Tag Archives: NYC

The People’s Climate -Because we only have ONE planet

Dear Readers,

"Be the change" by Elana Halberstadt, 2014
“Field trip-Be the change” by Elana Halberstadt, 2014

The People’s Climate March is happening in NYC right now

and with solidarity events all around the world.

Livestreaming and info is available here: http://peoplesclimate.org/

Because we only have one planet!

To everyone who’s there in person–

You’re all amazing–thank you!

Love & peace,

Elana

From a holiday card by Elana Halberstadt, 2008
From a holiday card by Elana Halberstadt, 2008

 

It never stops hurting and love is everything

Dear Readers,

hearts1

My 9-11 tears came last night. Today, I won’t watch TV or look at footage or read  about it much. I think of everyone who lost someone on 9/11/2001,
especially my friend who lost her cousin, Michael at age 27 years old.
His name is engraved  on the 9/11 memorial at Eagle Rock Reservation in West Orange, NJ.
I went there a few weeks ago on a beautiful evening at the end of summer, my 13th wedding anniversary.

The view  includes the new tower that is almost complete. It doesn’t seem real. I thought of my friend and that day, and everything. Everything. I touched his name. It changes nothing. But it connects me to her in my heart. It connects me to remembering what is impossible to forget. It hurts. It makes me feel insignificant, small, the way I feel when I stand under giant trees, aware of how fleeting life is, how I am dependent on others. Holding my son’s hand or kissing his cheek is perfect but when he reaches for my hand,  or kisses me, it expands my heart.

My husband’s hand holding mine is what keeps me standing up as we look for the names we know,  just breathing and looking at the lights, remembering. We’ve been together 18 years. My life was altered for the good because of him. That’s a fact of my life that can never be taken by anything or anyone, and it’s with and because of that love that I have everything.

What a miracle, how love grows from sparks and laughs and chance encounters. How sadness over loss can’t be quantified or measured or wrapped up or closed. How it hurts and I stand there and I allow it to hurt. And then I must turn my head away and walk towards the trees. I shake my head over the names and the ages and the randomness of it all, the deliberate act, the spectacle, and  I try to shake off the hurt. I breathe in gratitude for what I have. I have everything. Everything.

I think of falling down  as I look over and away and down, and my heart skips a beat because I’m afraid of heights. I’ve  been there at the top and it was so incredibly high.  I imagine what it was like to choose to jump and fly down instead of burning or gasping for air. What thoughts went through the minds of people who leapt?   Did they know peace in those moments? Would that even be possible?  Because I want to believe that peace comes and fear is erased and love wins. Or is it in this moment today that I must find that?

I think of witnesses who watched people fly down and those who had to pick up the pieces, and my heart  breaks over it all, for people I didn’t know, for people  suffering in fear, and I ask myself what have I done to make the world a better place? I ask— who am I? What can I do?  Have I loved my family today? Can I be more patient? Will I choose to be kind? Will it matter if I do or don’t do anything? Over what do I have control? When do I let go? I am afraid. Is it OK to say that out loud? I am afraid and I know I have everything and I don’t want to ever lose what I have which is everything.

And so I align my day to that LOVE. What do I need to do for my family today? What do I do for a friend? For a cause? What do I do for me that is about love so my tiny smallness, the crazy world, the terrible sadness, the never-ending violence, has a place to go, while life goes on in my corner. Trying to find the words and put them in context and be clear and feel it and go on. Letting go of the fear as it washes over me. How to make it not about me but not lose myself?

I think  of  those that survived. I think of bravery and courage and  love.

Here are two previous pieces: an excerpt from a poem and this. 

I search for ways
to go through this day that overwhelms and brings tears
and is simply, still, impossible to fully grasp.

It is an unusually hot day. It’s  not like the  crisp, cool day of  12 years ago, and repeated annually, with planes flying and life circling around and trying to accept what happened and always in the end, just being entirely overwhelmed by sadness and allowing it in but also needing to not let it swallow me up.

