A peace troubadour recalls surviving 9/11

I was in the heart of downtown NYC on the morning of 9/11.

Leaving the building I was in at 9:05 a.m., I saw the first building of the World Trade Center on fire. Almost immediately, the second building exploded! People panicked and, alongside hundreds of others, I turned to run away from the burning buildings.

Then I remembered, “My sister!”

I immediately turned and started to push my way through the shoving, screaming, panicked mass. As windows were exploding and glass rained down, I ran towards her office building. When I got to her office she was uptown.

I hit the streets again. As is my nature, I tend to "run to the roar of the Lion." Wanting to know how I could help, I headed towards the Twin Towers.

Paralyzed I stood in the streets witnessing the inferno in front of me. Watching dozens leap to their deaths, I cried, “Where are the firefighters?! Where are the firefighters?!!” I found out three days later when my cousin, Firefighter Michael Carroll from Ladder Company 13, never came home. They never did find his body.

Soon the buildings fell. Darkness took over. Suddenly thousands were running and screaming through the streets, chaos reigned, terror grabbed hold, the silence became deafening and the blackness a womb.

There was an unprecedented peace in the city in the days that followed. There was no yelling, no horns blaring, no sirens — there wasn’t even any music playing. It was as if the city was holding a silent vigil for itself.

All around the city were life-sized posters of the missing. Thousands of them. Their smiling faces staring at you from subway walls, telephone poles, store windows, fences. Where normally playbill posters were displayed, now the faces of the missing asked the question to which there was no answer. It started to rain and as you walked by the faces of the missing it looked as if all these people were crying.

“Where there is music, there can be no harm.” So I took to the streets to sing. At the Red Cross where people were lining up to give blood, I entertained the lines circling around the block.

Where thousands more were gathering to go down to Ground Zero at The Javitz Center, I sang.

In Greenwich Village, where people were joining together for a candlelight vigil, I got out of my car, put on my guitar and started walking and singing. With their faces glowing in the lights, the crowd parted like the Red Sea and I found myself in the center. There I led them in songs like “Hey Jude," and “Give Peace a Chance” and “America The Beautiful” — songs that would bring us together, give us a moment of peace for just a second.

Then a woman came up and said, “I’m from Bulgaria, can I sing a traditional folk song?” So I handed her my guitar. Then a fellow from Ukraine asked “Can I sing a song?” Then a man from Argentina came forward and, in broken English, said, “My heart is breaking. I wrote this poem.” So we found a young lady from the Bronx to translate it into English.

In that moment, I found out what the world was really like. Thousands of people coming together from all nations, all religions to love, heal, work and offer kindness. In the midst of such a great tragedy, enormous amounts of love poured forth from the world onto the streets of NYC.

THAT is the world that I believe in.

Six months later, I discovered cancer in my throat. When one is faced with losing the gift you've been given, it makes you take a step back and ask yourself what are you doing with that gift.

Never knowing whether or not I would sing again, I took time off. Boarding the plane after surgery with bandages around my neck, I left for New Zealand, to an esoteric school for “Spiritual Leadership” called Shamballa. In that monastic environment I meditated, studied, served and prayed. I came back to the United States and we were going to war. My soul beckoned to me to be a voice for peace.

On 9/11 my life began.

Cecilia St. King, a frequent visitor to Ashland, will perform from 1 to 6 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 25, at the Grants Pass Masonic Hall, 320 NW E St., to benefiting Grandmother Agnes Baker-Pilgrim. For more information, go to www.PeaceProduction.org. St. King travels the world dedicating her life to healing through the power of music; for more, go to www.ceciliastking.com.

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