Eighteen years ago today on this day – September 11, 2001, I didn’t have GPS or a map and I was trying my best to get home. The towers had fallen. New York City was in chaos. I was physically ok but could not wrap my mind around planes crashing into buildings. I sent my staff home and left my office on 73rd street. I got as far as 23rd Street and could get not below that to my child who was on 16th street. It was my child’s second day of Middle School, the towers had fallen, and I was trying not to lose my mind.
A member of my church and dear girl friend was able to get below 23rd Street to get to my child’s school on 16th Street. She brought her up to me. I will always love my dear friend for many reasons – but I am eternally grateful to her because she took my hysterical call.
Now, I had to figure out how to get the both of us home.
None of the usual routes were accessible to me. I was a relatively new driver and didn’t know much about NYC’s roads because I usually just drove to work, to church and children’s play dates. That was it.
But the late Deacon Cozetta “Mama G” “Coco” Green knew the roads. She had traveled them before. I called her and she stepped into the fullness of her witness. She encouraged me to put in the earphones to my cell so that my daughter didn’t have to hear our conversation and know the degree to which her Mama was struggling.
And, Deacon Green went to work. She talked me through back alleys, roads and passageways all through Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens and then Brooklyn. Her challenge was my limitation. I couldn’t orient myself with north, south, east or west. Left and right meant nothing – those were useless points of direction and reference. My mind was just not functioning in that way. But she didn’t shame me, or give up on me, or make me feel like I should know better, or I should get it together. She knew I was in “calm hysteria” and she talked to me until she could figure out how I needed to hear her directions.
Deacon Green just kept saying, “if you drive with the sun in your face and not the back of your head, you’ll be ok, you’ll be going in the right direction, you can do it. I’m here. Where’s the sun? Is it in your face or the back of your head? Alright, there’s gonna be a gas station coming up, look out of the passenger side, you see it? Good, now drive past that bodega and turn toward the driver’s side. Good! Now, you see a bridge on the passenger side? Go under it and there will be a side road. Take that. How you doing? Aren’t those buildings on the passenger side such an unusual color? Isn’t that a huge cemetery over there? I think you are doing great! That’s the city’s worst supermarket on the passenger side. I’m proud of you, you are hanging in there!”
That’s how I got home. Seven hours driving through unfamiliar territory with a whole city on edge, my child in the passenger seat but Cozetta Green in my ear, guiding me by landmark, speaking my language and telling me that I was ok because she was there with me.
When our congregation gathered the next day just to be in each other’s presence, I couldn’t wait to see Cozetta. I rushed her and she welcomed me with open arms. She hugged me and whispered in my ear over and over again – “I knew you could do it.”
Mama G is with the ancestors now but while she was with us, she sure found ways to make us believe we could do absolutely anything. And we all could, in part, because she was ALWAYS gonna do her part. Encouragement. Speaking the language we needed to hear. Sharing what she knew. Refusing to let us worry about what we didn’t know. And hugs. Lots of hugs.
She knew the roads, in part because she had shopped ev-er-y street in the Metroplitan area, never being limited to the malls. She knew the deals on every the street in this city.
She knew my deal. She loved me home.
I pray for the families who lost so much on 9/11. I pray for the victims of terrorism the world over. I pray for us, for all of us. I pray for myself. And I pray that God would be gentle with all of our tomorrows.