I used to feel less than in parties in New York City among the literary elite because I was reading Moby Dick for the fifth time and Mary Oliver and everyone was frantically trying to love every book on the New York Times best seller list.
I was the young woman reading every version of Walt Whitman’s poem.
When I spoke at parties, I often said something inappropriate, especially in New York.
This happened at filmmaker Jane Campions’ birthday party not long after 9/11., but long enough after. We were all gathered in the kitchen and I asked about Ground Zero, what it looked like.
All the writers and producers and waitresses stopped talking, took another sip from their beer bottles and lipstick stained wine glasses, looked at their shoes.
And I began to understand that nobody in that kitchen – not the film director I was dating, not the girl with the brown boots and pouty lips, none of them had been to the site since 9/11, even though they lived in Manhattan.
So I walked down the stairs and got into a cab.
It was two a.m., and the cab driver said, are you sure, you can’t get close to it, anyway, are you sure? His accent was from another country, the kind of country that knew its boundaries, where you should go, where you didn’t go.
I said yes, take me there. I had never been more sure of a destination in my life.
I had seen the hole in the news media, that 16-acre, 70 foot gaping hole in the heart of Manhattan, where collapsing buildings had created a giant sinkhole of grief. I had watched the images of the buildings collapsing and shielded my small daughter from it all.
And I had dreamt every part of the event, hours before it happened, so I got to see it all twice.
Now here I was, arriving at the site of my premonition.
After the cab drove me as far as he could take me, he said he’d wait, and I walked, then climbed up on scaffolding and looked down into it, into the dirt where there was steel and bones and ash – and fathers and wives and children and friends.
And when I say it was big, that hole, larger than all of Manhattan, larger than the whole state of Nebraska, I’m telling you a truth that has nothing to do with size.
And then I walked around St. Paul’s Chapel, the little church that stood on the edge of the tragedy, and I began to read all the letters taped to the black gate surrounding the church, all from people looking for their loved ones, usually with photos attached.
One mother wrote an open letter to both her son and daughter who were working a shift at Windows on the World, the restaurant on the 106th and 107th floor of the North Towers when they collapsed, the restaurant with a view all the way to New Jersey.
The note said “I love you, please come home.”
And I’m telling you this story because grief and love are two of three braids, and the third is forgiveness. We cannot love unless we are able to forgive, and sometimes the person we need to forgive most is our own self.
I did not understand any of this in the early morning hours in New York, getting back into the cab, staring out the window of Manhattan at 4 a.m. the cab turning the city into a blur of lights and billboards and grief.
But I understand that now.
Memory often comes out of order, and this is why grief revisits us, it is deeply connected to love, and if we are loving, we are dancing with past and future griefs, it’s all part of love. We know the people we are loving are going to die, or we will die and leave them to hold the grief.
It’s part of the natural life cycle, what we came here to understand.
During this dance, forgiveness must show up, asking if she can join in. She’s usually wearing pearls, but one is chipped, she is wildly unkempt, but also regal.
She says look, nothing is perfect, everyone has their reasons.
Forgiveness reminds us to see it all, to get closer to the truth, to look at it again and again until we are in the marrow of the bone of the truth. It’s where forgiveness lives, and forgiveness is the seed of all love.
And love has forgotten nobody.