It’s  back to school week in my town and my son has gone three days in a row and I have pride for him, because it isn’t easy to start something new. He’s conquering fears. I’m  grateful. I can’t wait until I can go wait for his bus and come home together. I’ll offer him  ice cream and I know his face will light up. It will light up and my heart will be calm because he’ll  be with me and we’ll  enjoy ice cream together and that will be the happiest moment of this day. This evening, my husband will come home from work, and as he walks through the door, another happiest moment will happen. And when we all finally go to sleep, and Ringo snuggles on the bed, too, I’ll  be happy because I have everything, and I’ll  be grateful for that always.

I hold on to  the people and things that matter to me and wish for comfort
for others who have lost their everything.

I hope for peace in our world.

I fall to my knees.

Always, always,

Love and peace,

Elana

On a day like today: Remembering 9/11/2001

Dear Readers,

It is with a deep sense of fear that I’m sending this to you. I don’t know if it is the memory of the fear from that day, or a fear of sending this because I don’t have a hero story or even a courage story. I was terrified that day, 9/11/2001. I spent it inside my apartment being very afraid. I didn’t lose a loved one, unless you count the scar on my city, which was a kind of loved entity, much bigger than me. I share this with  respect for the ones who lived through it, the ones who were lost, the ones who were injured, the ones left behind to grieve forever. And also out of a need to finally, after 11 years, to write publicly about what I can remember experiencing on that day. So, it isn’t a fancy story, or a hero story, or a survivor story. It is just what I remember. And here, a poem from the days after, which I posted last year. This is because thousands of people died in my city, in our country, and my heart aches.  I don’t know what else to do with my sadness, but write.

This is the day I wish to return to: The day before.

On Monday, September 10, 2001, I was working as the audience warm up / stand up comic for Emeril Live on Food Network for a standard week of taping. The studio was in walking distance to my apartment. We had a regular day, then I went home. I barely remember that day, it was so ordinary.

On Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001, my husband, who was already at work, left a message on our answering machine. I didn’t have to be at the studio until around 11am, so I was still in bed. There was urgency in his voice. Something happened… Something is happening. Turn on the TV.

I jumped up and turned on the TV. My first thought, after the initial shock and utter confusion: There are people in there. And then a speeded up frenzy of memory fragments of every time I’d ever been in or near those buildings, in or near or up in the World Trade Towers.  I fell to my knees.

At some point, my boss called me or I called her. I was told the day was cancelled. Stay home. I found out later, the whole week was cancelled (we usually taped once a month). Shortly after that, it became impossible to make or receive phone calls.

From the south facing window in my apartment in Hell’s Kitchen, on West 49th Street, I couldn’t see anything, being so many blocks north. But, there was that smoke cloud and smell. It lingered for a long time.  The smoke cloud. That smell.

In the evening, we ventured out confused and hungry, looking for food. I remember that it’s astonishing to feel hunger in the midst of chaos and destruction, but the fact is, people get hungry in every situation there is. People walking the streets were dazed, walking slowly, holding each other. I noticed that everyone looked directly into each others eyes. Our favorite Chinese food place was open. We brought the food home. I couldn’t taste anything. The endless images on TV which we couldn’t believe were real. Being afraid to fall asleep. The sound of sirens. Not being able to sleep. Being too afraid to sleep.

That night, and in the middle of the night when some phone lines became free again, I got calls from friends and relatives. One call from my friend in Israel sticks out, as it had usually been me being the one worried about her every time there was a terrorist attack there. Things had changed.

I was a new immigrant in Israel, around ten or 11 when I knew first hand a friend who had lost her twelve year old brother in a terrorist attack. I only remember crying and asking my parents, How does this happen? Why do people do this to each other?

I grew up in a place that knows the terrible, ongoing grief of terrorism and war. A place where it was routine to lose loved ones in the most barbaric of ways. At a pizza place, a café, a bus, in schools, and even in homes. The only thing I understood from all that is that what we do in our life while we are here must matter and be directed to working towards peace and love. Towards fixing what is broken. To loving. The only thing it taught me is that life can be taken in an instant, at any time, in any place and nothing is promised us. The next day is not promised us.

