the greatest crime of all.

Because whoever you are, wherever you may be; if you cannot stay true to yourself then you cannot stay true to others.  The First Responders on 9/11 were true to themselves; the guy just going to work who survived then and is now dying because of the toxins in the air was true to himself; the mother watching on TV and was horrified at what she was watching in horror at the site of those beautiful towers on that day was true to herself wondering where her husband was in that rubble all the while holding her children close by.  Our soldiers are always true to themselves.  They are the truest of all, because those warriors have sworn to protect us, at the peril and sacrifice of their own life to heed the calling of the life of a soldier.  They or we may not agree with a mission’s purpose, but they have a responsibility…they have taken an oath and they must fulfill it.

Just as I must now be true and write my account at length in a book along with what I believe in now.  Just as I will be true and raise my daughters no matter what the cost; my life for theirs, always.  And I will accept and embrace the change that is coming to us all but unlike that uncertain phoenix of ten years ago; this phoenix has a purpose now.

And I am flying upon the winds that will carry me forever onward toward my destiny…like it or not, it is what I am and what I am here to do.  For I am indeed Witness and Warrior…and I will accept the role I can now undertake with the full understanding of what I must do even at the cost of my own life.  For I would much rather live my life with a purpose than live it with none at all…because that is not life.  That is existence. 

I am alive…and I am thankful and I embrace that…and I am scared to death at the prospect at the same time.

“For time and the world do not stand still. Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.” – John F. Kennedy

“Like the wind crying endlessly through the universe, Time carries away the names and the deeds of conquerors and commoners alike. And all that we are, all that remains, is in the memories of those who cared we came this way for a brief moment.” – Harlan Ellison    

This piece is for…

My daughters Kathryn Rose and Grace Anne: you are and always will be the center of my Universe and my love.  I tried my best in those early years, and I will try harder to be the father you can be proud of

My dear friend Amy: who first showed me that love was possible in an empty heart and magic is real

My best friend TC, who has always been there closer than a brother to me; the embodiment of friendship

My dear friend Rose: you are the sister I never had and half of my soul.  One of these lifetimes you and I will get it right…

My late Uncle Frank: who taught me about humanity and what it is to be human…I miss your life so much I cannot tell you…

For all of you who became my friends on Facebook: we started out as strangers, and now we are travelers together (like it or not, LOL).  Thanks for reaching out to me and allowing me to ask you for your friendship and guidance…

For Pamela: who walks on a path that I once did uncertain of a destination. Don’t worry, the Universe will show you the way and guide and protect you…and thank you for bringing me to where I had to go without even knowing that you had done so.  You are a very special person, and some lucky guy will find themselves with a wonderful and beautiful woman inside and out…and an incredibly determined one at that!  (Don’t mess with Texas, LOL)

My brother Steve: walk on the path, brother…you are close, so very close…but need to see the forest through the trees.  You must give up what you don’t really need in order to get what you do…

And finally to my wife Tess, who saved my sorry ass for you guys to read my words and be a father to my children.  And change my life in ways that I cannot even begin to put into words.  Like it or not, I still love you.  I’ll still walk with you if you will have me.

All That Was, and All That Is

This is the start of a week of annual hell for me.  It usually starts with little things in August, like the way the sun is at a certain angle, or the way a sky looks on a perfect say.  A particular shade of blue.  Then comes the disruption of a low flying airliner if they shift air traffic (not normally over our town at all) and I get subjected to a lot of planes.  Sometimes I get more sensitive to sounds than I normally am already, but loud noises will make me crawl out of my skin.  And then the depression starts in earnest around the first of September.  Then I know I have 11 more days of a gradual feeling of extreme unease, that is sometimes met with complete calm on the 11th or panic.  It’s either serenity or terror.  It’s varied wildly over the past 10 years.

The best and most rewarding one of these horrid anniversaries was finally speaking with my first love on this particular day.  We had gotten in contact through Facebook, and we had been writing for a few months.  We kind of left things hanging the last time we saw each other in 1988, very unresolved.  There were things on her end that needed closure as well as mine.  But that particular September 11th was the first one that my wife wasn’t home; she had to be in work.  She ALWAYS took off on the 11th, except for this one very rainy day.  And in the morning of that dark and rainy day, the phone rang, and it was my friend…very unexpected and calling me to see how I was feeling.

