Feeling Community on 9/11

In September 2001 I was counting down the final days until San Francisco’s first Lindy Exchange, three days of near-nonstop swing dancing. I was totally immersed in the event, coordinating volunteers for work shifts, juggling the collection of registration fees to cover venue deposits, and answering an overwhelming stream of calls and emails from people across the country and beyond. I was the point person for all the legal/contractual paperwork and for much of the communication with the venues, the team leads, and the attendees.

In the very early morning of September 11 my phone rang. In a tearful voice my aunt told me to turn on the TV. Something was happening in New York.

I saw the smoke coming out of the tower and heard the confusion in the announcer’s voice. I couldn’t understand what was happening, so I jumped online and logged in to the bulletin board of Yehoodi, my direct line to the dancers I knew in NY.

One woman started a thread entitled something like “there’s a hole in the World Trade Center.” She was looking out her window to the towers and told us what she saw. That bulletin board was a lifeline of personal connection and an anchor. As the day unfolded, more personal stories flowed in. Dancers in DC filled us in on what was happening there. Others got online to tell us who had and hadn’t been accounted for.

I remember feeling devastated and also conflicted. The exchange was just 10 days away and I started to wonder if it was going to happen. I didn’t even know if it should. I felt petty for worrying about it, and yet desperately afraid of the financial implications of last-minute cancellations. A couple days later, I voiced my concerns to the community cautiously and asked if people were still planning on coming, despite the fear around travel and the airport closures and everything.

Some people were deciding against it, but mostly I heard back a resounding YES! One guy from DC wrote that he saw the plane hit the pentagon, lost friends, and would have to go to a different city to get on a plane – and was 100% sure that the exchange should happen and that he would be there. He put out a rallying cry for all of us to see each other in person, to connect, to live. I’m sorry to say I can’t remember who he was. I won’t forget what he wrote, though, and how he reminded us of why we were coming together and of what mattered.

And so on September 21 over 500 dancers from all around the country and around the world gathered in San Francisco. We shared stories, food, hugs, dances. It was healing to be together. It was clear that we were so much more than a collection of dancers. We were connected. We were a community.

Every year, on the anniversary of 9/11 I am reminded of that amazing feeling. I felt so blessed to have a solid source of love and support while the world whirled around us in confusion and fear. Without forgetting the tears, we also allowed in laughter. I felt part of a community that was committed to celebrating each other and to living fully. I am forever honored that I could help bring people together at that time.

Thank you to all dancers for allowing me to experience connection again and again. I have a wish that everyone could feel that. I think the world would be a better place.