Fear is not always driven by the mind. Sometimes the body reacts on its own and creates the stories. This is how to get out.
Just before I sat down to write today, I went to the window to turn off the heat in my living room.
Strange Things Outside My Window
As I glanced out the window, taking in my view, I noticed a group of men — what looked like officers or security guards — walking on the setback of The New School’s building across the street. It’s not an official terrace, and people normally don’t walk on the green lawn.
Looking down, I could see something was unusual on the street below. For one thing, there were no cars on 14th Street. Police had erected barricades at the corner of 14th Street and 5th Avenue. Police cars were parked in the middle of the street, blocking 14th Street headed west and 5th Avenue.
A staging tent stood at the southwest corner of the intersection.
I opened the window and stuck my head out to confirm that there was no traffic on 14th west of 5th Avenue. I turned to see the activity to the east. Nothing there either.
As far as I could see, 14th Street was closed to traffic. On a Thursday morning.
This is highly unusual, and it came without warning.
I receive text alerts from NYC for seemingly every helicopter flyover, street closure, and subway interruption. This was a major street closure, with a notable police presence. But no warning or explanation.
I felt my body start to seize up. My chest tightened. A lump formed in my throat. My heart started racing.
Let’s review some relevant facts:
A major subway line runs across 14th Street. The Union Square subway station, just down the block, is one of the busiest in the city. The New School’s main building is across the street. Two guards are stationed there as lookouts. The entire span of 14th Street is closed to traffic.
My body was telling me: something is wrong.
Is it a bomb? A terrorist attack? A shooter on the loose?
What was going on??
I reminded myself to stay curious. Don’t jump to conclusions.
I typically don’t go online in the morning. But my body was shutting down in fear and starting to spin stories. Was it safe to leave? Was it safe to stay? I needed answers.
Google Does Not Know Everything
I started with Google, which was no help. For all that Google knows, it rarely seems to know what’s happening right now.
(Also, when I type in an intersection or street name, it rarely seems to know I mean NYC. Doesn’t Google know where I live??)
With no luck from Google, I turned to Twitter, sharing the video and asking what was happening.
Meanwhile, the police presence intensified. A group of cops on motorcycles gathered at the corner. FDNY firetrucks and vans lined 14th Street below my window.
Truth Arrives In the Moment of Panic
Just as I was about to go into full panic mode — theres a bomb in the L train — the trucks and vans started moving.
And then I saw it: the flatbed FDNY engine truck carrying a coffin, which was wrapped in an American flag.
The moment I saw the coffin, I stopped moving. I stood in silence as the brave hero passed me and faded out of view.
I hadn’t noticed that I was holding my breath until I felt it move through me again.
Fear is Habit
As I settled back in to my body, I noticed what had happened.
Despite applying mindfulness, reminding myself to breathe, approaching the situation with curiosity and wonder, my body seized in fear.
It’s that easy for fear to hijack our bodies. It’s a habitual physical reaction.
In the moment I saw the flashing lights of NYPD and FDNY vehicles and security guards perched on rooftops, even though my brain wasn’t consciously thinking about 9/11 or more recent bomb scares, my body was. It remembered.
Trigger. Response. That’s habit.
It take a lot of meditation and mindfulness practice to continue to weaken that automatic response.
This is why I practice daily.
Today was better than it might have been a year ago. I didn’t get caught up in stories. I opened to curiosity. And because I remained in the moment, I was able to pay my respects to a fallen hero.
Although, it would have been nice to have the heads up.
Extraordinary People Surround Us
I believe everything serves a larger purpose. I didn’t get a warning about the street closure, but I got a sign.
I took the time to learn about the FDNY hero in the coffin.
Christopher “Tripp” Zanetis was one of seven Air National Guard officers killed in a helicopter crash in Iraq this month. This man lived a life committed to service. In addition to his military role, he was a NYC firefighter, a graduate of NYU undergrad and Stanford Law, and an associate at one of the country’s top law firms. He was an advocate for justice and equality.
He served his community, the city and our country with honor and pride, by living his truth.
Read more about him at the links below:
Reading about Tripp Zanetis’ life inspires me to step up my service to a higher level. It reminds me that the meaning in life is truly found through giving.
I’d love to hear how it inspires you to be better.