Nine years ago today I stood too far downtown and watched people leaping to their death, watched a woman tearing southbound through the streets with her heels in her hands screaming for her husband with an animal shriek, watched two buildings crumble, thinking I would be trapped when they fell on me.
We survived. Most of us. Well, here I am.
Two full hours uptown. Safe.
Every year around this time I try to renew the vow that came out of the months of nightmares after that day: let my body, my life, and my work be an instrument of peace. I am one person and I can do very little, but let me at least attempt as hard as I can not to do active evil, to leave my little corner of this sad universe a little better than I found it. Like everyone else, I’m fumbling around, lately a lot more so than usual, just trying to find a way to exist without driving myself crazy or worrying that I’m not living up to my potential as a human being with a heart.
My mother and brother and I always went to synagogue on Rosh Hashanah, which fell this year on September ninth. It was the only time all year we would half-heartedly attempt to practice the faith my mother was raised with. I never felt much religious stirring, having been raised by an atheist Jew and a Christian father whose only religion was drugs. At temple, the rabbi said “May you be inscribed in the Book of Life,” and spoke about the idea that at Rosh Hashanah God looked into your heart around and decided whether or not you would live or die. This always seemed a little much to me, even as a kid.
These days I don’t go to temple, since it’s my belief that religion has done such profound harm on this fragile planet, and very little good that I can see. But sometimes I miss the ritual of it—the special clothes we would wear, the velvety feeling of the hushed air in the temple, the deep quiet. These days my life is entirely my own, and my chosen form of doing good in the world, the kind of good that religious people do because they believe it will get god to smile on them for another year, doesn’t leave me with much time for sitting quietly on velvety benches and contemplating the master of the universe. There is too much to be done. But even in the middle of all of it, I’d like to bring a few breaths of that quiet, contemplative, full-hearted air into my hectic business-owner life.
Peace is really at the heart of it, I suppose. Peace is my prayer, peace is my ultimate temple. The peace that comes from freedom–such a 9/11 type thing to think about. Freedom to live my life as I choose—freedom from religion. Peace in knowing that my work relies as little as possible on the violent institutions that underpin our entire society—our usage of other animals as products, the inherent violence against women, people of color, poor people, queer people and so many Others that is still tolerated in our society, the desecrations of the earth that seem almost impossible to stop sometimes. Working for peace, and not closing our eyes to what that means, in its deepest connotations, is often heartbreaking.
Nine years ago today I watched a lot of people die. Last night I went to a meeting of a dozen or so friends of mine, all small business owners, who are trying to meet regularly to help each other with the challenges small business owners with open hearts and limited means face. We are farmers, chefs, potters, designers—revolutionaries and rabble-rousers, all. We couldn’t help but smile as we talked about the problems we face—exhaustion, loss of focus, fear, poverty, constant worry. But after each of us listed the challenges we wanted to work on in the group, we all said a variation of: “But I love my work so much.” We were a clear-eyed group: not closing our eyes to the hard work, and not denying that the lives it provides are worth all of it.
It’s such a cliché to say, but September 11, 2001 taught us that nothing is easy. It complicated my life in horrible ways—I finally had to leave the country in order to get a good night’s sleep. But in a few months I felt steady on my feet again, and by 2002, with exactly $0 of start-up capital, I’d started my own business. More of a wish than a business, I named it Lagusta’s Luscious Vegetarian Home Meal Delivery Service. Comfort food. I cooked at home, illegally for a few years, until I could afford to rent a commercial kitchen. I went slowly and made so many mistakes. I taught myself how I wanted to make my way in the world along with how I wanted to make my minestone. It worked–by 2003 I’d quit my NYC job and was working full-time for myself. In 2004 my sweetheart and I bought our house upstate, and I started making the chocolate side of my business more of a focus.
I’m in a period of change now, and just like 2001-2004—when I had a nervous breakdown, launched a business, and took a deep breath and signed a mortgage—it hurts. That period of change was initiated by that cloudless, perfect day, those hours when some horrible scab was ripped off the bloody wound that is the world, and we saw the terror that is constantly under the surface of our comfortable lives. It was awful, but in time it made me more committed than ever to use all the tools I have at hand to carve out as much beauty and light and justice as I can from the one small, fragile, tiny life I’ve been given.
I’ll decide what happens in my own Book of Life.
Love to you all.