My 9/11

Everyone has a different ritual to honor the dead. There are memorials that feel like funerals with lots of black  dresses and many mentions of "God's plan", and memorials that feel like parties with humorous tales of happier times and alcohol that flows like a river. I am an atheist so while there may in fact be a plan to the universe, I do not believe it has been concocted by a magical, white-bearded being in the sky. I do, however, believe in honoring those who are no longer with us.

Eleven years ago, our country, and NYC in particular, was devastated by the horrible attacks on the World Trade Center. We all know the story: planes used as missiles, people jumping out of buildings, the sour smell of smoke in the air for weeks, the diminished skyline, the heroes lost. I was living in Astoria at the time, and after hours of staring at the TV in horror, I could no longer stand to be away from Matthew (who I was not yet living with). Since the only viable method of transportation that day was your own two feet, I strapped on rollerblades and skated over the Pulaski Bridge into Williamsburg, where Matthew and I proceeded to watch television for 24 hours straight. The view from the bridge was Manhattan, burning.

September 11, 2001 was on a Tuesday, like today. That Friday, at our Upper Westside Dojo, we lit a candle and placed it on the fire escape. Other businesses all up and down Broadway were doing the same. People placed them in apartment windows, on street corners, in impromptu alters outside of churches. After our teacher made a speech about remembrance and appreciation, we wrapped our hands tightly, pulled our gloves on, and fought non stop for over an hour.

We fought because we were angry. We fought because we were terrified. We fought because we felt helpless and fragile, and exposed. But most of all, we fought because we were fighters and it is what we do.

How could we throw punches and kicks at each other on that night of all nights, with so much violence in the world? Those of you who spar, who have sparred for years, will understand. If you don't, just imagine that you are a river after a storm, full to the brim and churning wildly. Imagine all of that water, swirling around, picking up dirt and leaves and tossing them to and fro. Now imagine someone opens up a hole in the banks of the river, a hole big enough to release the pressure and allow the water to spill quickly, but safely onto the shore, spreading, slowing, and eventually dissipating into all the nooks and crannies of the earth.

We are the river and sparring class is the hole that we escape through.

On that desperate night we found solace in each other, in the sweat and the breathless exertion, in the pounding rhythm. We did not hurt each other, rather, we made each other whole again.

Is sparring always like this? No. Some days it hurts. Some nights it gets ugly. There are bruises, broken bones, blood spilled, hurt feelings, hurt pride. But when you need it, when you need the release it brings, sparring can wrap around you as comforting as an old, faded blanket on a cold winter's night.

To all those who are hurting today, may you have a blanket to keep you warm. No matter if it is a God in heaven, or a selfless sparring partner, so long as it helps you move past the storm.

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