That fateful day

It was a balmy blue-sky autumn morning in the Big Apple. As the guest trainer at the Manhattan Feldenkrais® Teacher Training, I started the day teaching the next installment in a long series of Awareness Through Movement® lessons.

Soon after I’d begun, Anastasi Siotas, a fellow member of the faculty, approached me quietly and whispered in my ear that an airplane had just flown into the World Trade Center. I thought he was joking. I mean, that couldn’t be true, could it?! Wanting to stay focused on the trainees and the ATM® class I was guiding them through, I shooed him away1.

Later, the director of the training entered the venue obviously rattled. From the back of his taxi, he’d seen a plane crash into the World Trade Center tower. We were stunned. The safe atmosphere for learning that we’d created with such care, commitment, and consistency shattered.

The training venue, the Subud Chelsea Center on 29th Street, was less than four miles from the crash site. There was no TV on the premises, but the building administrator was kind enough to move his radio in the lobby. A second plane had flown into the other tower. Everyone huddled around the radio like a family transfixed by Orson Welles’ 1938 War of the Worlds broadcast. Except this was for real. The buildings were ablaze.

The cell network was unreachable. Were our loved ones okay? Did they know we were okay? The level of concern in the room was palpable . . . and mounting. Folks turned to each other worried, frightened, and disoriented, creating a fervent murmur in the air.

No one wanted to leave. Even if they’d wanted to, where would they go? The subways weren’t working. How were we going to get home? 

Sensing mounting panic, I brought the group back together. The conversation turned to practical matters. This was one of the last segments of the training program. The next day was supposed to be the beginning of a Functional Integration® practicum — when trainees give supervised hands-on lessons to volunteer students from the public. What should we do?

The conversation was fraught with fear. The consensus was to cancel.

Then one of the trainees stood up to speak to the group. Her calm, resolute voice filled the ballroom-sized space as she recounted, briefly, her own history of living through bombings. Her last words hung in the air for what seemed like minutes: “If we cancel the practicum, we’re giving up. If we give up, then the terrorists have won.”

I’d never witnessed nor been a part of an entire ensemble of people sighing in relief in unison before. People’s facial expressions changed. Their posture shifted towards ease and uprightness. The entire group “turned on a dime.”

All but two of the trainees showed up the next day. Most of the volunteers arrived as scheduled and on time. We filled the missing slots with members of the program. The practicum happened as planned. In those dark terrible days, we carried on. While most of the city — along with the rest of the world — sat glued to the television, we were grateful to have someplace safe to go, to have something meaningful to do together, and to be strengthened by our defiant, unified refusal to give up.

Omer Aziz’s insightful and moving editorial in this morning’s New York Times, The World 9/11 Took From Us, is well worth your time.

1. To this day, I’m embarrassed that I didn’t take Anastasi seriously. I’m glad to have this opportunity to publicly apologize: “I’m sorry I didn’t believe you that fateful morning, mate.”

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