We talked for close to two hours that day (because if you think things get going and don’t stop once I start chatting away, you should see what happens when the two of us talk or were in the same room when we were at college together, LOL).  We played catch up on how our lives went, a lot of “what ifs”, some closure, and a whole lot about our kids.  Boy, could we talk about our kids and how much we loved them, what they were doing in school or music lessons.  Inevitably, we still write or talk about the kids mostly, but once in a while another “what if” creeps in and we talk about that a little more.  We always talk about where we are now, and perhaps lend support when needed, or encouragement, but that day was the first time we had spoken in well over twenty years.  And it was something I desperately needed.  Not that either one of us had any designs on meeting up somewhere or anything like that (no matter how good or bad our lives are we are both very moral people)…that was never the case at all.  Even in any letter we wrote previous (or subsequent) to this.  But to finally hear her voice after twenty years made my heart skip a notch or two, I will be honest about that.  You never ever forget the first person outside your family or friends that you first fell in love with on your own.  The first person you truly and honestly could make a conscious and adult decision (even at age 19 in my case) that something inside that is you relates to something inside of someone else on a higher level.  I don’t think there is a person alive today who can say otherwise.  (I know the exact moment too: we were in the campus bar having a bar hanging out and Steven Stills’ “Love The One You’re With” came on the stereo.  I still can’t listen to that song without thinking about her).  And I can still hear the embodiment of all that she was and all that she is in that voice…and it’s such a unique voice that as a writer I am lost for words to describe its beauty.

She’s probably reading this now, and I cannot even begin to tell her how much that first phone call meant.  We were back in each other’s lives, on the periphery, very much as friends (always, always as good friends!)…but in our own little worlds once more.  And on a day when my wife wasn’t there (and me being blissfully ignorant about the extent- but very much aware- of the damage I had caused in my marriage at the time), there was someone on the line who was there when I needed her more than at any time I ever did in my life.  And not only that, got a chance to answer some questions and ask a few and get some answers of my own

And a day that is usually reserved for sadness became one of great joy and beauty.

On a day where I was usually in a funk (and the weather wasn’t helping matters on that particular 11th), I got a chance to close some gaps in my life, and close a few in hers.  And moreover, I got to get back in touch with her as a friend, but always operating on a level outside of friend that is definitely not a lover, but a friend that is more than a friend; a kindred soul who walked with me in my youth and most influential years of my life for a time; someone who shared souls with me.  Now, we’re in each other’s lives again, and I am incredibly appreciative to the Universe, Gods, or whatever for seeing that fit to happen.  I don’t quite think I have ever told her how much that alone has meant to me.  I think she knows it though.  She has to…we were always two of a kind…off in conversation that only we understood and no one else listening could even fathom if they eavesdropped.  (Too bad; they might have learned a thing or two).  If we spoke more these days as opposed to writing, it would still be the same.  But on that particular day that is when we were allowed to be on the same trail once again, not necessarily together and not necessarily apart.

And for a few hours, I was allowed to become who I was as a youth before my soul became corrupted by Corporate America and any hopes of a spiritual or academic path vanished (and what I was like before September 11th but older and hopefully a bit wiser).  I was allowed to walk this path with her once again.  Two old friends playing twenty years of catch up in two hours, gradually asking questions that needed answers as things went on, and one moment of forgiveness on my part that wasn’t even necessary.  I could never ever hold a grudge against her; she is one of the few people in my life outside of my daughters that I can say that about.  But the question I had asked had the answer just as I expected and I was relieved at that.  Two young and scared kids totally into something that was always intense no matter how many times we were in or out of our lives over an eight-year period.  It was like nothing before or since for either of us; beautiful and frightening at the same time.  It was always inexplicable magic; phenomena and the two of us.  The Universe moved for us, always…it was as if we were destined to be together and apart at the same time…and that is exactly what happened for a very long time.  Together and apart, but never alone because we always knew that as long as the other was out there somewhere in this crazy world that magic was not a thing of dreams, but real.  And we can both testify to that.

