World Beyond Our World

The other day on NPR I listened to the story of 9/11 survivor, Brian Clark, a now retired executive vice president for Euro Bankers, who had been at work in the South Tower that day fifteen years ago. He is one of the few survivors to get out of the building from above where the plane struck. His recounting included these memorable lines on his escape from the 84th floor:

I had a choice: to turn right to Stairway C, go straight ahead to Stairway B or turn left to Stairway A. I was intending to go to Stairway C, and I felt this almost push on my left shoulder. It was a very strange feeling, but there was nobody there, but it pushed me to the left and I started down Stairway A. I just sort of went with it.

People who had followed him briefly but then turned around to go back up the stairs all died. He and a man he rescued on the way down kept going and got out.

Many, if not most of us have had such experiences of a “divine push” of some kind. Call it intuition or synchronicity, or a guardian angel — the name doesn’t really matter. What does matter is what we so often forget, that this world is tissue paper-thin and that indescribable forces show up miraculously in their own time and way. For whatever reasons, we tend to associate those moments with huge experiences, like a 9/11, but really they are here with us at all the turning points of our lives, large and small, personally and at work.

9/11 is a defining tragedy and I find myself marking these fifteen years with long moments of sadness and reflection, remembering where I was and who told me to turn on my TV, recalling a song I wrote the next day and sang for a client group the day after that, and later having a conversation with a stranger on an ocean beach, musing about how all of us are just passing through.

As a workplace coach and consultant it seems so clear to me that we are all in a process of self-explanation. We are all loaded up with our daily logic about the way things are and should be, and when our explanations crash — maybe you got fired or had to fire someone else or someone left because of you or maybe you just got some unpleasant feedback or had a bad day of setbacks — we are forced to live, even for just a moment, in the world that goes beyond our world. Something happens and it doesn’t feel good at all. We hate it but the truth is that the event may also be what brings us to our Stairway A, not B or C. We are suddenly faced with a descent full of smoke and rubble and yet, there’s that push on the shoulder toward the only way out.

I don’t mean to sound glib. I mean to say only that life at work also has a spiritual dimension that often is informed by the very things that are our opposites of success. The failures and setbacks and the tragedies of our lives stretch us in ways we hadn’t planned and frankly never wanted. What saves us is the grace of rolling with the punch, staying conscious, pulling together with others and getting out of the self-imposed fear so that we can make the long trek down and down, round and round on darkened stairs, finding the door before the whole thing comes tumbling down. We learn to save our own lives and maybe help others, too — with a little push from beyond.

Translucence of Roses

Translucence of Roses

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  • Hi Dan, timely message once again. You’ve helped put things in perspective. Cec

  • Thank you so much, Cec!

  • Dear Dan ~

    Where to begin?

    First, to say thank you for writing such a graceful piece about human tragedy that captures all of life without the heaviness that can overwhelm our senses.

    9/11 is one of those days that millions of people will always remember – where they were and how they felt – and for many recall an unimagineable grief.

    For me, one of the “lucky” ones spared of direct harm, I remember it as a time of deep sorrow and guilt – yes, guilt.

    Brand new to California, we got an early morning call with the terrible news, followed by days of TV and phone vigils.

    To my surprise, the seminars I was booked for in NYC (talk about the order of things) in two weeks were not cancelled. With a roller coaster of feelings (inc dread) I landed in Newark and was devastated to see the WTC no longer anchoring the skyline.

    A dear friend met me at our local subway stop, Christopher St, in the West Village, where for 18 years, I’d climb those stairs and look up and see those twin towers.

    We decided to make a pilgrimage (that’s how we saw it) from the site of the former St Vincents Hospital, used for days by family and friends to locate their missing loved ones with flyers and desperate notes. It was a wall of pain.

    We moved on from there to visit every firehouse to say thank you (to those few who were left) working our way down to Ground Zero, closed off but still smoldering. I cannot say how grateful I am that we took this surreal journey. I needed to feel connected to my city and the only neighborhood I’ve ever had that felt like home. It was a memorable day.

    Yes this world is “tissue paper thin,” fragile, vulnerable and filled with such incredible strength that it takes my breath away.

    Thank you again for helping me to remember.

  • Louise~

    Thank you so much for these remembrances and your conclusion regarding that “incredible strength” which takes our breath away.

    The stories we hold about 9/11 have shaped us all very deeply. It was an honor to hear yours.

    All the best — much gratitude for your kind words and friendship.


  • dear dan,

    what a beautiful piece you have written on the divine push and one man’s journey to life by heeding it’s call.

    it is so true that the divine push is ever present and
    especially poignant in matters of life or death.

    in my view it is this very divine push that is the key to our human evolution.

    i’m thinking now of the research that was done on the cell phone messages of thousands of twin towers people whose last words were of love to their loved ones. the people who died, died with that divine push as well.

    very best,

    lynda klau

    please subscribe me–thank you

  • Dear lynda~

    Thank you for your very insightful observations about divine push and the people who died. I am reminded of the heart-breaking song written by Mark Knopfler, “If This is Goodbye,” inspired by one of those phone calls on 9/11.

    My famous last words
    Are laying around in tatters
    Sounding absurd
    Whatever I try
    But I love you
    And that’s all that really matters
    If this is goodbye
    If this is goodbye

    You bright shining sun
    Would light up the way before me
    You were the one
    Made me feel I could fly
    And I love you
    Whatever is waiting for me
    If this is goodbye
    If this is goodbye

    Who knows how long we’ve got
    Or what we’re made out of
    Who knows if there’s a plan or not
    There is our love
    I know there is our love

    My famous last words
    Could never tell the story
    Spinning unheard
    In the dark of the sky
    But I love you
    And this is our glory
    If this is goodbye
    If this is goodbye

    Much appreciation to you, lynda. Thank you again for taking a moment to connect and comment.

    All the best

  • PS to lynda klau

    You’ve been subscribed via email to my blog posts (you’ll receive an email asking you to validate this) and you should also be notified of any follow-up comments on this particular post.

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