The only thing it taught me is that some people survive and recover (and recovery manifests in different ways for different people), and some do not. I learned to never judge those who cannot “recover” or “move on” or “heal” according to random standards — for no one knows the pain of losing a loved one in this manner, than those who have. I learned that the holes people leave behind are never filled, and the pain of losing a loved one stays with you for the rest of your life. I learned that some people are able to create something meaningful out of their loss and are able to honor their loved one’s memory, by doing things that help others. Others are able to express in some way what their experience has taught them, or how it has impacted their lives, and if they share it with the rest of us, then we can learn from them, and take some lessons into our own lives. Or we can simply understand, just a little bit more, what it means to be human.

I’ve learned to respect grief, and other people’s feelings more, and I learned to at least always try hard to put myself in someone else’s shoes. I learned that we’re all connected, and that our grief and loss and joys are usually the same; no matter what we look like, no matter what language we speak, or where we’re from.

The next day, Food Network kitchens mobilized to make food to bring downtown. I went to help. Like so many others, I desperately needed to do something. I felt entirely helpess, until I was put to work chopping. It was a tremendous relief. Of all the food prepared that day, I only remember the roasted acorn squash. Cut it in half, sprinkle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Bake. I was happy someone was telling me what to do.  Do this, then this. It was comforting to be with other people. I didn’t want to leave.

Because the whole thing was epic and staggering, I needed to focus on people that I knew. Once I could, I made calls, or others called me. Where are you? Are you OK? And with each one, all but one call, the relief.

Our family’s near misses: a cousin of Andy’s who emerged from a subway station there that morning with falling debris overhead. He was knocked to the ground. A stranger helped him to safety.

I remember one of the daily papers in the days after. One image was of a woman who had escaped from a high floor of one of the towers.  I learned she was the sister of my cousin’s ex-wife.

There was my Emeril buddy, Maggie, who was a volunteer firefighter. So was her husband. I remember she told me that he drove down there right away.  I remember thinking how extraordinary these people are, but they’re not asking to be heroes. They’re doing their job. Still, I think the ones that went down there to save, to rescue, to salvage, to recover—they were remarkable. I wonder how these heroes are now, all these years later.

There was a friend on the phone, who told me that her cousin was missing and her family was searching for him. He worked at Cantor Fitzgerald. His name was Michael and he was 27. Some of his remains were found eventually. I attended his memorial. I didn’t know what to say to my friend. I was helpless. Wordless.

I went to my local fire department in the days after. Engine Company 54/Ladder Company 4/Battalion 9 on 8th Avenue lost 15 brave firefighters that day. I stood, speechless at the fire station staring at a growing mountain of flowers. People brought them food. One firefighter and I hugged. I wondered if any of them had been the ones who came to my building after I called 9-1-1 one time because I saw and smelled smoke coming from my neighbors’ apartment right next to mine. They had come quickly, and they put out a fire that had just started. They told me that if I hadn’t called, the whole building could have gone up super fast. I’d thanked them way back then. I still wonder if they were the ones who were taken on 9/11. I think firefighters are amazing every day. I think what they do needs to be acknowledged and respected always.

I saw the piles of flowers, candles, the handmade missing persons fliers plastered everywhere. Everywhere in the city, there were shrines, vigils, people shaking their heads, crying in the streets. There were the people who lined the West Side Highway going downtown, cheering at the trucks and workers and rescue people and their amazing rescue dogs, bringing equipment to dig, to find, to recover. What all those people did was restore a sense that humanity had not completely been lost, but that there were good people left in the world and it was clear that the cooperation needed to get through what happened would have to go on for a very long time.

The grief was overwhelming. It was on every street. It was in the air. It was also there for a long, long time. I remember when I stopped seeing the missing person fliers and posters; when they were so battered from the elements, when they got torn and peeled off. When so many days and months and years passed and posters got covered up with new posters about things that had nothing to do with all those many people. Because the city kept going and that is how it was. All the memorials, living in people’s hearts and built from materials. Stone, rock, granite, water.

I was grateful that my husband, who up until a few months prior, had worked briefly at a company in one of the towers, but was no longer working there, and instead was safely at his new job near our apartment. Not there. Not there. Are you OK?

I remember a friend and her class who walked from downtown all the way uptown. How she got the kids to safety, walking.

Today, a day like it was 11 years ago. A day with perfect blue skies. Back then, before it happened, it was an ordinary Tuesday. Until it became one of those days we can’t hide from.

