9/11 and the Dharma Blues
I was in high school at the time going to a long island public school near the border to Queens. Senior year of high school rolled around that September and I was looked forward to the opening assembly in the auditorium. The whole senior class gathered during first period to talk about the upcoming year: the prospects of college, the senior trip, the leap from adolescence to adulthood. I left that room excited… finally this audacious journey called high school would soon be over and I would have freedom to do my own pursuits. I stepped into our computer programming class where we were going over simple functions in C++. The classroom was on the third floor of our high school facing the northwest where the clear skyline of lower Manhattan could be seen a few miles away. We were given our assignment in class when I had to go to the bathroom, so I left the class room and saw a peculiar sight as smoke was bellowing from the World Trade Center. I stared at it for a minute or so trying to figure out what was happening. There had to be a fire since there was so much smoke pushing off to the south. I came back into the classroom and pointed this out to my classmates, and everyone jumped up to see the spectacle. I opened up Internet Explorer and started checking online for news. The headlines of planes crashing into the towers, pictures being updated every few minutes. The story-line changing from perhaps an accident to reports of a plane crashing into the pentagon and cries of a terrorist plot. The announcer came on and we were told to stay in our classroom, but our teacher didn’t care for such talk and allowed us to come out to see the towers from the glass windows outside the class. I felt my heart pounded exponentially as I saw the first tower collapse as a mountain of smoke, debris, and powder seem to engulf lower Manhattan. I ran back and forth between the developments on the computer and view from the window. The more I read, the more I saw, the more my heart sank down at what was happening. I cried softly, while putting my hands over my head, and kneeling down against the window. My classmates were in various states of shock and disbelief. I came home later that day and watched the news for a few minutes but I couldn't bear watching anymore.
The days, weeks, and months that went by pushed life mostly back into “normality.” I wanted retribution for the attacks but knew that a terrorist group was not the same as a country, and a war against individuals is more complex even impossible to control than to conquer a set of people. I started asking myself why they would do such a thing? I did not want to conclude so easily that they were radical extremist with unbound hatred for America “just because” it is America. I believed that forces created that perceive, some wrong must have been done somewhere along the line but the history is vague and the morality of both sides can be questioned.
I tried putting off the questioning and focus on my studies, I had an SAT to conquer before applying to colleges. Sadly, I was slow to recover and because of the after shock and some other personal tragedies, I failed the SAT I took in October. I had to re-focus, study hard and pray I could do my best on the December test. I passed but was rushed into thinking about where to apply to, what were my prospects, what did I want to do with my education. I picked a scattering number of east coast schools. That spring I picked Boston University for the financial aid they gave and the prospect of the a big university atmosphere. But I still had this underlying feeling of being a bit lost.
I muddled through college grabbing on various subjects trying to feel inspired to dive into something for the rest of my life. Nothing came to me. Psychology, Mathematics, Astrophysics, Philosophy, Business, the list went on. I was in a state of disillusion. What was the purpose of college for those who could not enjoy and dive into any subjects? I would ask myself what is the highest form of living? Does it matter if I did research as an Astrophysicist? Or became a Financial Adviser at some hot shot bank? In such a world where there is so much progress yet so many are suffering, is there not more we could do? I slowly started to figure it out after I graduated college. There were two things that got me going:
1) The expression of myself through the arts and actions: Photography, dance, acting out, music, etc.
2) The ability to serve others through non-profit work, community organizing, and new enterprises to help those who need a hand.
I left college without a clear sense of purpose to where my life was going. I spent the first three months out of college volunteering almost everyday at various non-profits in Manhattan. Painting fences, reading books to kids, taking them on field trips, singing to the elderly. I saw the joy in their eyes and the subtle improvement of their lives. I had to leave my pursuits then as I struggled with another idea of what is the best one could be: The excellence in create new enterprises and using my imagination through the expression of who I was. I found this manifesting itself in my passion in technology. Which lead me from the inner circles of networking groups in New York City to the suburban towns of Silicon Valley in California. I started and contributed to a variety of projects but never lingered too long in one area. My output and productivity would depend on the inspiration I drew at the moment, a fact that sometimes made it hard to work a stable monotonous routine ( I blame this on the artist gene, sometimes you are hot, most of the time, you are not). But I never shade too far away from my aspirations in the non-profit work either. I’d divide time between artistic pursuits: starting a band, publishing a photography book, creating a video game on facebook. Non-profit pursuits: volunteering for the Obama campaign, working as a teacher in inner-city Oakland, and finally my aspirations to create something in the technology field: working for web 2.0 startups in various degrees.
I still struggle every day to find a balance between these pursuits. The ability to help others and serve is big part of my caring nature to those who did not get the opportunities I had. I’d become depressed if I didn't consistently spit out my creative output in some format. And I would feel bad if I didn't try to put some of that money spent on college and my comfort-ability with technology to good use in helping create new enterprise. The problem I found was that this all related back to what happen in my senior year in high school, where I stop thinking about just having a 40 hour a week job and asking myself what life was all about? Was I trying to take ownership of having so much and wanting to give back or should I just be apathetic and enjoy the comforts given to a certain way of life. I look back even with the fears I had gone through: near homelessness, businesses failing, not having health insurance for long periods of time, I feel like I was trying to equalize the world where that terrorist attack would not have happen in. A world where we would have disagreements, and anger toward events but we were willing to work them out. But more then that, I wanted to make sure I was attempting to live as fully as I could because things can change in a moment. That day in my senior year of high school pushed me into this new reality and I accept whatever comes out of it.