We’ve talked several times since that first phone call.  Our kids are always a prime subject as I previously said; we’re both extremely protective and aware of our role in shaping their young souls into something unique that perhaps they will find the key on their own (which is how it is supposed to be done) and unlock their own magic.  And they too will find what we had for one brief and shining moment in time with each other…pure and undying love and understanding.  It’s something that is completely, totally, and without question a sharing of their soul with another human being that they choose.

And while we did not choose each other for marriage and lost contact for a long time, we attained a level of understanding of another few in this world can ever obtain or imagine.  We certainly found what clicked with our current partners, as they are the mother or father or our respective children.  We have very different lives, but we have very similar ones (usually as chief cook, psychologist, and chauffeur to the kids).  Her husband works a good job, as does my wife; and we’re the keepers of the fort, she has a part time job and I’m on Disability and writing a novel, and more importantly we are both the shaper of souls.  I think we took from each other what was necessary to become a parent and then realize that can be and should be shared with our kids somehow when the time was right.  I usually find myself doing it and not telling them so (because they would never listen to me, LOL)…but I do indeed tell them magic is real and that all things are possible…

…even talking with the first love of your life on what is always the worst day of the year for you and getting closure, support, and a new start on how our lives are now and how we remain friends on a LOT of levels these days…but always, always, always, on that special level we had (and still have) but in much more experienced place right now.  We are where we are for a reason; but I am so grateful she is back in my life in any fashion because she is one of the most incredible, wonderful, and beautiful souls I have ever encountered on this unforgiving world.

She is also a great person to fall asleep on the subway with…we got a lovely tour of Pelham Bay Park that night/early morning, LOL.  It’s also the moment that changed our lives and moved us in the direction we are at now; the places we are at in our lives.  Like it or not, things might have been a bit different if we had listened to Petula Clark’ and not sleep in the subway.  But I know she wouldn’t change a thing nor would I…because it is where we belong at this place and at this moment in time.

And we are still allowed to be in each other’s lives, and that is one of the most positive and beautiful things in my life, and this time I hope we never leave each other again.  Thank you old friend for all the fond memories you evoke in me, your guidance and friendship, and allowing me to remember what I was like and who I really am.

And thank you for a phone call that saved me on a day where I was so very lost, but I found you once again.

How heavy do I journey on the way,
When what I seek, my weary travel’s end,
Doth teach that ease and that repose to say,
‘Thus far the miles are measured from thy friend!’
The beast that bears me, tired with my woe,
Plods dully on, to bear that weight in me,
As if by some instinct the wretch did know
His rider lov’d not speed being made from thee.
The bloody spur cannot provoke him on,
That sometimes anger thrusts into his hide,
Which heavily he answers with a groan,
More sharp to me than spurring to his side;
For that same groan doth put this in my mind,
My grief lies onward, and my joy behind.

-William Shakespeare Sonnet 50

Nightmares Dissipated And Hope Renewed

I’ve waited a few days to write this, mainly because I needed to place some things in their proper perspective and not write with the emotion of the moment.  I’ve saved those for Facebook pages and a video of my initial reaction of the incredible news of Osama Bin Laden’s death this past Sunday May 1st.  I needed time to put things into place, slot them into their proper compartments and try and write this with as much emotional detachment as I can, but somehow I know that will be impossible in a few paragraphs and most certainly by the end of this post.

For the past three nights, I’ve slept very soundly and with no nightmares for the first time in a decade.  The sense of palpable relief and that decade long “waiting to exhale moment” hit me like a ton of bricks on Sunday.  At first I broke down upon hearing the news; and I kind of figured that I would.  OBL was a man who I wished dead every moment of every day for nearly a decade.  Say what you will, call me an inhuman bastard, that I don’t practice what I preach…but I am VERY human, and as such having that bastard get a bullet (or range of bullets as they are now saying) to the head is extremely gratifying.  I can’t hide behind any pretense on that simple fact; I’m not going to get up on my Proctor and Ramble soapbox and say that we should never wish anyone dead and OBL is no exception. Well, we SHOULDN’T wish anyone dead…but OLB was always the exception to that rule.  I’m not a believer in the death penalty except in only one case: crimes against humanity; my logic being that if a person could be that powerful as to commit atrocities among so many people on this planet then they could be powerful enough to somehow break out of prison (Napoleon, anyone?) and regain  or attempt to regain their power and do it all over again.  (My preferred method for dealing with murderers is life in solitary with no parole; a living death if you will…much worse than the quick fate we offer them at the hands of the State Executioner.  Plus society is being consistent with it’s own laws).  We have seen this happen with not only Napoleon, but other tyrants throughout history who were deposed and came back to be as strong or stronger after being sprung from their prison by their followers as most assuredly OBL would have been had he been taken alive.  I strongly believe that would have been the case, and we would have had the fish we longed to catch jump back off the boat and into the sea where the odds would have been not in our favor of catching the same fish again.  Quite frankly, as much as I believe everyone deserves a fair trial…he already had his.  He admitted as much in public that he was responsible for committing not only the two attacks on the World Trade Center, but the USS Cole and other attacks.  That is an admission of guilt, which in a court then means you are subject to the judge’s discretion in reading the law and imposing sentence.

