Wednesday, September 11, 2013

In the dark, snapping at an empty stage

(I wrote this several years ago as a newspaper column that was eventually rejected by my editors. Not sure I have ever shared it here, though I always remember that I should this time each year.)

I sat in disbelief, watching the events of Sept. 11 like many Americans. And as the stories were told, and the video replayed, I thought of the only person I knew in New York City – Terri, a writer colleague of mine who I’d visited years ago.
And that reminded me of the only time I had been to the World Trade Center.

Terri had invited me to stay with her in east Manhattan during January. It was bitterly cold. My thin, Florida blood – coupled with my sense of self-preservation – didn’t allow me to go out of the apartment for three days.

On the fourth day, the forecast was a bit warmer, in the 20’s, and Terri gave me a mission – get tickets to the Broadway show “Stomp” at the Orpheum Theatre for later that night.
Before leaving for work, she handed me a subway map and some tokens and told me about a discount ticket booth on one of the lower levels of the Twin Towers.

I was surprised that the trip was relatively simple. I had never been to New York City before and I’d never traveled by subway.
Once emerging from the sidewalk in lower Manhattan, finding the Center was easy. It rose above all other buildings and I just walked toward it.

I waited in a short line on the concourse level and got our tickets. Since I was there, I decided to do the touristy thing – go to the observation deck for the best view of the Big Apple.
Unfortunately, I was turned back. The deck was closed for renovations.

I walked outside and did the second-most touristy thing that came to mind. I stood at the base of the towers and stared straight up. Standing so close, the buildings looked as if they disappeared into the pale blue sky.

Eventually, after walking about the city for a couple of hours, I headed back to Terri’s apartment to get ready for the evening.

The inspirational show was two hours of dancing and the clatter of common items – brooms, trash cans lids, boxes – all of which were used to create songs like I’d never heard. No words were spoken or sung. Only occasional grunts and the noises of the dancers’ everyday instruments that somehow wrapped into musical arrangements.

It was as different an experience as I’d ever had it my life. It was moving in the way that a religious experience can be.

But the show wasn’t over after the last performer exited left.

One dancer, obviously tired from the show’s energetic finale, came dragging back to the half-lit stage. He stared at us and, after mugging a few times for some simple laughs, just to get our attention I think, he began to snap his fingers.

Slow. Sharp. Rhythmic.

Motioning to the audience, he encouraged us to join in. Gradually, we began to snap our fingers with him. The dancer smiled and nodded.

And as he lowered his hands and stopped snapping, the lights dimmed and the weary dancer wandered off behind the curtain.

If someone had walked in the theater at the time, it would have seemed strange. Four hundred people sitting in the dark, snapping their fingers, staring at an empty stage.

But you could sense it in the room. No one wanted to stop. We wanted to go on as long as possible – to hold that feeling that we were generating together. 

A feeling that we could work together as one; a feeling that as one we were stronger; a feeling that, together, we could get through anything that would come our way.