the only certainty is uncertainty

This will sound outlandish, but the 9/11 attacks occurred at the perfect time in my life. I did not profit nor truly suffer from that tragedy, but it did help to frame my world view. I had already come to understand true poverty by seeing children with distended bellies and victims of leprosy in the streets during  5 weeks in India. I had traveled without a fear or hesitation through Mexico in the preceding weeks. NYC had been my home for less than a year, but from a set of odd circumstances and even odder choices, I spent part of that day very close to the World Trade Center buildings before the fall. The feeling was that of a day beginning the same as all the rest, a bike ride across the Williamsburg bridge brooding about some idea or person, heading to work, expecting a day as forgettable as all the others. And then my memory begins to slow down, running up to the roof to see the hole in one of the buildings, running to join the engorged 5th avenue to stare with thousands of other eyes upwards to the disaster.

That day taught me one of those deep subconscious lessons, the same way a smell can remind someone of a grandmother or a belt can remind someone of a father, my being learned that uncertainty is the only certainty. I was spared the lesson of sorrow, desperation and sudden loss. But I grew a neural pathway to know that it can occur at any moment. My instincts evolved from a privileged city girl taught at most the fear to avoid people on drugs, to a girl entering an unknown world: soldiers with automatic rifles on subway platforms, unattended bags a panic attack on sight, buses crossing the picturesque Manhattan bridges a possible soft target, a homemade bomb at a marathon, a shooting at a nightclub or movie theater, a truck plowing into people on Bastille Day, unmanned drones killing her counterpart in Syria…

This day, 9/11, echoes in all peoples’ minds. Those younger than me became fearful and reactively patriotic, while those older mourned the safety they once knew. But for me I became prepared for the world that we have now. A world where any day can become the one that slows down, that is never forgettable, that changes everything while changing nothing. The sun continues to pass from East to West, the nighttime comes for another day to arrive, and we realize that we have no choice except to go on. The lesson I absorbed that day ricochets and rolls around my daily reality as I catch a passing thought, “wonder if this train will explode; what if he has a gun; could she ever get so angry as to shoot; it would be easy to leave a bomb there…” I felt it sink in on that sunny day in Manhattan, time slowed, the air smelled of burning, I found a payphone to call my mom, I waited to find out how I might get home, I found some people and we talked. Each moment I was learning something new, my body adjusting to meet the new reality that the only certainty is uncertainty.

to fail or not to fail, what is your response

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