There are 3,000 souls who were judge and jury who were screaming “Death!” from the next plane of existence.  There were the families of the dead who said the same thing; and then there were those of us who were witness to one of the worst crimes in Human History whose lives (and that of our own families) were irrevocably changed who wanted this man dead. There was no cries for mercy from anyone that I knew of.  In fact, I always said if I could have been allowed to slit the man’s throat with a scimitar myself I would gladly do it…no matter how much bad karma it cost me.  I have been in Hell for the past ten years: acute PTSD, alcoholism gone unmitigated and even enhanced as a result of 9/11 and a couple of breakdowns along the way, plus a diagnosis of Bipolar II at age 43 which pretty much ended my chances of living normally or having a career in my former field.  My children barely got to know their father’s true self; it would appear from time to time but it was always buried under this cloud and fog of 9/11.  My oldest will be 14 this coming Saturday and she remembers very little (much to my surprise when I asked her) of what I was like before 9/11.  My youngest, born 30 days before the attacks NEVER got a chance to know me as I was…the good part of who I was, anyway.  The guy who was fun, funny, and liked a good time.  The guy who was responsible.  The guy who was a good dad and starting to become a very good one as I started to grow up a bit and settle into my role as father and husband and embrace it more than I ever had previously.  My wife got to see the man she married vanish to be replaced by this other being who she didn’t want to know at all anymore.  Or even be around for that matter.  As much as I suffered over the past ten years, my family suffered even more I think.  There was no refuge for them; there was no peace for me…we were all caught in a prison built brick by brick by my decline with a foundation laid by one Osama Bin Laden.

And now, he is gone…body so trashed by American SEAL’s bullets that not even Don Corlione’s favorite undertaker could fix it.  Sonny looked a hell of a lot better than Osama did, hence no photos being released of the body.  So after they scraped the bastard off the walls and the floor, DNA tested and compared certain records unique to him to ensure his identity, they put what was left of him together and prepared it for a proper burial at sea (where no shrines to martyrdom could be built)…which was more than we could say than he did for 3,000 people who died on 9/11.  No stone was left unturned to ensure proper Muslim burial, and they were placed in that body bag and sent along with the vile creature to the bottom of the Arabian Sea where it shall swim with the fishes and have no one but perhaps Luca Brazzi to chat with.

Somewhere between those bullets being fired and the news breaking on Sunday Night, I was starting to write a post here about unfinished business and promises unfulfilled.  I go about 800 words in when i stopped for some reason…something told me to wait.  A few hours later, my own personal demon was gone.  And somewhere in there part of my soul came back.  Over the past few days, I’ve been finding things funny that I never would have laughed at a week ago…things that are actually funny that is.  In fact, my youngest said something extremely funny yesterday and I laughed deeply and hysterically.  She looked at me and said, “Daddy, I never heard you laugh”.  Imagine that…your child saying that she never heard you do the simplest of emotions to express joy.  “Of course you have, Grace” I said…and she said, “Not like that!”  You know, she was right because in retrospect my laughs were never that hard for a decade.  My joy was never there even when I felt a little bit…it was always forced.  But somehow, I’m getting that back…and it came very naturally and through the simple joke (very clever and Irish wit entwined) thanks to a 9 year old.  I’ve been hugging my kids like crazy the past two days, because I feel like they have not had their father…their REAL father…around them in a very, very long time.  My wife and I still have work to do on a very fractured marriage thanks to the stresses of the past ten years and the non-person I had become.  But slowly and surely, it’s starting to germinate in me like a seed in the spring…and how appropriate that OBL’s end was on Beltane, the Pagan spring festival.  It was also on the first anniversary of my father’s death, a relationship that was always rocky where I had many regrets and in many ways I was starting to become that which I rebelled against and resented.  In the midst of my melancholy and  pensiveness came this incredible news…and somehow some new light was being shed on my own father’s relationship with me because of what he had to go through in the Korean War (which was far more extensive than I ever could have imagined).

