In this time of existential uncertainty, it's often difficult to trust that the Divine has placed us exactly where we are meant to be. On September 10, 2001, I arrived in Paris for a holiday with one of my dearest friends. I awoke on 9/11 with a sense of foreboding and anxiety, which was unusual in one of my most favorite cities in the world. Sharing this with my friend who felt a similar sense of uneasiness, we decided to distract ourselves by window shopping. But after twenty minutes of aimless gazing, we realized we needed to ground our energy. What called us was the chapel Notre-Dame de la Medaille dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. As we sat and prayed and meditated, the first plane hit the World Trade Center.
I desperately wanted to go home, but it was impossible. As the Jewish New Year approached, I searched for a synagogue. I longed to connect with anything familiar. But the American embassy advised all U.S. citizens to stay away from all public gatherings.
At one point, a few days after the attack, I was invited to attend a Tibetan Buddhist Empowerment Ceremony for the Green Tara. It was taught by famous Rinpoche in English to a French audience in the Arab quarter of Paris. It was there that I recognized the universality of Spirit and the splendid gift of comforts, large and small, that I had received during my Paris sojourn.
A week later when I returned to New York, the fires of 9/11 were still smoldering. As a spiritual teacher in New York City, I found that everyone I came in contact with was struggling to make sense out of our new reality.
In the shadow of 9/11 legendarily tough New Yorkers, always good in a crisis, now reached an even higher plateau; they had softened into a palpable resolve to give aid and comfort to one another. A life-long New Yorker, I immediately felt part of the greater whole. We vowed to be strong and fortify friends, neighbors and strangers against the unknown. No matter what our life station or ethnicity, we were compelled to impart strength and hope to others and ourselves. We tried to relieve pain and suffering and encouraged one another to believe that we had what it takes to "stay the course." This need to see and be seen, to acknowledge and be intimately connected in the face of our collective catastrophe, was rooted in our primal human need for comfort.
We were in search of far more than a pat on the back; we longed for a transcendent source of consolation. And we found it by glimpsing the Divine in countless human forms. From office workers to rescue teams, estranged relatives to the familiar faces at our neighborhood stores, we joined together in countless unspoken comfort rituals. In those communications, we exchanged the positive pleasure of being alive, reduced our pains, and rekindled our hopes and dreams.
9/11 (and every crisis humankind confronts) teaches us that comfort in the face of life's challenges is not a luxury but a necessity. Comfort rituals are the universal lifelines that offer us deliverance from fears real and imagined. They resurrect us from the heart of despair and return us to wholeness.
June 1, 2002, a few days after Ground Zero closed, I was honored to officiate the wedding ceremony of Jules Naudet and Jacqueline Longa. Jules directed and produced the award-winning documentary 9/11 with his brother Gideon and firefighter James Hanlon. They received special permission to have the ceremony at the Engine 7, Ladder 1 firehouse in Lower Manhattan. The firemen outdid themselves and transformed the firehouse into a sacred altar. At the last minute we realized that no one had brought the bowls for the rose petals to be tossed at the bride and groom as they left. Immediately Battalion Chief Pfeifer, followed by all the other firemen, took off his helmet and filled it with rose petals. I was blown away by their caring and love. I felt strongly that I had been sent there to bring in the healing energy of the Feminine, and that our wedding ritual was a healing from the trauma that everyone had experienced. In our ritual, we were able to connect to the Divine regardless of our religion or spiritual traditions. We all experienced real comforts, which when we extend to each other or to ourselves, are one of the most beautiful ways of curing what ails us.