Two trees stood midst a crowd of bare branches, while the sky stretched above them and the grass bled out below. In a world of chaos--changing temperatures, shriveled leaves, befuddled animals, risk-taking park goers--these two deciduous trees stood, needles in tact, dropping deep, rich, evergreen whiffs hellbent on surfing gusts of wind.
I noticed them as I walked home from the grocery store today, and they reminded me of goodness. Odd, I know, but those pillars--bountiful with purity--stole my thoughts away from from sex scandals and political campaigns. They stood out without being tall or magnificent or beautiful or wise. They stood out because they were standing together.
Mid-step, I stopped dead in my tracks the moment I saw them. Neosporin in one hand, tomatoes in the other, I paused to gaze at them. I paused to admire their solidarity. After spending the last few days listening to banter about the evil residing in all of us, those trees took me back ten year before. They took me hundreds of miles from where I was standing in that moment--both literally and metaphorically--and my entire universe halted to pay its respects.
Hours following the attacks on September 11, I ran from my mid-town 8th Avenue office to a mid-town office on Madison Avenue. Left without a properly working cell-phone, a viable apartment to return to, and roommates who were accounted for, I took a friend up on the offer to connect. Seeking support and friendship--more than anything--I idiotically jockeyed crowds crossing through a police-free Times Square, watching the second tower tumble on the jumbo-tron. When I finally arrived at the Y& R security desk, I bounded through the threshold.
In that moment, I wanted Emily more than I wanted anything. Kate and Kristin weren't answering their phones, and I had no idea what was going on.
"Emily?" I asked, panting.
"Emily left," the security officer told me; my insides caved.
Choking over my reality, I tumbled out the door. Bright colors dashed across the edges of my periphery. Light-headed and scared, the world swirled into a haze and I felt like I was falling. Just when I thought the concrete would catch me, a woman from Arizona reached out her hands and pulled me into her. Rocking me like an infant, she turned my cheek into her breast, wrapped her arms around my shoulders and rotated me back and forth.
"We'll be okay," she promised me. "Even if it's just you and me, we'll be okay."
I turned to look at her--I don't recall what I saw. Air stagnant and sparse, faces blurred, I disappeared into a nightmare. I wish I could remember what she looked like. I wish her face was stained with permanent ink on the slides of my mind. I wish I could summon her every time horrible things happen in the world. I want her so badly to have a face, but right then, in that moment, I couldn't see anything. In that moment, she was arms, and warmth, and cheap rose scented perfume.
"I'm from Arizona," she told me. "I don't know anyone here. But I do know we're going to be okay. You aren't alone," she assured me as tears streaked my cheeks and fear leaked into every extremity. "We'll get through it," she said again--shaking just a little, slight convulsions interrupting her rhythm.
I don't know how long we stood, two evergreens in a crowd. We weren't moving or rushing or screaming at our phones. In solidarity, we just stood, in the middle of the street, trash falling at our feet, cars zipping by, horror bleeding like a gunshot wound around us.
"Laura?" Emily shouted from a distance, cigarettes in one hand, a bottle of water in the other.
I released my grip. I turned around. I let go of the woman who saved me. I ran to Emily. I never looked back. I never said, "thank you." I never said, "goodbye." I never did my part to save her too.
When I saw the evergreens today, I thought about the lady from Arizona, and I longed to wrap my arms around her. I longed to see her face and to tell her that she has never escaped my memory. I longed to tell her that our encounter was one of the most profound acts of kindness I have ever experienced in my entire life. I longed to tell her that she saved me. That she did more than she was morally obligated to do when she wrapped her arms around my shivering body and kept me from crashing to the earth--vulnerable, scared and alone. I wanted to tell her that she made me believe. She made me believe that in a world with more evil than any of us would care to acknowledge, goodness can arrive, goodness can prevail, goodness can rise--like a phoenix from the ash, like two deciduous trees in park of empty branches.