9/11 Revisited

The following is an excerpt from a journal I wrote on September 18th, 2001, just a week after the attacks on NY and Washington. It’s meant to be a reminder to me as to what I had experienced during these events, and it’s the first time I’m sharing it with others in a public setting. I hope that you may be able to connect with it in some way. Just a warning though, it’s pretty raw… you should know that going into it. I was writing as a man who was convinced the world was gonna fall apart… Today I have hope, but it doesn’t hurt to look back at the past…

September 18th, 2001

Here I come again with a whirlwind of events which make absolutely no sense, that I need to get off my chest. Lately I feel so far from everyone. People talk to me, and it’s as if they aren’t even there. Coworkers, Friends… my phone is off the hook with calls, my inbox is flooded with emails, all from people who wanna know what is wrong…. I’ve been in a daze, and I’m tryin to be positive, but the more positive i’m tryin to be, the more people are like – “Paul, something is seriously wrong – please can I help?” And I feel like I’m in a fishbowl…. or maybe the back of a cavern, and I see people very close yet I can’t touch them, like an optical illusion maybe….

I guess the events that have occurred in the last 7 days has caused my brain to go into an infinite loop. I’m incredibly numb.. and I was “fine” until Friday. Friday afternoon, it hit me – - the Twin Towers are gone; Andy is gone, Andy is one of 5,000 people who are missing, and many are gonna die in the coming weeks.

On Thursday, I came back to what was my home for the last 5 years. New York City. I sat at the cafe on the corner of Waverly and University where i’d usually have a 4am conversation with a good friend about life, finals, music, fun – and I looked out the window and all I saw was smoke, people walking up and down the street with face masks, sirens, lights, it was all death in the air… i went to the fountain where i would sit and read all the books I should have read over the course of a semester, right before the final of course; and looked up, and the towers were gone…. it was like a bad movie… even better – a made for tv movie…

the following events actually happened…

i walked up to union sq park, where mobs of people were standing, talking, yelling, conversating about unity, one country, one love, and the god that is humanity, and among this were speakers, philosphers, proclaiming their truths,opinions, and many, who had empty ideals about new yorkers coming together finally in one heart…. while at the same time, they booed a young man who urged them not to be blood-thirsty for afghanistan blood. Following a sermon given by a woman who asserted that “peace will come when all arabs are dead”. Horrifying…. I could not be silent anymore. It was impassioned rage that allowed me to get up in front of these 200 people and gave them a piece of my mind and my soul. While I was running on pure adrenaline, and I don’t remember exactly what I said, I somehow got the crowd very excited and it ended up in applause, cheers, and hugs from random strangers (and they didn’t even try to take my wallet)... again… surreal

I went to visit my friend Mike: He and I ended up at Central Operations of the rescue effort as volunteers, and we worked till almost 4AM in the pouring rain, as trucks, army vehicles, helicoptors, lightning, people, dogfood, swam around us. We were in a bucket brigade hurling boxes into fed ex trucks, helping officers, running up and down the west side highway with clean socks, pillows, blankets for the cold, and I was somehow transported to a war zone, when the food came, and it tasted so good, rice pilaf and grilled veggies… again.. surreal….

I somehow made it back to my sister’s place, with enough time to sleep 2 hours before work. I barely made it through the day without passing out.

I was getting emails from my friends about Indian people who were getting beat up, hospitalized, for being ‘the enemy’. Warnings from friends not to speak my language in public. The weekend came and I met up with the band. It was very awkward at first, we all missed Andy (our lead singer who had died in the attacks) – We couldn’t believe just 7 days before, we were all joking around, playing, laughing together, and here we were in silence. Once we started playing, we felt God’s presence, and the unity of this situation brought us together. Brought us close… they understood.

I really miss Andy.

And Sunday came, I was asked to bring my guitar, play Amazing Grace, Shout to the Lord, in a prayer vigil at my church… The people were blessed… well mostly… All but a few who were enraged at the fact that I dared to bring a guitar into an orthodox church.

The world is falling a part and all they care about is the fact that a guitar being played in the church. Have they ever read the Psalms? Does it matter if the instrument is a harp or a Fender Acoustic? I couldn’t even entertain their protests.

That day I went shopping then drove to Boston – I was stared down by a woman, shaking her head, while she stared into my soul… I kept on driving.

The next day at work, I wake up to phone messages, emails, churches being plagued with bomb threats in New Jersey, unmarked package left at our churches door in the city with a decapitated statue of Jesus inside. Our women being spit on in the streets, and our kids being beat up. I call my friend in Los Angeles to check up on him, see if all was ok… he then tells me, his uncle was murdered in his grocery store this weekend by an ‘american hero doing his duty’. I realized how lucky I was – i only got stared down. I worry bout my parents, I don’t want anything to happen to them.

My sister calls me up, she’s afraid…. I can’t be there for her until this weekend.

