Lynne Salomon Miceli cries more easily now and knows that’s an indication of healing yet to be donenot only in her, but in every New Yorker. Sylvia Chappell, an equally level-headed woman with a writer’s need to know why, stood on an East River promenade and asked herself, in horror, how all of those people would get out of the Twin Towers. Today, like many others, she’s investigating conspiracy theories and wants to know why the news media is silent about unanswered 9/11 questions and the aversion to war that’s taking root in the American psyche.
Since 9/11 affected different people in different ways, depending on their attitudes and beliefs, OneWorld thought it would be interesting to interview for this 9/11 issue two New Yorkers with very broad, peace-oriented perspectives. Lynne Miceli and Sylvia Chappell, respectively the director and program coordinator of ARE of New York Center (the Edgar Cayce Center), perfectly fit that bill.
Lynne remembers 9/11 in vivid images that replay themselves in her mind. She saw the devastation of the Twin Towers on television, then “went outside, smelled the smoke, and watched yellow ribbons go up on houses for missing firemen in the neighborhood. At the (ARE) center, we began to get prayer requests for a missing son, a missing relative.
Some people cried,” she continues. “I was mostly numb at the beginning. But ever since, I cry much more easily. I’m sure I was in shock but didn’t feel I had a right to cry, because I didn’t lose anyone personally. Since then, I’m much more emotional and cry more easily.”
So it is for people all over the world, even two years after 9/11. At that time, the “New York veneer” came down and to a large extent has stayed down. “Normally, we rush around and don’t socialize or chat with people in the street and subway. It’s hard to be friendly with seven million people,” Miceli explains. But since 9/11, “everybody’s priorities got reorderedthe realization that you never know when it’s going to be your last day, when you’re going to see certain people again. The city is still known for business and entertainment, but people have become aware of the real priorities in their lives and what’s important.”
This was especially apparent during the August power outage in the city. (Click here to read a visitor’s account of this.) “People have learned to look out for each other,” Miceli surmises. “Whenever there’s a crisis in the city, the protective bubble comes down and people look after each other.”
The city’s financial distress contributes to that sense of solidarity, with so many people having lost jobs and going into bankruptcy. Everyone in the city has been touched by these economic woes, and Miceli, too, is working harder to expand the ARE Center within a challenging economy. But she’s also looking at the toppling of the Twin Towers symbolically, as images of polarity that now, having been knocked down, signal a potential for change in America.
President Bush “embodies that polarity: us and them; we’re good, the others are evil,” she explains. “But others see that we’re really all one, all connected. There might be winter and summer, but these things complete one another and are not necessarily in opposition. Even people not looking at things from a metaphysical viewpoint are realizing that we have way more in common than separates us.”
Miceli sees evidence of this in conversations with New Yorkers, programs on PBS, in political groups like moveon.org, and all over the Internet. “People are saying that we have to look at ourselves.
Nobody thinks we deserved what happened,” she adds, “but neither are we utterly good and innocent of misdeeds as some Americans seem to think we are. To a large degree we are very self-involved and are ignorant of what our government does. When somebody tells them, they don’t believe it. They think it’s a lie. There’s a lot we could have done to prevent this hatred in the world.
So now, we’re seeing more people thinking and reading and trying to see the wider viewpoint.”
Rising and falling alert codes undoubtedly contribute to the nation’s tendency to slow down and be more self-reflective. “It’s not exactly over,” Miceli points out. “New York City has been the victim of terrorist attacks twice. Security during the Iraq war was very tightorange and red. There are National Guardsmen with automatic weapons in Penn Station and a little bit of a sense of living in a police state. You have this awareness that it could happen again, and at any time. We’re not walking around in fear; life has to go on. But it must be like living in Jerusalem. You’re more alert, careful of things.”
People want and need to understand their responsibility. During the early weeks of the tragedy, New Yorkers were helped immensely by world support. It comforted Miceli to know that people all over America were praying and sending positive thoughts to New Yorkers. She read a big display of notes in Penn Station which were sent by people from across the country and also the notes of love and caring posted on a church near the World Trade Center and the barrier fence around the rubble. These letters, cards and teddy bears were “very beautiful and touching to see,” she recalls.
Soon afterward, however, Miceli turned inward to do some soul-searching. “For me, as part of a peace-oriented spiritual organization,” she says, “there was almost a sense of responsibility: if we had done our work better, had done more, had been more effective, maybe this wouldn’t have had to happen.”
Conscientious and compassionate people like Miceli and Chappell are understandably troubled by the U.S. response to 9/11, which impedes their ability to heal and may explain why New York City had the largest anti-war demonstration in America. “In the end,” says Miceli, “I don’t want the U.S. government to bomb other countries in our name. The people who orchestrated the attack on the World Trade Center saw the civilians who died as collateral damage in their war. For us to turn around and see others as collateral damageyou can’t look at a human being, a human life that way. The end doesn’t justify the means. If anybody is sacred, we’re all sacred.”
