“Repeat after me, I am a miracle.”
I am a miracle.
“Hand over your heart, I am a miracle!”
I AM A MIRACLE.
We stand in rows of ten, twelve deep, dressed in white, and all eyes and ears on the woman up front, our director and guru, Jacqulyn Buglisi. She is leading us in rehearsal for The Table of Silence Project. Her company members from Buglisi Dance Theatre walk throughout to help with the movements, give correction, and answer questions. By her side are musicians, two flautists, three sopranos, two drummers, and a photographer.
We beat our sternums, singing out, and let the vibration ring through the cavernous Martha Graham studios, Alvin Ailey studios, and Juilliard School. We clap our hands in front of our mouths, only fingers touching, and then bring our hands out, palms offering the sound, forearms perpendicular with our bodies. Our bare feet stand firmly on the marley floor where we add our intention to share our message through dance with the generations who have come before from these great companies and schools.
We offer our expression, we offer our silence.
I was on the N train in Astoria heading towards Queens Plaza to transfer to the express train. I had only lived in NYC for three years and had my second day of jury duty. As I was a Queens resident, I had to report to the courthouse pretty far out. I had spent my first day trying to look as dour and pissed as possible so I wouldn’t be picked. So far, the strategy was working.
The N line is an elevated train out in Queens, and I stared out the window at the smoke billowing from the one of the towers of the World Trade Center. It was churning out in large black puffs and I got out of my seat to try to understand. I heard a woman on her cell phone say something about an airplane, but all my brain could process was there had to be an explosion. I began to wonder how they were going to put out a fire that far up.
Suddenly the second tower exploded in fire and smoke and I thought, did the fire jump from one building to the next? From my vantage point, I only saw the explosion, the impact. I had no idea what had actually occurred.
When I arrived at the courthouse, every TV was on and people were standing, staring blindly at the images. Suddenly it all became clear, suddenly there was an explanation, but none of it made sense. I called to let loved ones know I was ok, and waited for instructions as the reality and horror sank in.
We were excused pretty quickly and the subways had already shut down, so everyone was bee-lining for buses. They were all packed, and I lined up with others to get on whatever came next. This was my only way home. As I walked out of the courthouse, I got word the first tower was down. I felt my stomach drop into my heels, and my legs stopped working. I stood on the concrete outside the courthouse, and for a moment everyone rushed by me, running for the buses. There was a horrible smell in the air, and black was streaming across the blue sky.
One question was on my lips, “What is going to happen?”
I got on the first bus I could, and everyone had the same frantic look in their eyes. People were trying to call friends and family and the lines were getting jammed. I was trying to call one of my closest friends to make sure she hadn’t gone into Manhattan, and I was just getting a busy signal. I turned to the stranger next to me and saw myself in her. I asked her where the bus was going and she asked me where I needed to go. Many people were in the same boat as I was, just trying to find their way back home. We were all lost in the confusion of this attack, a community formed out of survival.
Through their help, I got off at Queensboro Bridge and followed the subway tracks home. I sat on my couch watching the one station still broadcasting and wept for the lives lost, for the fear, and for the destruction. Ash filled the New York sky, and I curled into a ball, into loving arms, mourning the loss.
I had dined at the World Trade Center, enjoying an incredible meal of duck and lobster chowder at the Windows of The World. I had gazed out the expansive windows, taking in the beauty of the urban landscape at night, lights shining in a 360 degree view, shared with my loving partner. I had participated in the MS Walk just months earlier with friends, originating and terminating the inspiring walk to raise money and awareness for Multiple Sclerosis from the steps of the World Trade Center. These two towers held some beautiful memories, and now they were a massive graveyard of twisted steel and burning death.
The following day, my neighbors held a candlelight vigil on the sidewalk outside our apartment. We came together to comfort, as the city did the same. People streamed into the island to help, and to search. As I witnessed this community, I felt for the first time this was my home. We were leaning on each other for strength, and holding each other in grief.
This is my second year dancing in the Table of Silence Project. Last year I placed white powder on my face to signify ash, and walked on Lincoln Plaza with over a hundred dancers. In the face of divorce and the sudden death of a dear friend, I felt I had burned over and again in my loss. Jacqulyn’s words were a beacon to me, reminding me of my inner peace, and the power of our collective hands raising.
After removing white plates from each other’s mantels, we all sat in the sunshine, crossed legged, in silence, eyes lowered, listening to the flutes echoing across the plaza. We formed three concentric circles around the main fountain, a sacred geometry.
As I sat, I realized I was not sad, and suddenly the tears flowed. They caught the white powder on my cheeks, and fell into the plate in my lap, held carefully between my hands. At the sound of the bell, I raised my plate heavenward, offering in silence my story and journey. A plane flew overhead and I saw blue sky.
I had worried my bare feet would bleed and tear dancing outside at Lincoln Plaza, but the granite was smooth and cool beneath my feet. My soles had calloused and strengthened over the three weeks of practice, and they carried me out of the plaza, in a line, following this community in white, all of us holding our plates at our heart centers, as the drums beat on and on.
Today I walk again, having experienced the passing of more family in the past year. To the designer, to the dancer, the fly-fisherman, and lastly to my heart, I offer peace. I dance in peace.