New York, where a heart gets wide open (remembering 9/11)

9-11 memorial

My article about travelling to New York and visiting 9/11 memorial was published on Finding Philothea, and I want to share it here with you as well.

Traveling helps me to get to know another piece of earth, with its beauty and its challenges. Earlier this year in April I visited New York for the first time. I was looking forward to a short holiday and to reconnect with a friend who lives there. Looking back, there were so many highlights that each day was a little lifetime in itself.

I traveled there during Holy Week, so while this big city was impressing me at almost every step, there was another layer that accompanied me over the five days.

I live in Dublin, Ireland, which is small compared to New York. The population of New York City is a little less than Ireland and my native Croatia combined. I’m talking about two countries that would fit into one city. Everything seemed BIG. My hotel room was on the 12th floor, with a view that stretched itself as the sun set over the horizon of tall buildings. I felt so little in New York, but not insignificant. I wanted to learn, I wanted to explore, I wanted to know more about the history of America, I wanted to see the sights, learn about its buildings, its art, its people. The city evoked a thirst I did not even know I had. This city is alive and it increased my own thirst for life and knowledge.

The first evening I went to Broadway. Being tired from a transatlantic flight did not stop me from enjoying the show, “The Great Comet of 1812,” starring my favorite singer, Josh Groban. There were parts in the show when my heart almost exploded wide opened with the powerful singing, and a story that touches one’s depths. Earlier that day my mum told me she baked lots of cakes for Easter, teasing me in a way because I wouldn’t be home with them. “Well, I’ll be in Broadway tonight. I think I’ll be alright.” My friend Christine organized this evening, and while we already have some wonderful shared memories of listening to Josh Groban live, it never gets old to create new ones.

Imperial Theatre, Broadway

However, that was not the only time that New York knocked my heart wide open. I was hoping to visit the September 11th memorial on Good Friday, thinking it would correspond well by bringing the pain of that memory to Jesus as we remember His death. But that day turned out differently, so I had to postpone it until Holy Saturday instead. It was just me that morning trying to find my way from the hotel into the city. It was supposed to be easy, taking a train from my stop all the way to the World Trace Centre. Yet, as it turned out, that train wasn’t running that day, so I had a full-blown New York experience of trying to navigate my way on the Subway. Soon I learned that this was a city below a city. People were helpful and kind. Half of the time they gave me correct directions, while the other half they were well-meaning and friendly but unfortunately their instructions were wrong. After some time I started longing for some daylight and I felt a great sense of achievement when I finally arrived at the World Trade Centre.

Leaving the station, I followed the signs to the 9/11 memorial. Just before the memorial I saw a street sign indicating ‘One way,’ and thought to myself, terrorism is really a one way street. No good comes out of it.

One way-NY

I did not know what to expect. I felt reverence coming to where the Towers were, walking slowly. A lot of people were there and yet it wasn’t noisy but rather solemn, perhaps even calm. And then, sadness overtook me. I simply wanted to cry. There were no words in my head that triggered this reaction. The memorial is dignified and it actually evokes healing. The foundation of the first Tower that I approached goes into the depths, and water gently washes it, like a fountain running deeper into it. Names written on the walls of the foundation gave victims dignity, each name remembered. Occasionally there was a white rose next to a name, and I did not know if seeing that made it more sad or beautiful or if their loved ones put it there. All I wanted to do was cry. But I did not. Not sure why, but I held the tears in, letting them gather like the water that is being gathered in the depth of the foundation of each Tower.

I carried those tears with me the whole day. That evening, full of impressions and tired after walking a lot, I went to Mass. I was meeting a friend at her church far from where I was that afternoon, so I was a few minutes late. The church was in the dark, because at the Easter Vigil on Saturday the light comes in gradually while the readings are being read, signifying the light of Christ’s resurrection coming into the darkness of this world. I found a seat at the back of the church, sat there and finally I wept. I wept at the loss of life, the wound that this city experienced during the terrorist attack. I wept at what we people sometimes do to each other. I wept because Holy Saturday was a day when shattered hopes were mixed with Jesus’ redeeming work; while the Resurrection was happening, the disciples were in grief. I wept because the Alleluia that we would sing that night comes out of such deep sadness, as the one that New York experienced. Alleluia does not come out of joy, but out of pain as it is being redeemed by the Lord. I wept because all of this, both out of gratitude to the Lord for new life, as well as the pain. I wept for this city, for its needs, for America and all that needs to be put right. As I wept I offered silent prayers, beyond words, to the Lord, and I thanked Him for the light that conquers death, for hope that rises out of despair, for love that is stronger than hate.

