Monday, May 22, 2006

United 93 (and what I was doing that day)

Went to see the incredibly well-done United 93 movie this weekend. It left me speechless.

I had the strangest sensation of reliving the past. Like many of us, what I was doing that morning is etched into my memory. In watching the people in the film, I remembered moment-by-moment what I was doing, when I was acting and when I was praying.

I was in the unique position of being involved with a Website about spirituality. We were still very new, so when other sites were crashing from the increased Web traffic we stayed operational. But we had no communication besides the Web, so our best information came from the phone.

Like everyone else, the first we heard of the disaster was the plane crashing into the North Tower. For me, it was my mom calling. She was horrified, because my brother worked at the World Trade Center. I initially thought it was probably a small private plane that had gone off course, and anyway Steve worked in the South Tower. I had no TV at the office so couldn’t see what she was seeing. I tried to calm her down as others in my office were also getting the news and the buzz was increasing.

We couldn’t get onto to find out anything, the site was totally overwhelmed with traffic. The Breaking News reports started coming in our emails, though, very soon. Minutes of confusion continued until we heard of the second crash as well. We were hearing reports of which floors were affected. So I got on the phone to call the Washington office of my brother’s law firm. They told me his office at WTC was on the 38-40th floors of 2WTC, the South Tower.

It was probably about 9:15 by then, and no one in the family knew if he’d gotten in to work yet. Of course cell phones in New York were maxed out and nothing was getting through. My incredibly naïve initial calls to his actual office rang and rang.

It was at that point that our team regrouped. We had already had our story meeting for the morning, and now we quickly re-gathered in our shabby garage-like office, crammed into a conference room and staring at each other. Our leadership got us going on a response. Each of us had particular points of view. One staff member was a veritable current events expert. One was up from New York City herself. I had a relative who worked there. As we all volunteered what we would do next, I found myself saying, “I just need to go pray.”

I went outside the building on that crisp clear fall day. Sitting near a fountain, I looked across a plaza to the one church I believe is the most beautiful on the planet. We suspected that this was terrorism, so my thought was drawn to a powerful sense of the oneness of God. That there is only one God, that we all serve Him, that there are no divisions among us, that we exist together in harmony in His creation. This feeling filled me. I became grateful as I sat there, still and convinced.

At a just about 10am, a coworker came out of the building and told me that a plane had crashed into the Pentagon. I took a deep breath and felt I was needed upstairs. As I walked onto the floor, my female boss came over to me and put her arms around me. She said, “The South Tower [my brother’s building] has collapsed.”

I stared at her blankly. Collapsed? How was that possible? Having not seen the footage yet, I thought she meant it fell over, like sideways. It made no sense to me.

By now, a colleague had gotten a small antenna TV from his nearby home, and had rigged it up with a coat hanger for better reception. So we began to be able to see some images. Rattled and upset but so yearning to DO SOMETHING, we gathered again. This time, I said, “I need to go write.”

I took my small NEC MobilePro laptop into a smaller conference room and wrote down my prayer. It absolutely came right from my head to the keyboard, very little editing. I don’t believe I’d had such clear thinking before or since. I prayed specifically for the people in the stairwells, the airplanes, on the ground, in the cities. I didn’t know yet to pray for the firefighters. Here’s a copy of what I wrote:

My prayer for my brother

Just as I was typing the final words, the colleague up from New York came into the conference room to let me know my mother had called back and we’d heard from Steve. He’d had to run for his life, but was fine and on his way home.

The prayer I wrote was published later that day, and was shared by thousands. It was read into the Congressional Record by a US congressman.

The last few minutes of the movie United 93 included footage of all the people on board praying—the Muslims prayed in their language, as many passengers prayed the Lord’s Prayer. I realized I had been praying—many of us were praying—at that exact moment as well. We were “united” in prayer. I had the strongest feeling as I was watching of my own prayer embracing them. As the movie ended with a sudden black screen, my arms went forward involuntarily to wrap them all up in Love. That’s where they are.

My prayer article was just one element of our response to the crisis. For the following weeks and months, our Website provided instant comfort and inspiration to thousands in the form of discussions, events, interviews, ecards. The WTC disaster galvanized our work, and we learned just why we were there. I continue to feel that the spread of practical ideas about spirituality is a worthy life-work, for spirituality is the one thing that’s always available no matter what the crisis. So here I am, still Webbing away.

Someday, when the movie comes out, I’ll tell about what we did for the tsunami.

Your ideas and inspiration are welcome! Please comment below or Contact Laura.
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At 5/22/2006 10:36:00 AM, Anonymous moppo said...

As one of your co-workers that day I verify that events were as you state. I first heard about it through a phone call from our other colleague who happened to be in NYC within view of the WTC and actually saw the building in flames. She didn't call just to scoop Breaking News - she called telling me to pray about whatever it was that was happening. That's when we all suddenly felt that we on the staff of that website had a mission that far exceeded what we had seen in the beginning months of our existence. Within 24 hours the site got reconfigured and suddenly went from being a collection of articles with a bit of discussion, to an active community discussing all kinds of spiritual issues - with some reading material on the side.

We don't relish these transforming moments - but they are invaluable.

At 5/23/2006 10:32:00 PM, Blogger Kim said...

I can just see you reaching out to the movie screen once it ended! Wonderful blog!

While working side by side ( or floor by floor) with you, I too saw what a powerful tool the web is to reach out to others in crisis ( remember the SARS, crisis, the Madrid bombings,etc)and this has moved me immeasurably. After we were all laid off, I am still webbing, but this time solo.

It's so good to see you ( and many others) are doing the same!


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