Tuesday, September 11, early in the morning, unknowing of what was to come, I finally made the choice to go surfing at the Jersey shore for the first time since moving east 3 years ago. I checked my email, handled the few chores requested by clients and packed the truck with my board and gear and headed out.
It was a pristine and crystal clear day, the early signs of fall in the air. I rejoiced as I drove across the garden state with my beloved lab, Lulu, at my side and surfboard in the back, that at last my life had reached my idea of perfection. I had finally, after years of struggle and hard work, found the life I had always dreamed of, a beautiful home in the country, animals to love and care for and an occupation I enjoyed which allowed me to work at home and go surfing whenever the ocean provided the waves. This day would be the day that signified the completion and fruition of my lifelong quest to get it all together.
Then the world changed.
I had deliberately left the radio off, preferring to immerse myself in the splendor of the day and the moment. When I arrived at the shore and stopped to check the oil, the station attendant told me the horrible news. Stunned, sickened, dazed, I had to sit for a moment, not sure what to do. I got back in the truck mechanically, still dazed, and drove the last few miles to the shore and listened to the radio to find out if it was real. It was.
I had chosen to go to Sandy Hook, directly across the bay from New York. At the beach there were a few people standing on the shore looking at Manhattan in the distance. Everyone was silent. Great plumes of smoke rose from the city and drifted down the coast. You could clearly see the hole in the skyline where the 2 towers should have been. My head was still spinning and I felt as if the wind had been knocked out of me. I didn’t know what to do, what I could do, what I should do. While my physical and emotional body reeled, my rational mind ran down all the repercussions and possible courses the future might take and what it might mean for our country and people everywhere. How greatly society and history would change. My eyes watched the smoke billow up to the heavens and my heart sensed the thousands of souls within it being carried away forever and my soul cried and grieved.
My overwhelming feeling was of utter helplessness. I didn’t know what to do. I struggled with whether or not to go surfing. Was it wrong to engage in recreation while thousands died within view? How petty and thoughtless. Then again, there was nothing I could do to help them right now. Wasn’t the best thing we could do, what we all should do, to carry on with our lives as best we can? If life is so precious and fleeting, shouldn’t we enjoy every moment? I didn’t want to go out. I felt old and tired and the idea filled me with distaste.
Sitting there with Lulu by my side, I stroked her constantly, somehow finding comfort in her ever-vivacious life energy. She was happy to be at the beach and outdoors, living just in the moment in her world. Another dog came and they played with joy and pleasure. I spoke with the owner and others began to share their feelings. Many said they were supposed to be in the city this day, but ditched work and came to the beach because it was so beautiful.
Finally the park ranger came and announced the beach would be closing. It was a federal national park facility and like all others in the country would be closed and secured. He tried to signal the surfers to come in. As if in a dream, I went up to him and told him I’d driven down from PA and hadn’t surfed in 3 years. He told me to get out there and stay as long as I wanted.
I made a shelter with my towel for Lulu to escape the sun and put on my trunks and entered the water. It was warm and embracing, and although as a longtime surfer, I had always been intensely aware of being in the ocean as being swaddled within the cradle of life, I did not sense that on this day. It was a struggle to stay present in the moment, but my years of experience took over and my body and senses responded automatically, although mechanically, as I watched the sets and chose my chance to paddle out, routinely tuning in to the rhythms of nature in order to get a fleeting chance to commune with it.
Once out past the breakers, I spoke with some of the other surfers, informed them of the park closing, and we shared our sense of the surrealness of the situation. Many had also avoided responsibilities in the city to go surfing instead.
I still felt as if the wind had been knocked out of me. I couldn’t seem to catch my breath and not just from the exertion of paddling out. Every movement was a struggle, yet I went through all the usual and familiar activities of trying to catch a wave to ride.
I told one guy my story of coming down from PA and not surfing for 3 years and that I only wanted one good ride. He said as far as he was concerned I could have any one I wanted.
Finally after a few failed attempts, I paddled into a good sized wave. The take off was wobbly, but I managed to get to my feet and keep my balance. Somehow I managed to turn the board without falling off and made several sections, finally wiping out close to the beach. As I came up for air, a whoop of delight escaped my mouth. The same life-affirming exhilaration I had felt and expressed unashamedly after riding a thousand waves before, the terrific rush that every surfer knows. Oh, that was a such a great feeling!
I came up on the beach excited, no longer guilty for having enjoyed myself. I was alive! I was 48 and could still surf. I could still do whatever was necessary to right this awful wrong. If war came, although I abhor violence in all forms, I could pick up a gun or do whatever my country asked of me.
I was still sickened, still nauseated by the days events, still overwhelmed with grief, rage, and disgust, but now I knew I could go on, that we all could and would go on.
In conclusion, I would like to express my profound sorrow, grief, anger and rage regarding the tragedies that have befallen our great nation. My thoughts, hopes, and prayers are with the innocent victims and their families, as well as with all the rescue and support personnel and volunteers. I pledge to do whatever it takes, offer any service I am able, or to suffer any privation or make any sacrifice, in order to support our country for as long as it takes until the scourge of terrorism is banished from the world.
Love and Peace to all,
September 11, 2001