It’s a sunny Wednesday morning in Durham and I’m teaching in the studio. A few of my students are friends who’ve made. a particular point to come and see me before I leave for the race. I’ve known almost everyone for years now, except for the one new person. I’m walking between mats when there’s a sudden loud bang and the building shudders. I drop toward the ground; we all do. It is silent a moment. We all look at each other and walk quickly toward the windows.
“Are we all right?” I ask. I get nods and wide eyes. We speculate about what could have fallen on the building. We notice people emerging onto the street are looking West; we are safe.
I ask my class what they’d like to do; do we need to go outside and find out what’s happening or should we continue to practice? Danielle and Ben have gone down the hall to look in the direction the people outside are looking. The doorstop is where I left it next to the door, which Ben has propped with his shoe. One student says she’d like to move more. I look around and see uncertainty on the faces in the room.
“We can move more if you like, let’s give Ben and Danielle a moment to come back and then we’ll decide.”
Danielle says there’s smoke from downtown. She looks concerned but steady. Ben’s eyes are wide. He gathers his things. The others look out the window.
“I have to go,” he tells me, “You know.”
“Yep, I understand.” I back up to let him pass by me, then think better of it. I turn to catch him. “Ben? Please text me, ok?” I don’t know what he’s going out to. He nods and takes off down the hall. I take a deep breath and join my students at the window where I see Ben throw his things into his car and take off running toward the smoke. I bite my lip.
“Does everyone want to stay and continue class?” I ask them. They seem uncertain but several of them are nodding.
“We won’t know what’s happened for a while anyway,” someone says.
“Yeah, and it would calm me down,” says someone else. I agree.
“Ok,” I tell them. I can’t remember what we were in the middle of at all. “My nervous system is really jacked up too, so I’m going to stay at the front of the room and practice with you. I’ll check in with you, but if anyone needs to stop it’s ok to interrupt and tell me.” I pause and look at them. I look toward the empty spot where Ben was practicing. “I know we were in the middle of standing work but I’m going to go back to sun salutations for a little bit to get us back into our practice?”
They’re nodding and they’re worried. I’m worried, but they’ve all communicated and moved around and nobody looks checked out, I begin to cue, shifting my gaze from the wall to the floor, then straight ahead, then toward my feet. I notice that Urdhva Mukha Svanasana does not feel good. I drop to my knees. They’re all steady in Adho Mukha Svanasana.
“Hey, I’d just like to validate that we’re all really alarmed and there are some ways we’re likely to react because of that. If you’re finding it hard to breathe deeply or you feel confused or backbending doesn’t feel right, that’s all pretty normal. Please feel free to pause as you need to, and remember you don’t have to do anything I ask.”
I pause a moment and lift back up. I start adding movement, and in Virabhadrasana 2 I look out the window. The people on the street look more concerned than they did before. My heart pounds, but I continue. Next time we’re up I follow the gaze of the people outside; a massive plume of deep black smoke billows over Durham.
I turn on the middle of the Queensborough Bridge amid the press of people walking beside me with a pique of sudden curiosity. I can’t see downtown under the massive plume of deep black smoke.
I look at my students. Danielle isn’t doing what I’m doing. She looks at me. I’ve mis-cued them. “I’m sorry,” I say, “I got confused. I’m still very shaken. How are you?” A few of them look at me.
“How are you?” she asks. I’m having a hard time breathing.
“There’s…there’s a lot more smoke out there now.” A couple of them step off their mats to see.
I walk fast toward Park Avenue. People are huddled around cars with radios turned up, hands to faces. Something about Tower Two.
“Maybe we could do some kind of closing together and then see what’s happening?” Jane suggests. I see nodding. That’s a great idea. It is not 2001. I am here with my class. I’m doing a good job keeping them involved and exercising agency during a crisis. We all need that in order not to store this memory as trauma; I am not the only survivor in the room. These are my friends. I know their stories.
“I’m going to prop the door in case Ben comes back to us before we’re done, then I’ll lead you through something ok?”
I wedge the doorstop in the door. I hope Ben comes back.
“Can we grab some sandbags and make a circle in the middle of the room?” They follow me to the prop shelf and pick up a sandbag each and then angle their mats a little. I kneel on the floor. Danielle turns her mat fully to share it with me; I crawl next to her.
We sit in a tight circle and fold ourselves into child’s pose, sandbags on sacrums. My back is to the window. I talk them through a body scan, suggesting we particularly attend to our connection to the surface beneath us, to our weight, to what feels solid. Next we kneel or sit. I’m not suggesting that me or my agitated group of loved ones make ourselves as vulnerable as savasana; I know exactly what that will feel like. I close my eyes and remind them that we’re all right here together in a circle of friends, well supported.
“If you’ll join me,” I say, “Let’s include in our circle whoever is out there right now, whoever is hurting or frightened, that we might all be safe and comforted. Before we find out what’s out there, let’s take a few breaths here together where we are safe and unified.”
When we open our eyes we cry and hold each other. Ben comes back with wild eyes and tells us there’s been an explosion and that they wouldn’t let him help. Then I need him there when I’m suddenly wild with fear that a friend has died, my friend who works frequently at the coffee shop that’s been destroyed in the blast and doesn’t answer when I call three times in a row. Danielle makes phone calls to mutual friends. Ben holds me and Erin holds my hand. We find out that our friend is fine, and then I hold Ben when helicopters circle overhead and he’s suddenly overwhelmed. We calm each other in turn; we are safe and unified and stronger together.
At night I sleep soundly; there are no further flashbacks.