Somehow, slowly and surely I plan on taking that which was best in me before 9/11 and try and reconcile it with who I am now.  I’ve had a lot of revelations about myself and my place in this world and the state of humanity  because I’ve had plenty of time to ruminate hid away from the rest of humanity in a darkened basement den…because I was not only afraid of my own shadow, I was afraid of the world…

…and somehow, I am no longer afraid of sunlight.

“We don’t have to live in a world 
Where we give bad names to beautiful things 
We should live in a beautiful world 
We should give beautiful a second chance

And the leaves fall from red to brown 
To be trodden down 
Trodden down 
And the leaves turn green to red to brown 
Fall to the ground 
And get kicked around

You strong enough to be 
Have you the courage to be 
Have you the faith to be 
Honest enough to stay 
Don’t have to be the same 
Don’t have to be this way 
C’mon and sign your name 
You wild enough to remain beautiful? 
Beautiful”

-lyrics by Steve Hogarth  from the song, “Beautiful” by Marillion

1,096 Nows

Three years ago, I woke up.

I’m sober three years today, and quite frankly; I didn’t even think I would last out a year, let alone three of them…or 1,096 days (but who’s counting?).  I look at that number and think and how much money I saved, never mind saving my liver!  Well, there is that for which I am truly grateful; and outside of my teeth, I really didn’t screw up my health.  All my internal organs check out fine (and have since then, although I’m due for one of those extremely uncomfortable procedures gentlemen get); the eyesight’s a bit worse, I’m now having to use reading glasses on top of my contact lenses and I have a set of eyeglasses with bi-focals as well; and I have two very cranky discs in my lower back that constantly give me pain and annoyance.  And I managed to fix those teeth by getting a whole set of new ones.  While I can eat a steak with great relish now, or tear into ribs with joyous abandon; I always carry a spare set of adhesive strips for my upper dentures, and make sure they’re well glued before we venture out.  These are the little things you appreciate when you stop drinking to alcoholic excess and kill yourself slowly without knowing you are doing so.

Then there are the unquantifiables.  How can I put a price tag on the respect my children now have for me?  How can I truly say how much I love my wife, even though I may not necessarily show it all the time and I can be the biggest pain in the ass to live with?  What do you say about a woman who stood by me in the darkest days, managed to deal with more crap than she ever bargained for when she signed up for this marriage thing, and keep the whole family together simultaneously at great cost to her own sanity?  That, in and of itself, cannot even be put into words and somehow, “thank you” would seem more of an insult than a compliment.

I actually enjoy eating decent meals again, especially since I’m not falling face first in my mashed potatoes like I did one Thanksgiving.  Cooking has become a great passion again, and that spiffy new kitchen we put in a few months ago has been getting quite a workout by both myself and eldest daughter Kate, who enjoys making a good meal as much as I do.  That’s where her and I bond; she’s stirring the gravy constantly while I’m slicing up the roast (like we’ll be doing tonight); or I’m trying to pass on to her a recipe handed down to me by my mother that’s been passed on for generations; or I’ll have a germ of an idea and she’ll start adding things to it and before you know it, we have ourselves a new dish.  (Now if I can only get her to clean up after herself in the kitchen…).

I like going out to small and quiet restaurants more so now that I’m not drinking, because I can actually appreciate the food (duh!).  I can’t really deal with the Olive Gardens or TGI Friday’s of the world; just give me a nice quiet Chinese restaurant with a varied menu from all parts of China, but most especially Szechwan.  Dear God, I love spicy Asian food!  And I can actually taste and enjoy it again!  On the other end of the spectrum, give me a nice small family run Italian Restaurant that serves the basics.  A great Chicken Parmesan, a lovely Lasagna, a silky smooth Veal Marsalla…all hallmarks of the classic Italian establishment.  A nice traditional sports bar/restaurant serving American classic fare is another great pit stop for my hunger.  These types of places are sprinkled all over the Jersey Shore, and we have a few excellent places by us.  One restaurant cuts its own steaks, and as a result the NY Strip is to DIE for.