It’s hard to walk around these days, I love this country, and I’m confused as to where I belong. I am a born citizen, so why should I feel this way?

i know i’ll need time, for all these realities to sink in… so i can start dealin with them…. i’m just in a state of shock right now.

I just didn’t know my face was a mirror into my soul. I’m sitting in a status meeting taking notes, participating, concentrating, when 3 people ask me “Paul – what is wrong, can we help?”

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Only a brief moment.

Seems that when we’re younger we believe life will be as static as we’ve seen it all those years, untiil unforseen tragedies happen that catch us off guard, and they force us to grow up. While the last few weeks have been extremely difficult, I can’t say I was totally unprepared.

It started only a few weeks back, when my buddy Craig, his friend Paul (yes another Paul), and myself, all took a road trip up to the Berkshires (Massachusetts for those who don’ know). Craig is an deep and intriguing fellow, and a great friend who I met as an RA, whom I reunited with on 9/11/01, on AOL Instant Messenger… but that’s another story. I don’t know anyone who loves Star Wars as much as he does (and if you don’t believe me, just check out the tattoo of the Rebel Alliance on his bicep), and we’ve got the chance to check out some large events in cinematic history such as Opening Night of SWE3ROTS, Jaws on the big screen at Bryant Park, and finally what brought us to the Berkshires in the first place…. The Boston Pops Orchestra, Conducted by John Williams, Narrated by James Earl Jones, Solo by YoYo Ma, and enjoyed by Stephen Spielberg…. and the rest of us.

The highlight of course, was not necessarily the experience of seeing some of my favorite film music performed live by the people who created the legend in the first place, but it was rather something that caught me off guard. You see, an elderly woman who had the same aura of Lucielle Bluth from FOX’s Arrested Development, was passed out, head tilted back, mouth wide open, riding that thin line between heavy breathing and snoring, during one of Yoyo Ma’s solos. And while the rest of the audience was hushed to a deafening silence, I took one look at the glistening of drool on her overly made-up lips that was being pulled towards the floor, as gravity so dictated, and I bust out into uncontrollable laughter that was not only mildly-distruptive, it was also contageous.

Later on that evening as I was driving to Boston, I had this strange thought as I made my way towards Springfield, MA at around 1AM. A sudden thought occurred to me… “I don’t deal with loss very well.” Huh? Who said that? The thought popped into my mind like the flash of a camera-phone, awkward but somehow effective. “Paul, loss is the one thing you don’t deal well with at all… what’s going to happen if you lose a loved one? It may happen someday.” After wrestling with these facts and trying to push them out of my mind for 30 minutes, I gave up, and surrenderred and sat with myself and accepted the fact that, yes, loss is something I don’t take gracefully, especially involving people I love; for you see, I’ve been at too many funerals for someone my age, and have never gotten used to them.

I figured I might as well admit this fact, because, acceptance is the first step towards growth? I think Dr. Phil said that.

Not 20 minutes after this long dialogue with my inner-consciousness… I received an email from my Uncle Mak, letting me know that he’d been diagnosed with cancer of the liver. I closed the email, then the words took a few minutes to actually sink in… tears… swig of beer… kleenex….. email. You have to understand the relationship between me and my Uncle. He is one of my heros in life. He’s taught me so much about life, and about loving others, and standing up for what is true…. I have a feeling my big mouth is somewhat owed to him. I didn’t quite understand what was happening, and why my Uncle, the man who I considered a saint, had to go through something like this. He is the head of our extended family, here in the States and overseas. The voice of reason, the mediator, the one who will travel thousands of miles to offer his guidance during times of trouble. He is also someone who I’ve definitely taken for granted at times… I guess we all do it… We think our loved ones will be here forever…

The next day an email clarified by him let me know that, while it looks like it is cancer, they will do a biopsy to know for sure. We spoke soon after, and I was amazed at what he told me. Even in a moment where no one would even think twice about feeling bad for someone, his only concern was everyone else around him. “Paul, the further away i am from my body, the closer I am to the Lord.” He went on to explain to me how this urges him on even more, to live every day to fulfill the purpose he believes that God put him on this earth to do. In illness, even, he shines like the brightest star.

A week later, he goes on to volutneer with my Aunt Barbara as physicians at a Young Life camp, and life goes on as usual. He just got the biopsy done today, and we’re all waiting for the results. I know in my heart that he’s gonna be ok, no matter what happens, and I can’t help but feel grateful that I was, even briefly, somehow prepared for recieving the news… While I want things to stay the same, and be as static as I’ve known them to be, I am learning to just accept, and be thankful for what I have… and maybe even what I don’t have control over.

But sometimes it’s just so hard.

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Paul Kist Likes Country

I no longer have to tell people the well-known phrase, “I like everything, except Country.” Because, basically…I like Country! Can you say Ryan Adams and the Cardinals? Wilco? Johnny Cash???

These people are everything that is right with Country music… I dare say, some of you, like Country too.

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