It is odd the things you think about on an anniversary such as this. I was working with an international accounting firm in their small corporateTennessee office. The home office was in the Twin Towers in New York. Most of our day was spent on the phone with our colleagues in New York. This day, eleven years ago, was no different. Talking with a young man, Chris, I did so enjoy, I heard the screams, including his before the call went silent. Looking around I could see the other women staring at their phones that also went silent. The managing partner came to our area to tell us the news and that we could all go home.
No one moved. I gathered the twelve women who worked for me, and we sat in silence. What can you say? Twelve women, so many miles away, yet stunned in disbelief. Quietly, I told them to remember the promise of the rainbow. That no matter how devastating the storm, we are promised the rainbow. Clasping my hands to my heart, I bowed to them, and whispered, Shalom. In unison, twelve women, who probably never had placed their hands to their hearts and bowed, did so, an in unison, whispered, Shalom and returned to their homes. Days later one of the ladies came to me and asked the meaning of the bow. Smiling I explained, it was a way of honoring them, their hearts, their hope, and their fears. Her eyes filled with tears as she said she could not remember ever being honored.
My cell phone rang, it was Chris, frantic in tears. He knew no one else to call. His boss had just called from California and had literally bought a car so he could drive back to New York, rentals were not available. In shock, he asked me what he should be doing to protect the company’s assets and records. I could hear the sirens and noise from where he stood outside. Quietly I whispered, for him to just hold the phone so I could hear him breathe and for him to concentrate and listen to my breath. Together we stood, he in the mass confusion and shock in downtown New York and I in a small Tennessee town, doing nothing but listening to the other breathe. I interrupted the silence with an occasional whisper of “I am here.” His breathing would calm, then begin to race, I would whisper, his breath would calm. Finally, when his breath seemed calm, I whispered for him to get somewhere safe, and to know I would not leave him. Several times during the day and days that followed, he would call, say hello, I need to breathe. Together, for a few minutes, we would breathe.
Odd, the things you remember. So so many memories on this day. The world changed. Our lives changed. But even after all these years, two constants remain unforgotten. The power of honoring another and the quiet stillness of listening to another breathe, drawing in their breath of pain and fear. On that day, and the days that followed, the shocked world seemed a bit more kind. Some devastations are global. Others are microaggressions daily endured. Just a little over a year later, standing near the site where the towers stood, bowing I laid the flower the woman handed me, and with a bow, asked me to leave. Standing upright, Chris and I started to leave. He stopped, went back, picked up the flower and offered it, and a twenty dollar bill around its stem, to an old man who appeared obviously homeless. He smiled at me and with a tearful wink, whispered, “Still breathing.”
With body bent and bowed, like the promised rainbow, hands to my heart, to all on this day, Shalom, peace, salaam, and the prayer that every day, we sit and hear the world breathing.