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Coping Footsteps

The south edge of the office was walled in glass, offering sweeping views of the downtown skyline.  And on September 11, it opened a direct line of sight to the terror the nation was watching on TV.  Suspended in disbelief, I remember being jolted by someone telling us all to call our families and let them know we were OK.  “The phone lines are going to get busy…call right now,” she said.  I returned from calling my family a few minutes before the second plane pierced through the second tower.

There was a telescope in the southwest corner of the office.  Someone gently took it away.  The TV was on.  It was hard to focus on the reporter when the faces in the towers’ windows were straight ahead of us.  The first tower fell.  It was strangely quiet.  Some people questioned whether we were safe.  Others panicked about family and friends.  Many didn’t say much.  And then slowly, as we figured out where each of us could go next, we left the office in small groups.  I walked with a few colleagues to St. Vincent’s to try to donate blood.  The supply was high and the demand was low.

I returned to a quiet apartment.  My roommate wasn’t there, and I didn’t want to be home alone.  So without much thought, I changed clothes, laced up my running shoes, and ran.  I ran north from 14th Street, away from the burning buildings and incomprehensible terror.  I ran through Times Square and up to Central Park.  Counting the city blocks calmed my mind.  The sound of my steady footsteps regulated my breath.  Each stride felt familiar amidst a city and world that suddenly felt foreign.

I’ve often felt guilty about that run, wondering whether I should have been grieving or helping or hugging or who-knows-what-else during the quietest hour I’d ever experienced in New York City.  But looking back on it today, I realized that running was my way to cope.  It was something I looked to for comfort, for routine, for certainty, and for escape.  A reminder of vitality, it opposed the horror that hung in the sky that day.  And I’m grateful that I had that run…that my body could do it and that it’s what my heart told me to do.  Coping comes in all shapes and sizes…all we need to do is recognize and embrace whatever our gut tells us is right.  And then lace up our shoes.

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Joanne Bernhardt #

    Wonderful story. My heart is pounding just from reading and imagining you running. Your family must have been terrified for you in those hours. Thank God you and so many others survived. How have we allowed that day to change the course of our lives? I wonder.

    September 16, 2013
  2. Joanne Bernhardt #

    I also love the “lace up our shoes” ending. To keep on going does sometimes seem to be the only way to keep on going! When “the night of the soul” gets too dark and long for me, for whatever “really” insignificant reason, I put my shoes and jacket on, and take the dog outside for a little walk beneath the sky. And I look up at the stars, which seem so tiny, yet so bright, and remember that everything in the world will somehow be alright. And then, I can rest in peace … and hope. You are so right about each of us needing to find our own way to cope!

    September 16, 2013
    • I love that you go out for a walk as a coping mechanism. You’re right, somehow that vast and spectacular sky does give us perspective. Thanks so much for the heartfelt comment, Joanne.

      September 16, 2013
  3. Your original letter re: this run made me cry. I remember it vividly…I agree, sometimes you just need to hit the pavement.

    September 17, 2013

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