Sometimes life as we know it comes to a halt - and we're left, in the aftermath, to pick up the pieces. For me, like so many other Americans - the day this happened was September 11, 2001.
I learned some valuable life lessons on 9/11 - and I'll never be the same.
It started like any other day. I had taken up a routine of waking early to walk the track at a park on La Cienega. With my bright yellow AM/FM Sony Walkman Radio/Cassette Player in hand, I listened to the early morning comedy talk show "Kevin & Bean" on KROQ while exercising. I had no pressing concerns beyond waitressing the lunch shift at a Mexican restaurant. Living off of the small wage and tips, the job offered me flexibility to attend auditions.
As I paced laps, I thought it part of a comedy bit when I heard the announcement a plane had reportedly struck the World Trade Center. The news didn’t register as being real to me, until it was repeated, and soon after I heard another report, this time of the second plane crash.
Lesson 1: In times of chaos - we need to be near the ones we love.
Thinking of all of the lives lost, people trapped inside the Towers, and feeling out of sorts, I raced to my car. With the radio on for more news updates, I drove the short distance home to be with my boyfriend. On the horizon was our life together, full of promise and possibilities. All I wanted was to be near him, and reassurance that we were safe from harm. Waking him, we turned on our little box television, and watched the disaster continue to unfold unbelievably before us. My instinct to be near a loved one during crisis was part of what strengthened me during this time.
Lesson 2: The basis of community is connection.
Although we were living in Hollywood, we could feel the heat emanating from New York City’s melting steel structures and ash storms. The visible fear we witnessed on the faces fleeing the disaster area mirrored ours, and our neighbors’. In Los Angeles, terror alerts were posted and it seemed everyone was in a semi state of panic, worried that something horrible might happen at any moment. People did not want to venture far from home, yet shared the knowledge that this tragedy affected us all.
The Mexican restaurant would not open that day, and ended up going out of business a short time afterward. The effects from the attack put the entertainment industry into a freeze. I was out of a job and no one seemed to be hiring.
I later learned that the ripples of the terror attacks spread to every part of the U.S. economy - eventually trimming up to $500 billion from the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Lesson 3: Resilience.
When a person’s financial living is paycheck-to-paycheck, or literally day-to-day, a seemingly small disruption can completely alter their existence. My inexpensive rent suddenly became too high. I got behind on car payments, resulting in repossession. Having little cash, I used my gas station credit card to survive, by buying what groceries were available at the station’s mini mart around the corner. Recycling bottles for money, I resorted to pawning my valuables to keep afloat.
It was challenging, and pride kept me from letting on to others how difficult things had become. Eventually, my boyfriend received a job offer, and we jumped at the opportunity. Full of hope and determination to get back on our feet again, we packed up his car and drove across the country to the Sunshine state.
This combination of hope and determination, according to psychologists, constitutes resilience - the ability to persevere and come back stronger. We persevered through the chaos of September 11th; though, like all Americans, our lives will never be the same again.
The world is still grappling with the aftershocks of 9/11 fifteen years later - including many of the veterans who enroll in our programs up at Sky Rose Ranch. If you or a loved one are among these veterans, know that help is available - all you need to do is apply.