Now, you think I’d be fatter than Oliver Hardy after reading all of that.  I’m not; in fact, I’m quite the opposite…but I am now at the proper weight for my height for the first time in my life.  I’ve always had a quick metabolism, and have never had a weight problem (unless you count being underweight as a problem).  My two weaknesses are Coca Cola and cigarettes; hey, we all have our vices.  Besides, quitting drugs and alcohol was easier than trying to quit smoking.  I knew guys in rehab who were counselors and former heroin addicts, who said quitting smoking was harder than kicking smack.  That’s pretty scary.  So I simply choose not to be scared, that is until the prices become completely astronomical like they are in New York and California.  The sad part about all those “sin taxes” that States build their budget on is when people really do stop smoking, their revenue stream goes down…so eventually everyone else gets taxed.  Think about that one the next time they raise cigarette taxes in your State you ex-smokers and non-smokers; because you’re going to pay for it eventually!

All of these simple things (and more) were made possible by faith in the Universe unfolding as it should (sometimes); hence the sub-title of this blog.  Writing has kept me sober more than any AA Meeting did in the two and a half years than I regularly attended  them.  That’s what works for me; for others it’s AA; and still for others it’s something else.  The bottom line is you accept you have a problem, and you deal with it and live with it the best you can.  It’s not God that will save your sorry ass, it’s YOU.  You and a lot of love and support from friends and family.  I couldn’t have gotten this far without my family; my two beloved daughters alone are enough to want me not to have a drink (even though they will drive you to drink sometimes!).  Gracie, who is starting to get to know her Daddy better, as I am starting to get to know her better.  She was the neglected one in all of this mess, because she was born August 12, 2001; just a month before all hell broke loose in my world (and the rest of the world too).  She’s never really had a Daddy that’s been stable, until the past two years at best.  I say two years because the first year of sobriety is as much a haze as your last year, because you’re learning how to live your life and do things again without a drink in one hand.  So I’m trying to be more attentive to her and pay more attention to her than I have in the past; because I’ll be damned if I rob another child of their childhood.

Then we come to my rock of faith, my oldest daughter Kate.  I cannot even begin to tell you how much this child has kept me on course; and during my darkest days, pretty much kept me functioning.  She played mother hen around here when my wife went back to work in 2005, and kept things going…at the expense of her childhood.  She had to grow up more than she should have; but this is what alcoholism does to families.  I cannot repay her enough in this lifetime for her unfailing faith in me as a sober man, and as a grateful father who always had a cup of coffee ready for me to start the day.  The kid was 8 years old at the time the house of cards collapsed and I started on the pathway to recovery.  A special kid, that is for certain; and if it’s at all possible, I love her even more today than ever.

Then we come to my wife; Keeper of The Flame, Vanquisher of Demons, awesome mother, breadwinner, and simply an amazing human being.  After what she has gone through over the past eight years, she should write her own book to be a companion piece to the one I’m writing now.  She watched two buildings collapse knowing that her husband worked two blocks away, as she was holding a one month old daughter with a 4 year old daughter who was trying to make sense out of the whole thing.  She had to deal with a husband who had PTSD, was later diagnosed as being bi-polar, and was a raging alcoholic all while trying to hold down the fort when I was still working.  Now, being the primary source of income (thank God she is a Registered Nurse) she is dealing with having to work when she’d much rather be at home as a Mom.  This role reversal is not to her liking, to put it mildly.  Yet she goes on, and on the days when she’s not being a Mom she is out helping Humanity.  I would have left me a long time ago if I had to deal with what she did.  She stayed.  She didn’t abandon her life partner, even though he deserved to be left in the dust.  We both take our wedding vows seriously, and these past few years have tested every single one of them.  But there is no one on the planet who I love more, and would rather be in a foxhole with.

This is what alcoholism and recovery looks like.

