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September 11th and Why I Travel

Pain and growth are all intertwined.

Jen Salerno
Nov 14, 2019 · 4 min read

The alarm clock rang at 4:30 am on my birthday. A black car pulled up to my apartment a half-hour later and I hopped in. My colleague handed me a press release. Headline: PR Girl Turns 26, dateline: September 11, 2001.

Our client had a segment at the local news station in New Jersey that morning. We left Astoria, picked up our spokesperson and sped out to Trenton for a 7:30 call time. The producer met us at the door and escorted us down a long corridor to the studio.

“We’re gonna get you miked up, but there might be a delay — a plane just hit the World Trade Center.” We exchanged confused looks and stepped inside the studio. Two anchors sat at the news desk with monitors behind them broadcasting footage from CNN.

One of the towers was smoking. The anchors were deliberating how a plane could have hit the tower and what kind of plane it might have been.

As we stood watching, a second airplane entered the monitor view. We blinked. Not enough caffeine yet. “Could that be?…” The second plane hit building two and a collective gasp sucked the air out of the room.

Then eruption. I hadn’t had enough coffee yet to process all of this. There wasn’t enough coffee in the world.

After all was said and done, after it was clear there would be no going back, what was the first thing I did? I got a passport and booked an international flight.

I had never been out of the country before and at that moment I realized it was the one thing I needed to do.

I bought a flight to London and started planning an itinerary with a colleague who spent a few years at Oxford. Two weeks before my flight another plane crashed in Queens. By the time I boarded the plane I thought I might really be taking my life into my hands.

I traveled alone but people befriended me all along the way.

At a bed and breakfast in Victoria, one of the proprietors joined me for toast and tea. At a pub later that day locals asked me why I’d come, why did I risk it? By the London Bridge, I made friends with a couple of local girls who took me over to the London Museum. I then joined a tour group that invited me to tag along with them.

Later that week my friend arrived and I totally relaxed and followed him to his favorite noodle shop and neighborhood hangouts.

As I rounded corners and came upon charming neighborhoods, I kept getting the feeling that I’d been to this place before. Later I attributed the deja vu to childhood trips to Epcot.

I had never been outside of the country, why did I risk it?

Some people say the thing we’re called to do in life is “in our blood.” Perhaps since six of my eight great grandparents crossed oceans to get to America, travel was in my blood. By comparison, I’d waited pretty long to get going.

Ultimately I did travel to countries across the Eastern and Western Hemispheres, sometimes alone, sometimes in groups.

One thing those experiences taught me is that what I expected I came to experience. Even though I was arguably vulnerable, I encountered friendly, helpful people.

At 40, I sat in an office overlooking the two pools of the World Trade Center memorial. I was an editor at a travel magazine. There were shiny new buildings all around and a curious skeleton-like structure protruding from the ground.

I looked down on progress and beauty where there had once been pain. One night I watched thousands of Yemeni bodega men kneeling and praying at Borough Hall in protest of the travel ban. It was a magnificent sight to behold.

With all the pain endured in New York, I’m so glad I spent my life here. The pain of experience is rewarded by the beauty of growth. Do I wish for more pain to beget growth? Of course not. But I acknowledge that it has some reason. I recognize that to get out of bed each day is a risk.

Today my daughter is almost six months old. She has already been to thirteen cities in eight states. She will crane her neck to see out a window. Is that in her blood or something we taught her?

I believe curiosity is innate in all of us. The question is, do we respond to that curiosity with openness or with fear?

I have traveled around the world and been treated like a neighbor by those who didn’t know me and didn’t understand my language or much, if any, of my culture. It is a risk of course. But no more of a risk than shutting out the beauty of a world that desires to be known.

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Jen Salerno

Written by

I write, edit, research, and teach for a living. My body is in Miami, but my heart is in the far reaches of the world.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +773K people. Follow to join our community.

Jen Salerno

Written by

I write, edit, research, and teach for a living. My body is in Miami, but my heart is in the far reaches of the world.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +773K people. Follow to join our community.

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