The other side of fear

I’ve told the story before, on other blogs, in essays, but today 15 years later, it bears repeating. We mark anniversaries, we try to give meaning and purpose to that which is impossible to comprehend. I look at the young man sitting across from me and I remember I was eight and a half months pregnant when the towers fell. He was born just blocks from the smoldering remains at St. Vincent’s hospital in Manhattan. Our room overlooked the rubble in a city that was eerily quiet and grey.

Four years later, they closed St. Vincent’s to make way for luxury condos and it broke my heart. It felt like a moment in my past, a deep and meaningful moment had been erased. I spent countless days of my pregnancy there hooked up to a fetal heart monitor, hospitalized and on bedrest. At the time I couldn’t imagine a scarier thing — to be responsible for another human life and yet absolutely dependent on the doctors and nurses and midwives who cared for me, who kept my challenging pregnancy alive, who brought a beautiful healthy boy into the world.

Five years ago, I wrote this:

 

I’ve been thinking about a day this past March, a beautiful crisp late winter day. We drove over the Williamsburg bridge and in a way that was completely unplanned and unexpected, found ourselves pulled deeper and deeper into lower Manhattan. As we got closer, I knew we would park and walk and for the first time since it happened, I wanted to see it.

But I underestimated the impact it would have on us. I watched as my son realized for the first time that the planes were in fact passenger planes and not, as he had always assumed, war planes piloted by military men, but living breathing airplanes like the ones he travels on every summer to California and his father rides in over and over again on business trips.

Processing that information was too much for him, coupled as it was with the story of the plane that went down in Pennsylvania, and the idea that ordinary people on their way to visit family or to work somehow saved so many others with their heroic actions.

I am something of an idealist. I believe our job is to take care of each other, not push each other away. There are so many things that divide us, but I refuse to accept that we are better off building walls and closing ourselves off and disrespecting — rather than embracing — our differences.

In April of this year I attended an event with James at World Trade Center One, a single spire of a building that has risen slowly above Ground Zero. It was a beautiful night. A celebratory event. And as I looked across the Hudson to New Jersey and down into New York Harbor, I saw the Statue of Liberty. A tiny green pillar of hope and ideals. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I believe in the golden door, in beacons of light, in the beauty and symmetry of one world. I believe that everything we want is on the other side of fear.

There are moments that stay with me. Hard and hopeless things that I have had to face. But I will never let those things define me. And I will never stop believing in the power of all that is good in this world. Out of the ashes, they created a thing of great beauty and strength. When I consider that line, that singular thought, I cannot help but think it speaks to so much more than rubble and skyscrapers.

Yesterday I sat in a room with other breast cancer survivors and I saw great beauty and strength. I heard stories and told stories, laughed and cried. There is so very little in this life that we can count on. I am grateful for the moments when we can count on each other. Because everything I want is on the other side of fear.

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