Remembering 9/11: My Story

On September 11th, 2001, two days before my 17th birthday, I woke up at 6 a.m. to go to school. My family didn’t watch TV in the morning or listen to the radio, so I got ready, grabbed breakfast, and headed out the door at 6:45am (PST) with my younger sister. We drove to my best friend’s house to pick up her and her brother, and as soon as they got in the car, our lives were forever changed.

My best friend’s family members were avid morning news radio listeners and heard all about the horrible tragedy that plagued New York City and other surrounding areas/States that entire morning. After chatting with her dad, who told us to call him if anything crazy happened, we drove to school while listening to the radio the whole time. We received the latest updates from the East Coast and were in total shock. There was nothing to say, really. We just listened.

Arriving at school was somewhat frightening. Our classmates were in a frenzy, the staff all looked worried, and feelings of depression and anxiety hung over the whole campus. Some of the kids had parents who traveled often for business and were scared that their parents would be on a plane with suicidal terrorists. Some had parents who worked in San Francisco and were worried that such a prominent city like SF would be next on the hit list. We didn’t know what to expect, but it was no use going home. Being home alone on a school day seemed worse than being at school with a bunch of people with whom to share our fears.

I was so grateful to have had awesome teachers who let us watch the news in just about every class. It’s not like they were able to concentrate on work that day, either. They were just as scared as the students, and didn’t try to hide it. And because I went to a Christian school, we said prayers in every single period. That did bring much comfort and we found solace in our faith–whatever the varied beliefs of the student body. That day, everyone prayed and had hope that things just had to get better.

During such times like 9/11, people expect prayer and words of hope. It’s amazing how someone will curse God or their neighbor until something dreadful happens. Then, it seems, God and your neighbor is all you have in the midst of trial.

 Home> U.S.>Sept. 11, 2012: America Remembers 9/11 Anniversary Photo of Grieving Dad Robert Peraza Photo Touches Family (from ABCnews.go.com)


Sept. 11, 2012: America Remembers
9/11 Anniversary Photo of Grieving Dad Robert Peraza Photo Touches Family (from ABCnews.go.com)

That day, in California’s Silicon Valley, we made it through the last bell, and went home to our loved ones. We–at least those I knew–did not experience the 9/11 tragedy in full, like those in other parts of the country. But we all knew things would never be the same for the United States. And our hearts and prayers went out to those directly and horribly affected.

Never in my life have I witnessed such a culmination of hope, devastation, and camaraderie. People who didn’t speak to one another became friends in a day. Our cultural and racial prejudice, for a time, was dismantled. As long as you were an American, it didn’t matter what you looked like or where you came from. You were an American and you belonged in this country and you were not you–you were US.

Sadly, many negative things also developed from the 9/11 incident. Innocent people who were American but “looked a certain way,” were wrongly targeted from the springboard of people’s anger and fear. And as time went on, people forgot the camaraderie and prayers and sense of belonging to something greater than themselves, and became lost and disconnected. They became jaded at best, and cruel at the worst.

Today, though we’ll maybe watch footage of the World Trade Center or the Pentagon being crashed into, many of us will then go back to watching Honey Boo Boo, or Keeping Up with the Kardashians, or some other reality show that’s not really our reality. Don’t get me wrong–it’s nice to be entertained and become brainless for a while. But how many times do we default to that and stay disconnected from one another?

Will it take another tragedy for the citizens of this wonderful country to embrace each other and finally shed our own prejudices, judgements, and insecurities? Is that what it will take to help us accept ourselves and others–just as we are?

I am filled with so much gratitude that my family was not directly affected by 9/11. The only large-scale, traumatic event I’ve ever gone through was the big earthquake of 1989. And that was Nature’s doing–not an act of terrorism on humanity. Whenever I read about 9/11 or see video footage, I still weep like a baby. My heart swells with sadness at the thought of all those people losing their lives–especially the brave ones who prevented further damage by their acts of heroism. May we “never forget,” as the motto says.

And, a brief look back at the scene of the attacks in New York in September, 2001. Seen here, the twin towers of World Trade Center burn after two planes crashed into each on September 11th. (STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

And, a brief look back at the scene of the attacks in New York in September, 2001. Seen here, the twin towers of World Trade Center burn after two planes crashed into each on September 11th. (STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

So today, as we remember, I would like to ask you to join me in an exercise. I’m going to go “media silent,” in honor of 9/11 and its heroes and will not be Facebooking, Tweeting, Tumblring, Pinning, or anything in between. I’m always digitally connected, but today, I’m going to spend time with people I love and actually connect with them. I sincerely hope you’ll do the same. It’s not much, but it’s something we can all do as individuals that will have a rippling effect, I’m sure.