I started this piece ostensibly to be one with some philosophy behind it; and it wound up veering off into great steaks, cigarette taxes, and thanking the people who made today possible.  This is as much about them as it is for me.  It’s about living in the now and being so lucky to have just that single moment; just like the one I am having now writing this post.  This moment will never come again, there will be some like it, but never THIS moment. It’s a way of life…life in moments and scenes and pictures on a wall somewhere in the back of your mind.  THIS moment IS the future and the past all rolled into one.  The sooner you realize that all you have it what you are living in; you kind of have a different outlook on things.

All because for this moment, I chose not to drink.  I choose to imprison my malady rather than have it imprison me.  I can’t tell you that I’m never going to have a drink again; any alcoholic who says that is either full of it or doesn’t understand exactly what the issues are.  But for now, I choose not to drink; no Group is going to help me; God isn’t going to help me (because if there is a Supreme Being, She created all this and left it to its own devices); books aren’t going to help me.  Not even my friends and family can do that; all they can do is be there when it counts and when I need them.  And it all comes down to one simple thing:

Living in the moment, understanding that it will never pass this way again, so make sure it’s a damned good moment.  Then you will never have regrets about your past, and you can accept your future with eyes wide open.

“He who binds to himself a joy Does the winged life destroy; But he who kisses the joy as it flies Lives in eternity’s sun rise.” – William Blake

The Universe Has A Question…

Let us assume for a moment that the Universe itself is sentient.  Let us assume for a moment that just as we would ask a question in order to receive an answer, that the Universe does the same thing.  What if the Universe used WE as individuals as proxies to ask that question, and receive an answer on behalf of it?  This could be asked through one person, a select few, or millions of us all working at the same time to come up with the answer to the question that the Universe seeks at that moment, not knowing that we ourselves are asking the question? In so doing, do we unknowingly understand a part of ourselves in the process?

When we receive an answer to one of our own questions, perhaps the Universe is even more inquisitive…so it uses us to ask another question, and another, and another…

In this way, we ourselves are becoming whole as is the Universe itself.  We must strive to understand the moments when we are vessels of the Universe; for therein lies the true promise of Humanity, and its salvation.

A Silent Awakening

It’s the day that I dread every year; it can’t get here slow enough and it can’t go away fast enough but it arrives on schedule.  For me, September 11th is all about when a major part of my life ended; several years of crisis and upheaval began; and over the past two years, a process of self-understanding and healing had begun.  I am usually very somber and quiet on this day.  I do a lot of writing, spend some time playing some music or composing a new piece, or just hang around with my wife and kids very grateful to be here and very thankful to be alive.

On the last night of the Republican Convention, a so-called “tribute” film about 9/11 was run which featured the more graphic aspects of that day.  It was clearly an attempt to   capitalize and claim political ownership of 9/11 rather than inspire and respectfully commemorate that day.  It was exploitation of the innocent and the afflicted, and unbelievably insensitive at best, disgusting at worst.  The MSNBC commentator Keith Olbermann (who was anchoring the coverage at the time) was visibly shaken, he himself having lost friends in the attacks.  He begged the audience’s pardon as he gently slammed what he had just seen.  For two people who are usually not at a loss for words, Keith in the studio and I watching at home, were connected in our grief, dumbfounded silence and disgust. (Keith knew how to channel his righteous anger and disgust in his brilliant “Special Comment” piece on last night’s “Countdown”.)

My first instinct was to go and write a very emotional piece; the angle of the angry survivor taking umbrage.  Then I realized that in addition to me being way to emotionally worked up to collect my thoughts and write something coherent, there had to be something better than the knee jerk response.  I simply walked away from the Mac and hope that either I would collect my thoughts and go down the original path I was going to go, or maybe the muse would call me in a different direction.  Perhaps inspiration would come from doing exactly the opposite of doing what I wanted to do.  Every year I write a commemorative piece on the Anniversary of the attacks, and this year would be no different.  In previous years, it was always about me: my feelings, my hopes for the future.

This year is different, because this time I will be talking about YOU.

The very fact that video was shown at the RNC suggests a lack of awareness of the part of most people in this country about what that day is really all about.  Of course, it is a time to remember our losses of friends and family.  It is a time to remember those souls who passed on who we may not have known personally,  but who at some point in our lives may have come in contact with us; six degrees of separation and all of that.  It is a time for those of us who survived and/or witnessed the events firsthand to try and come to grips with how much our lives have forever been changed.  It is a day when all of America recalls exactly where they were and what they were doing, and to share in the sense of loss and remembrance.  It becomes a sense of community and oneness. On that day we no longer belong to a political party; we are simply Americans, human beings who realize the fragility of life and the horror of the dark side of the human soul.