Chappell feels the same way, and perhaps moreso because of the deep-seated grief involved in standing on the East River promenade directly across from the Twin Towers and witnessing the devastation. “I watched the buildings burn and spew smoke,” she remembers, “and I thought about the terror of the people trapped inside. I was stunned. It never occurred to me that the buildings would fall down. I watched the first one fall and must have screamed in dismay. It was the most horrifying thing I’ve ever seen.
That’s when I realized that nobody was going to get out. You could see the smoke engulfing all of lower Manhattan. That was truly horrifying, and the thing so strange to me was that I was convinced there were explosions and that’s what was making it collapse. I was amazed at this devastation of these symbol of capitalistic wealth.”
On the promenade, behind Chappell, a man in a business suit said he wanted everyone to enlist in the Army and strike back. Sylvia understood his reaction, but felt that this was “deeper than lashing out. It would have been satisfying to just lash out,” she explains, “but I thought this was karmicthe fact that this destruction was allowed to happen at all. I remember thinking that the plan wouldn’t have been so successful if there hadn’t been some karma for the United States. I thought of the first Iraq war and how the U.S. had been bombing Middle Eastern countries and that might have been why this happened.”
Chappell felt horrified, sad, shocked and was silently praying for people the whole time, “but I never got angry,” she says. “I don’t think anybody in New York has gotten over it. I think there’s some willful amnesia, that some people choose not to think about it, but nobody has gotten over it. People are pulling together in a shared grief, which has brought about a sense of unity, so there’s definitely been an effect on the collective psyche of the city.”
A week after the event, Chappell went to her job in midtown Manhattan feeling a bit fearful, but that it was also important “to get dressed up and go,” she recalls. “There weren’t many people on the subways and streets. I remembered the British keeping a stiff upper lip during the bombing in World War II.”
The ARE Center helped many people do just that. Two Tuesdays after 9/11, the center hosted a group crisis session with a psychologist who listened and helped people cope. People talked, shared and came to the group with what happened, as did many others in the city. ARE members, however, had the additional problem of having had prophetic dreams or psychic impressions about 9/11.
Chappell remembers that Leonard Cassara, an intuitive tarot reader and Search for God study group coordinator for the center, had been helping a customer at his work and kept getting the feeling of her being “insubstantial” in some way, like she wasn’t really there. On 9/11, the woman was in the airplane that crashed in Pennsylvania. A woman who moved from Virginia Beach to New York City had had dreams of buildings shaking and falling down. Another woman woke up late on the morning of 9/11 with the feeling that something awful had happened.
Chappell, like Miceli, took comfort in these gatherings of people. She watched a concert in Yankee Stadium featuring the Harlem Boys Choir, Bette Midler and others and felt relief in Mayor Rudy Guiliani’s words. “He talked about how the city would bounce back and be stronger for it,” Chappell says. “I think in some ways we are.”
It was important to Sylvia to wear her New York Yankees t-shirt on the day of 9/11 and to return to the promenade to smell the smoke at sundown that evening. She just sat there, to pray and contemplate, and two nights later attended a candlelight vigil there. The promenade became a memorial with candles, flags, flowers and posters of missing people. “I felt like I had company and that everyone was going through the same thing,” she explains.
While the debris was cleared up by May 2002, and some of the healing came about then, Chappell is still searching for answers. She feels that the archetypal Tower card in the tarot deck is part of a great many answers waiting to be found. This karmic card shows people falling out of the windows of a burning tower. Its meaning is the overthrow of existing ways of life, particularly materialism, and it carries the threat of bankruptcy.
Redemption rises from the ashes and in the wake of destruction comes enlightenment.
That is Chappell’s hope. But she is concerned about and frustrated by the length of time it may take for this awakening and redemption to come about.
The more I delved into unanswered questionslike websites on what’s driving our seemingly insane foreign policy (fromthewilderness.com; unansweredquestions.org; 911citizenswatch.org and 911truth.org, among others), the more I became convinced of government collusion of some sort. That makes me angry.
If someone gave me a multiple choice on who caused the 9/11 attacks and the choices were Osama bin Laden and Al Quaeda, Pakistani intelligence, or the CIA, I would probably check the CIA,” declares Chappell. “I haven’t quite sorted it all out, but it certainly started an exploration for me, and I find that so much leads to government lies and hidden agendas. I find that very disturbing and so do many other people.
There’s too much denial,” she insists. “There are still people hurting and part of that is the denial in the media. For journalists to ignore people’s unanswered questions is for them to ignore their own journalistic instincts. I look around and don’t see many independent voices. How involved are they with the Bush administration? They’re not acting like journalists,” Chappell charges, “just like our government is not acting like it wants to know what happened and whether Iraq really had weapons of mass destruction and really posed a threat to us.”
To Chappell, all of this leads back to The Tower card in the tarot deck. She believes that what needs to be overthrown in America is its own selfish ambition. “You just want to know, ‘How deep does all of this go?’ I do think it’s a sign that we can’t keep going this wayenergizing a selfish, materialistic system that’s causing harm throughout the world. If I were going to signal to planet Earth that there was a big change on the way, this would be the way.
“Maybe this will be the transformation of a tragedy into a beacon to a higher way. I hope we will all come together in peace and build a new world. I think,” Chappell points out, “this is the spiritual message that is being politically hijacked right now.”