I think of 9/11, not just on 9/11, or on the days leading up to it, or after.  It comes to me when I see a perfect blue sky, or see an airplane flying low, or both. It comes to me when I think of my friend’s family and the loss which they live with every day, and they go on, but it never leaves them.  There is a 9/11 memorial not far from my home now, which has his name there along with all the other names. I have gone and touched his name, and thought of my friend. I realize that probably does absolutely nothing in the end, but maybe that is not the point. Of all the names, I remember his.  I think of her and how strong she is. How I wish this didn’t ever happen.

I wonder about people who got out and survived and how this has forever changed their lives but their experience will always be a mystery to me and how I want to understand what happened to everyone that day and in the days afterwards. And if it is so painful for me to think of, but I only watched it unfold on TV, how must it be for the families?

Today, I have an awful feeling in the pit of my stomach. I can’t bear to watch the news footage or even look at still images. My son doesn’t know too much about 9/11 yet. That’s fine with me. Because as he gets older, he’ll have plenty of time to learn about the horrors people inflict on each other. But yesterday when he got off the school bus, he told me, “I need to wear red, white and blue tomorrow. It’s a special day.” He told me, “You need to wear red, white and blue, too, Mommy.” I wonder what they will tell them today at Kindergarten. I hope they teach them something about kindness, as I hear some schools do that.

The birds are singing on this beautiful sad day.  My body remembers 9/11. It has to go through the anniversary with the involuntary remembering, alternating with shutting it out, and then remembering again. I am not able to not remember. Forgetting seems impossible. I was only a witness to the reality broadcast on TV that day, in my city. I watched in real time as one building came down and then another. I didn’t lose anyone in my immediate family, but thousands of others did, and my heart still breaks for them. I was just a New Yorker that day and my city was attacked when men flew planes into the tallest buildings and thousands of people were murdered. I am sad today because there is nothing that will ever bring them back. I want to go back to the day before and have this not have happened.

I think we returned to taping a month later. I felt dread as my first performance post 9/11 came close. I felt inadequate. I wasn’t a first responder, firefighter, or EMT. I questioned the validity of the work that I was doing. What does it mean to be a writer/artist/comedian in the face of death and destruction? I had no answers.

On a blue sky day, bright and sunny, with a little chill, with children going to school and people working. On a day like any another. Like today. Like tomorrow.

Last week, Max said this to me:

 “Girls aren’t better than boys. Boys aren’t better than girls.

Nobody’s better than anyone else. All people are better.

All people are the best. It’s not that one family is better

than another. That’s regular people. But cops are better

than the bad guys.”

With love and peace,

Elana

The Magical Mystical Time Machine Box

Dear Readers,

I’ve been thinking about time— past, present and future. I’ve been noticing how Max relates to time, what it seems to mean to him. A few days ago as he was playing, I asked, “What’s your favorite game?”

He replied, “The one I’m playing right now.”

Things grown ups say: Time marches on. Time flies by. There’s not enough time in the day. I’m running out of time. Time for bed.

I’ve found more boxes from the ongoing unpacking sessions that I do periodically— artifacts and pictures from long ago. From so long ago, it feels like I’m looking at another life, or another dimension. Memories comes back. Some are better left alone. Some are precious. It reminds me of  The Kinks song by Ray Davies, “People Take Pictures of Each Other.”

We call Ringo’s cat carrier, The Magical Mystical Time Machine Box. We have for years, long before Max got here. Oh, he loves that. One day recently, he wanted to “be a cat and be in a magical mystical time machine box and you can carry me.” The giant cardboard box we’ve kept for him to play in was not an acceptable option. It was not OK with Max that I said, “I can’t pick you up and carry you like that.” I tried to explain that people aren’t carried around in cages, but he hated my reasoning. He wanted to “BE A CAT IN A BOX RIGHT NOW!” Pretending wasn’t working. Max was frustrated, heading into a meltdown.

I offered another option. “Max, we can draw a picture and write a story about whatever you like; about you being a cat in a box.” He whined. He grumbled. Then he came around and asked me to help him.

So, first I drew exactly what he asked me to draw. And he added some to it.