Today as we remember 9/11, I am not in New York, but my memory of that city, of its vastness, its beauty, its story that touched me, stays with me in such a way as if I have met a person whose scars are part of their wisdom. There are more memories from my trip to be told, but New York certainly knows how to touch someone’s heart.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 10th September 2017; first published on Finding Philothea)
Photos by © Iva Beranek

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Summer, a time to focus on the essential

Nin 2015

Every season has its wisdom to offer and every season invites us on a unique path in our lives. I often reflected on the wisdom of spring, autumn and winter, but summer somehow escaped from the regular focus of my pondering.

Summer, what is your essence, what is your character, what is the contribution you offer on a life’s journey?

The answer could be different from year to year, yet today in this moment in time I think summer’s wisdom is to help us focus on the essential. If we live in the part of the world where we can travel freely and are not thorn by war, most of us think of the summer as a time to rest, to recuperate, time to go on a holiday. This summer, partly intentionally partly not intentionally I took a break from the buzz of social sites by reducing my online presence to mere minimum. I also took a break from the regularity of writing and posting on the blog. Sometimes when we do that, we come back to it refreshed. Yet this break, a change of focus, is not necessarily a means in itself. While this action provides a deeper kind of rest, it also invites us to focus on the essential. In this way whatever is our priority at this stage of life can be invited to come on the surface, because we have removed some of the clutter that may otherwise numb and silence our inner voice throughout the year.

Summer is a time to focus on the essential. What is life, or in other words God, asking of you at this time? Use the wisdom of summer to help you discern and may your walk on this earth be renewed, its focus sharpened as you will re-enter into the ordinariness of life after the summer.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 10th August 2015)
Photo by © Iva Beranek

In the heat of the Sun; reminiscence of the summer days

Rovinj 2014
It was a rainy morning and I was awake unusually early. This summer hasn’t been too bad weather wise, yet the fact it was lashing rain already at 4am made me appreciate I was leaving to go on a holiday. I normally don’t like leaving Ireland, every time the day before I go somewhere I instinctively take it all in, the view in front of my house, the love and belonging I feel for the place, experiences that meant the most to me, I take it in with my eyes as well as with my heart. I don’t know why I always go through such a ‘ritual’ but I do and it always makes me smile. And yet, this time I was ready to go, I was ready for a break and the heavy rain in the morning only reinforced this notion even more.

At the airport I bought a book, as I often would. I have so many books in my house, though sometimes I find it hard to choose which of those to bring along when travelling, so I buy a new, random one. More often than not, books I buy are from authors I haven’t read or heard of before. This time, without much thinking, I chose Claire Allan’s “The First Time I Said Goodbye”. Based in Dublin, a bit of mystery, intrigue unfolding page after page, yet it was a light read.

I read it on the plane and continued reading it in Croatia at the coast, where I came to spend the first week of my summer holiday. Sometimes you read a book that speaks into your life, even if the story you read does not resemble yours. As I was reading “The First Time I Said Goodbye”, I realised: I need to write. Thoughts about life, real events mixed with fictional ones gathered within me and wrote themselves inside my mind, as I walked, as I swam, as I went to sleep, as I woke up again. Most of them are lost to that moment in time, but the inspiration still lingers. Yet, I enjoyed many more things in between those reveries; company of good friends, the warmth of sunshine, exploring that corner of Croatian coast, savouring the exquisiteness of the beauty in the area, and above all swimming.

That day the sea was warm, calm, the last blink of sunshine glittered on the surface of the water. I swam towards that golden thread of light as it spread itself in front of me. I let myself immerse deeply in the sea. Then swiftly as if I was made for this I turned on my back to float, my body relaxed, but as I did that it tightened at first and then I let go, I floated, like in the arms of love, sun shone right towards me, I was filled with its light. For a moment all the cares, hopes, dreams, wonderings, fears disappeared, and I let the sea make me relax, make me restful, calm. I was lost to the beauty of the experience, and stored it into a treasure-box of memories from the heat of the Croatian Sun.

© Iva Beranek
 (Dublin, November 2014)
Photo by © Iva B.