From Oprah.com

From Oprah.com

May God bless those who are especially hurting today, and may you go forward today and every day, loving yourself and others in the greatest capacity that you can.

Never forget…

Do you have a 9/11 story to share? Let us know in the comments below. 🙂

My East Coast Book Tour

I recently came back from the trip of a lifetime. Never in my wildest imagination did I think I’d be going on a “book tour” and speaking to people about something I created—something I never thought would come into existence. I guess my imagination isn’t wild enough, because that’s exactly what I did on my vacation. I’m still pinching myself for the fact that the Boston Public Library has my book available for check out. It’s times like these I am in awe of the blessings and opportunities presenting themselves in my life.

I left for Boston on Monday night, October 1st, with one of my assistants, Jesse, in tow. He came along as my bodyguard, extra set of muscles, person to remind me of items needed for events, personal map, general entertainment…You know, all the things any fabulous assistant must be. We were missing one third of our triad, however: the lovely Jessica who arranged all the events. Thanks to her hard work, all our events went very smoothly and were more than I could have ever hoped for.

Tuesday morning, 5:35 am, Boston time, Jesse and I slumped off the plane like tired pilgrims from a long journey. Overnight flights will do that. After grabbing our luggage, Jesse bought us passes for the T—Boston’s subway system—and we set off to find our hotel. The hotel, supposedly on Shirley Lane, was not on the Shirley Lane we found. Turns out, there are two Shirley Lanes in opposing directions. But staying in high spirits, I suggested we eat breakfast before setting off on another adventure.

Hours later, we arrived at the correct Shirley and took a long nap after checking in. The afternoon greeted us with the doom and gloom of rain clouds, but no matter—we bought tickets for the famous Boston Duck Tour anyway and were true tourists, sightseeing in the city. It was great.

Wednesday was our only sleep-in day of which we took every advantage. The afternoon would bring a hotel change, equaling the hauling of heavy luggage on the T, and our first event at the Brookline Public Library in the evening.

Wen we reached Brookline, Megan, the college intern who had arranged this event, greeted us warmly and made us feel at ease. Then it was time to begin. I turned on my public speaking brain and spoke about my book, my life, my opinions…it seemed long and short at the same time. There was another author present, who also shared about her writing process, opinions, challenges…it was so interesting and inspiring to hear from someone who shared my passions in a different way.

A short reception followed where we mingled for a while. That night, my mom and her best friend flew into Boston and picked up Jesse and me from a nearby cafe. The evening ended with a light dinner, and thank goodness—a car ride rather than the subway—to take us to our hotel.

Thursday…I was exhausted. We woke up at 5:40am to prepare for a two-hour drive to Hanover, New Hampshire. The drive, though rainy, was breathtaking. We were in awe of the beautiful and majestic landscape. I have never seen fall colors like THAT. Even the pictures I have don’t do the real deal justice. Upon arrival in Hanover, we found a local cafe, The Dirt Cowboy, and became nicely caffeinated before heading to Hanover High School.

9:50am was our first class. The kids were a riot! I spoke for the entirety of the period and did a book giveaway. The remainder of the day was similar. A very different school system intrigued us, since we found out the kids did not have a lunch period. They were allowed to eat in most classes. They enjoyed an open campus forum, and had more of a collegiate atmosphere than the typical high school.

Jesse and I took a very short lunch break, in which parking was a pain in the arse, BUT we had success and found parking in a garage for—get this—twenty-five CENTS!!! Unreal. After school, our drive back was amazing. We stopped a few times, but the best stop was at this lake that was completely serene and unlike any like I have ever witnessed. I cannot properly describe its beauty, so it is pictured here:

Friday was the final event day. In the morning, I spoke to a freshman English class at Snowden International High School in Boston. It was very different than Hanover High. I enjoyed the kids, played a game with them, gave away lollipops and bookmarks, and two books.

