As I write this month’s column, I am preparing for a ten-day tour of concerts and speaking engagements in Taiwan and Hong Kong. I am honored to have been invited to give a TEDx Talk in Taipei, which takes place on September 10th to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of 911. The theme of the talk is “The Road Less Traveled” and I will be speaking about my work to build bridges with music. The following day, September 11th, I will perform and speak at the 10th annual Daniel Pearl Day Festival in Taipei. Both have given me pause to reflect upon the past ten years.
Tuesday September 11, 2001 struck close to home for me, as it did for so many of us. Like the day JFK was murdered for my parent’s generation, 911 is a moment forever etched in time. I, like so many people, remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I learned that the first tower had been hit. I watched in horror as the buildings went up in flames, taking thousands of lives with them. I cried when I saw people jumping from the top floors. As I watched the chaos and panic-lined streets of NYC on television, my own panic set in as I frantically tried to locate the nine family members who were in or near the financial district of New York, the northern Virginia neighborhood where the Pentagon is located, or possibly on one of the planes that left from Boston. I was one of the lucky ones.
My brother in law was in the North Tower less than fifteen minutes before the first plane crashed into it. His last stop before leaving the building and heading to his office a few blocks away was the cash machine in the lobby. He still has the ATM receipt with the date, time, and location stamped on it as a reminder of how lucky he was. Against advisement from officials, he left his office 20 minutes after the second plane crashed into the South tower. He stealthily snaked his way through the burning city, avoiding barricades and other road blocks, and forced his way onto the last subway out of lower Manhattan and into Brooklyn, where he met up with my sister who had decided, fatefully, to work from home that day instead of in her SoHo office. They had been married just three weeks earlier. My brother in law never saw his office again.
I grew up 10 miles from New York City. My father was born and raised in Forest Hills and my parents still live in Manhattan today. Although I left the New York area long ago and have traveled far and wide since, New York has always felt like my city. It is in my blood. It is part of who I am. I remember my first Mets game, my first visit to the Bronx Zoo, and my first trip into the Big Apple on my own as a teenager like it was yesterday. As I grew older and moved away, New York was still the place I came home to. These days one of my greatest joys is bringing my kids to New York and showing them the wonders of the most amazing city in the world. Recently, my daughter made her first journey into the city on her own as I had done more than 30 years ago.
911 will go down in history as one of the worst massacres against human kind. Ten years after, the world continues to grieve and hurt, and there is still heartfelt compassion for those who lost loved ones in the Towers, the Pentagon, or on the planes. But there is also a different kind of hurt – a feeling of violation. It wasn’t just our home or an iconic city in the history of our great nation that was violated that day. It was a violation of our innate trust in human kind. And like grieving the loss of a loved one, that is the kind of hurt that needs healing.
I often speak and write about the power of music to bring people together. Inherent in that power, is the power to heal. It is, in fact, music’s power to heal that has led me down my life’s path – my “road less traveled”. When I was 16 years old, I took the train into NYC to meet my best friend in Central Park for John Lennon’s vigil just days after his murder. I stood crying with thousands of strangers for the ten minutes of silence that was happening simultaneously around the world. The silence was broken by a chorus of humanity singing the words to “Imagine” in unison, the very same song that ended our final FODfest concert in the West Bank last year sung by Jews and Arabs; Israelis, Americans, and Palestinians all in need of healing. In both instances, music was our common denominator. We needed each other’s presence to alleviate the pain that we were feeling and to begin or continue the healing process. We needed to sing together. This September 11, there is nothing I’d rather be doing.
Todd Mack is a writer, musician, and producer, and owner of the Off the Beat-n-Track recording studio in Sheffield, MA. He is also the founder and executive director of Music in Common, a non-profit organization whose mission is to strengthen, empower, and educate communities through the universal language of music. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.