CREATING SPACE FOR NOTHING
Like many people I have a very clear memory of the morning of 9/11. I was asleep in my apartment in Silverlake when the phone rang pretty early, it was my friend Patti, very upset. “We’re being attacked.” I didn’t own a TV so I hopped in the car and drove over to her place in Beachwood Canyon and we sat and watched the smoke, the ash, the unimaginable wreckage.
I remember the terrifying unreality of that day. And, the immediate understanding that this was going to mean a lot of bad repercussions, more violence.
My shrink at the time was named Carolyn. She was my first real therapist-- and she really helped me. With her I began to untangle the grey, jumbled mass in my head, to separate out the strands and begin to understand myself, my behaviors. I first started seeing her in South Pasadena five years earlier but by this time she had moved out to Simi Valley where I drove to see her every Saturday.
The attacks were on a Tuesday. That Saturday I drove out and pulled into the empty parking lot of the Medical services building where Carolyn’s office was located. No one else was ever there on the weekends and it felt sort of eerie.
She opened her door as usual, standing with a warm smile. I entered, sat on the couch. I took one of the pillows and held it in my lap and began to cry.
We spoke for a few minutes about how awful it was. Then I said, “and the fact that this is really retaliation for so many of our own behaviors, our foreign policy…”
Carolyn was in her early 70s, tall and slender, what you’d call willowy. Whenever I had seen her she was beautifully dressed. That day she wore a calf length, mocha colored knit skirt and a matching top with gold buttons up the front. Tasteful gold jewelry, pearl earrings. A nice beige pump. Her short bob was dyed a dark red. She was composed and soft spoken. My favorite refrain of hers was, “I’m sure it will be great, you’ve got good judgment.”
This was a revelation. The first time she said that to me years before I thought, “I’ve got good judgment, really? Come on, lady, I might be in desperate need of therapy but I’m not an idiot.”
But over the years, the more she said it, it sank in and I began to see myself as someone who has good judgment.
Well, as soon as I said the bit about America’s foreign policy, Carolyn erupted, I mean, exploded. “Don’t you say anything bad about our country. This has nothing to do with anything like that. These are terrible people and they have committed acts of terrorism.” I was hunched up in the corner of the couch, squeezing the hell out of that pillow now. She’d never raised her voice in the entire time I knew her. Her behavior shocked me. I felt shamed though not ashamed--her response didn’t shift my perspective--but it was imminently clear that what I was feeling and thinking weren’t acceptable in that office.
“Don’t,” she said, her voice softer now, “Don’t even say that.”
I left feeling rattled, that was messed up. Not because we disagreed but because she was my therapist and her job--for which I paid her--was to hold space for me.
Whenever this time of year comes around, I think of Carolyn, her inability to hear my thoughts around those terrible events. Life and history are on a continuum. This terrifying moment we’re in now is related to what happened 19 years ago and what happened 19 years before that and so on. Everything is connected. The raging fires in the west, the threats to our democracy, the protests and the violent response in the streets of Portland and elsewhere. Even the mishandling of this pandemic. The same number of people that died in 911 are dying every three days from the virus. There has been no public reflecting on that loss.
Reflection can be hard. To stop doing, stop struggling, and just reflect on what has happened. To create space for nothing. To just hold.
Ten years later I was living in New York. It was September 11th and I had put together another of our annual Wonderwalks, the day long walk of the island of manhattan with site specific performance and interaction along the way. The walk started at Fort Tryon Park at 10am and was scheduled to end in the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge at midnight. We reached the site of the World Trade Center at 11pm. One of the artists whom I’d invited to participate had composed a piece of music he titled, Falling. Our group was about 125 people strong by that time and we all stopped at the corner of Broadway and Chambers Street. We handed out earbuds. Everyone had downloaded the song beforehand and we stood there looking at those two huge columns of light while listening to the beautiful, mournful music. Sharing the moment, honoring what had happened, saying nothing.
Art was leading to a shared reflection.