The Bus and the Drums. A love story for 911.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

1 Corinthians 13:13

The young woman was crying. She stood at the front of the crowded bus. Her man was soothing her.”It’s OK, honey, we’ll find a way to get home. Don’t worry, we’ll be OK,” he murmured to her. But she was terrified, in shock. She kept staring at a couple who were seated on the bus, as still as stone, staring straight in front of them, not moving, not speaking, and covered from head to toe in gray dust.

The bus was not moving. Nothing on the street was moving. The driver was improvising. He picked up passengers whenever they came over. He didn’t ask anyone to pay the fare. He said he wasn’t sure where he was going. “I’ll go North, anyway I can,” he said at one point.

Around the silent, dust-covered couple, there was conversation between strangers. I heard an older woman tell a young woman that she had room in her apartment to put up several people, and the young woman said thank you, and lowered her head.

A young man was cursing, addressing no one in particular, but when I looked at him, he addressed me. “I mean this is so f***ked up, Right?” I had to agree, and I nodded. Somebody realized, and said out loud that we were stopped right next to a pretty well-known landmark¸ a potential target, and at the same time, the driver said into his microphone that it might be better if we got off, because there was no sign that we would be moving soon, and it might not be safe to stay in that particular area. He suggested we keep heading north on foot, and get into the park where there were no buildings. The park wasn’t very far away.

An hour earlier, much further downtown, I had stood on a corner, and looking South, I had watched as the second tower crumbled into dust. I had seen the beautiful sparkle in the sky as tons of glass refracted the pure light into a magnificent,  shimmering rainbow of colors. This effect was not captured on the TV images I saw later. I felt the death of those souls in my heart as I watched the tower fall.

I was in the park, part of a long line of people walking north, towards home, when the F16 fighters flew low over us. We cheered. We had just heard from a radio set up on a large rock that the Pentagon had been attacked, and we knew we were at war. We didn’t know with whom, and we didn’t know if worse was yet to come that day. But we knew that those two planes were ours, and that at least for now, the skies over our city were safe again.

When I got to my building, some of my neighbors were standing, talking. I heard rumors, stories, expressions of fear. A woman and her two children arrived with a wagon filled with bottled water. “My husband is taking these downtown,” she said. “We heard they need water.” One of my neighbors arrived with a family from Michigan who hadn’t been able to get to the airport and had lost their hotel room. A man passing on the street told us that he had heard that all of the firemen from the local firehouse were dead. This rumor turned out to be true.

For hours I was alone. The phones were dead. Later in the afternoon, I began to get calls from people who loved me. They told me they were worried about me. I reassured them, I cried a little. I did not feel alone.

Five days later, I went back to the Park. It was Sunday, a day for music, sports, picnics. It was quiet on that Sunday. No tourists, no visitors. There were no baseball games. I didn’t see any picnics. But there was music – more than usual, in fact. People played guitars and sang, while others listened, joined in and cried. There was a lot of Gospel music, and songs  about peace and love, songs of hope and brotherhood.

And there were the drums. The large drum circle, which always played on weekends, was going strong. Dozens of folks had come with their drums, and they were playing loud and hard. Less dancing than usual, more crying. But not me. I wasn’t sad – I was proud. I watched one tall blonde guy, a regular, who was standing, a large Conga drum strapped around his shoulders, playing at a manic pace. He was leading the group, while the African man who usually set the beat was taking a break and sitting quietly tapping on a small bongo. The bench of drummers (representing every population of the city, which means the whole of the world) were playing with fierce concentration. The drum music I heard that day was the most powerful song I had ever heard. The words of the song were:

“You cannot defeat us. This music, this love, this freedom, this hope, this struggle, this city, this country will survive and recover.”

And here we are, 14  years later. And as it always does, love has vanquished death.

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