Magical Mystical Time Machine Box

Then he drew on his own. Meltdown averted. New pictures and some  imagining saved the day. Just as it always has worked for me, time and time again: Write. Paint. Laugh/Cry/Laugh.

MMTMB by Max

24 years ago, on March 16, 1988, I arrived at JFK airport in NY on a flight from Dublin, Ireland, where I had lived for almost a year. Before that, I lived in Israel for eleven years, and before that, in the Boston area of MA, for ten. The day before St. Patrick’s day, I remember looking down on the brown landscape of almost spring in NY. I had $20.00 in my pocket. I had a backpack. I had dreams. I had no real plan. I stayed with a kind and generous cousin in Bayside, Queens for a few months, and then I made my way.

What else about time? Max has gone to school for three whole weeks in a row. It is the first time since he was in camp back in August, that he’s  attended this many weeks in a row. I notice how I’m changed from having time back when he’s in school regularly. I see how he’s  always changing and growing. It is good when he’s healthy.

Max knows he’s going to “big school” kindergarten in the fall. He’s  told me, “Mommy, I don’t want to leave my school. I want to keep all my friends.” These conversations about what will change and what will stay the same are hard sometimes. This is life: one thing ends, another begins. Along with it comes the unknown, the fears, the excitement and anticipation.

“I want to be a cat. I want to be carried in a Magical Mystical Time Machine Box.”

I get that. And so I grab on to the magic of what is right in front of me. Plow through the upsets to land on the other side of understanding. What is the hurt about? How can we understand it better? Please let us enjoy this moment where we can imagine whatever we like. Please let me stay present, not wanting to rush ahead in worry or concern. Here is where a blue marble has powers to heal. Here any object can be something else. Things transform in an instant. I have to pay attention.

There are big dreams. Max tells me what he wants to be. This week: “A police officer. And a doctor. Oh, and a Power Ranger. I can be more than one thing. Right, Mommy? I want to help people. I want to get the bad guys.”

I say, “Yes, you can be more than one thing.”

I say, “Those are good jobs to have.”

I reach down and hold his hand. Or he’ll reach for mine. He still has that soft skin children have. He has a tender touch when he is kind and gentle. His innocence, disappointments, sadness, anger, fears, and joys are wrapped up in the softest skin, with bruises covering his knees. He  will lose friends, and friends will lose him and that hurts. But he leaps faster and higher now. He isn’t afraid to climb up high.

There will be some friends we get to keep. And new friends and new adventures. We will have to get to school on time. That alone makes me squirm a bit. There will be no more preschool bubble. The cubby. The small scale tables and chairs. All the familiar people, things, and routines. The decisions we make about things that matter and don’t matter will continue.

Max & Charlie with their "Take Apart" school project

Max’s class took apart old computers, radios, phones, etc. for a “Take Apart” project. Then they built their own inventions out of the many parts and their Invention Museum is open for business. Max told me that “Parents are VIPs and are invited to visit anytime.”

Max & Charlie's invention

Max was a baby. Wasn’t it just yesterday? But last week in the city, (Max loves going to the city), as the C train pulled into the 50th Street and 8th Avenue station, I said, “This was my subway stop. Someday, I’ll show you my old apartment building.” Max’s eyes lit up. I can show him NYC.

So, I have been here, back in the US for 24 years. And some dreams have come true. Some have not. Then there were the dreams I didn’t even know I wanted, that materialized.  Most of my biggest dreams have come true. I haven’t dreamt much for me the past few years, but that’s changing. I still have more it seems and it’s been good to discover that.

Max has his dreams and what he wants, and we try to make his dreams come true. Some of them become stories or pictures. Some of them become real and some don’t happen at all. Time passes too quickly, yes. Time marches on, yes. There aren’t enough hours in the day. We’re all running out of time the minute we get here. But since time is all we have, really all we have, I dive into Max’s  imagination because it is a place filled with possibility, hope, silliness and fun.  All the wonderful things in a 5-year-old’s  mind.

Yes, the dark side is also there, but today, if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather celebrate this anniversary. That I arrived here 24  years ago and made a life for myself.  And in my life there are friends, family, and my beautiful husband, son, and cat. We have our Magical Mystical Time Machine Box. In it, we can dream big, be anything we want, and go anywhere. And the good guys always win.