My last event with the Boston Public Library was not until 3pm, so Jesse and I killed time by finding me a dress for the wedding I was to attend on Sunday, eating sushi outside (gorgeous day that day), and trying and failing to print more bookmarks at Kinko’s. Then we headed to the library. It turned out to be my favorite event.

The Teen Room was set up for my visit. Six girls came to hear me talk about my book and ask me questions. I wanted to know about them, too. We had a very intimate setting with snacks, a small table, and bright red chairs. Jesse, my mom, and our friend sat to my left. The librarians sat behind the girls, beaming at me.

We talked and exchanged opinions, stories, questions and answers, and reflections for almost ninety minutes. It was great. One girl left immediately after I spoke; the other five stayed a bit longer. Lucky for them: I had exactly five copies of my book and gave them each a signed book. What a fun afternoon. Finally, we headed to dinner at the oldest restaurant in the U.S.: The Union Oyster House.

After that, it was late and we headed back to the hotel so Jesse could get his bags before going to the airport at 2am. Around 12am, Jesse and I headed back into Boston’s Little Italy, where we drank espresso and laughed at the funny, crazy adventures we had on our trip. 1:40am, the cafe/bar began to shut down—our queue to leave. I dropped him off at the airport, wished him a safe journey home, then drove back to Andover in the eery silence of 2-something-AM, without traffic.

And that, my friends, was the majority of my journey. I hung out with friends in Salem on Saturday, went to a good friend’s wedding in Ipswich on Sunday, traveled to New York on Monday, and flew back to California on Tuesday. About eight days of travel, entertainment, new places and faces, good food, friends, and opportunities for which I will be forever grateful. I can only hope that this is the beginning of something great and cannot wait to see where these new connections may lead.

I have one more book/author event on October 20th, at the Santa Clara Public Library. After that, it’s time for an event hiatus in order to finish book two! I think I have the energy to write 60k+ words…maybe. In the meantime, I am planning a huge Halloween event for my work. Once that’s done, it’s NaNoWriMo time, baby!

Here’s to more writing, stress, and wonderful chaos. May I continually be humbled by the unique and incredible opportunities that seem to be flooding my life at the present moment. Below are some fun NYC photos… And, cheers to Boston!

Until next time…

-Tamar

Ermagherd…Erm Gering Ter Bersten! (OMG I’m Going to Boston!)

It’s been a while since I’ve written and I’m not going to put myself down for that. Settling into a new position at work has been a huge task–rewarding, but there’s quite a bit on my plate. However, I have some really exciting news! I will be going to Boston, next week, and will be at quite a few events for my debut novel, Feast Island! For a complete list of events, feel free to check out my website: http://www.tamarhela.com/events/

One of my first events will be with the Brookline Public Library. Check out the details here: http://bit.ly/VRywtq

It’s still just sinking in that I’m going to these different events, speaking to people, and being asked questions about my writing process, and about my inspirations, and about my thoughts on literature. I mean, really? Am I that interesting? I sure hope so. I’m not “important” or an “anybody” in the literature world in any regard; I’m simply a girl who has followed her heart and made something uncommon happen: I wrote a novel and had it published. Either way, I am very excited about going to speak to teens especially, and encouraging them to take hold of one of my mantras: “Dream big.”

I will also be vacationing for the first time in over a year–which is much needed! One of my very good friends is getting married in Boston next Sunday and I can’t wait to see her in her beautiful dress, and have a great time with friends that I’ve known for years. After that, my mom, her best friend, and I will be making a short and sweet trip to NY and leave from there to go home. It’s going to be great.

One of my friends, whom I affectionately label as my Cabana Boy, will be traveling with me the first few days in Boston. He’s going to watch out for me and help me with all my events. Rock star material, right there! 🙂 I sure hope he can put up with me, ha! And my other lovely friend, who is not able to join us on the trip, is the one who coordinated these exciting events for me! I am so grateful and can’t wait to see where this all leads.

When I visited Boston about two and a half years ago, I fell in love with the city. If I ever had to relocate to somewhere in the States from the Silicon Valley, I’d shoot for Boston. It’s just such a cool place. I’m definitely looking forward to going back and showing my family and friends a city that I love. If any of you blog followers are on the East Coast and want to meet me, I’d love to see you at one of the events! Hopefully this blog will be a little more active next week–I’ll be posting pictures and sharing stories. Until the next post, I leave you with a beautiful shot of the Charles River, during sunset, I took in 2010. Cheers!