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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