What the 9/11 Anniversary is NOT about is ownership of patriotism by any one individual or political party on that day.  It is not about wanting to seek revenge against the Terrorists even more on that day than any other.  It is not about promises by political candidates to do more to combat an unseen enemy, nor is it a time to solely laud our military and first responders all the while forgetting the thousands of office workers who continued to work in the Downtown Manhattan Financial District for years afterward.  Thank God we haven’t reached the point of “9/11 Anniversary One Day Sale” signs in stores; but the way things are going in this country, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if that eventually happens.

You see, what is beginning to happen is the Anniversary is starting to take on a form of it’s own, shaped by those who happen to be in political power at the time.  It is starting to lose it’s reflective and contemplative quality in favor of forced and manufactured  patriotism.  The coverage of the memorial services have been reduced over the years so that even now only two local stations in the NYC area will be broadcasting the ceremonies in their entirety.  The media message is being narrowed like the end of a funnel, and eventually all of the meaning will have been channeled in dribs and drabs so that the Anniversary completely loses its meaning altogether.

As I said earlier, this is about YOU this year, not me.  It’s about what YOU can do to help keep 9/11 a sacred day of reflection and reverence rather than a political showcase.  It’s about what YOU can do to help by ensuring that the souls of the dead are respected as their names are read into the wind every year.  It’s about YOU not falling into the trap of using 9/11 as a focus for revenge and a fear card to be trotted out at every opportunity someone in a political party wants to make a point about how we need to sacrifice our freedoms for protection.  It is about YOU standing up and saying “Enough!” when you are asked to send a Son or Daughter off to a war that is about something that the United States has no business being involved in.

This is also a day when WE should realize that the answer to our disputes lies not at the tip of a bayonet and a gun.  This is a day WE should count our blessings to be alive, and help those who are less fortunate; perhaps spend the day visiting returning Iraqi War vets suffering from PTSD and letting them know someone cares…because the Federal Government sure as hell doesn’t.  WE allowed those brave men and women to be sent off on a Fool’s Errand, sometime pulling several tours of duty…all because we were lied to by the President and The Vice President…and WE did NOTHING to stop it when we found out it was a lie.  WE questioned someone’s very patriotism when they did not support the War.  WE allowed ourselves to become so distracted in Iraq that our very security at home was threatened because of a severe lack of National Guard troops.  This all happened in OUR watch; we all share the blame and dishonor of being silent when we should have been boisterous.  We cost thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis their lives by our complicity and complacency.

I am a firm believer that those of us who survived that horrible day were spared for a reason: we are Messengers.  Not Messengers of God, or the Universe or any other Divinity or non-Divinity of your choice…rather, messengers of the Human Race.  I believe we are gradually awakening to this fact; many of us beginning to write about our experiences (like myself), combined with a different view of the world and our lives as a result of 9/11.  While I have begun the painful process of recalling the events of that day for a memoir I am writing, other Survivors I know have been braver and gone back to the site of the attack to confront their inner demons in an attempt to understand themselves so that they may perhaps help others.  I see an awakening beginning to happen in other Survivors I know…and we’re beginning to talk about it more…not just   about the events of that Tuesday in September, but what have been gestating inside of us over the past seven years.  We are beginning to tell others that there is an awareness of self that was never there before, an understanding and compassion for others that has been magnified.  A feeling that now, more than ever we need to be loving rather than hateful; that a connection exists between us as Human Beings that is stronger than any national border, religion, or skin color.

AND WE WILL NOT BE SILENT, NOR WILL WE BE SILENCED ANY LONGER.

For too long we have remained on the sidelines and stood by as our world began a dangerous spiral downward toward God only knows what end.  We were there at the very beginning of all of this, and it is now time to step forward and try and stop the slide into oblivion that our politicians have put us on.  The time has come for peace and justice, not just for our country, but for all nations.  It is time to spread the message.  It will come by way of blogs like this one.  It will come by word of mouth.  It will come by music and art and audio and video.  But surely, the message will come.

All YOU have to do is listen to it, and pass it on.