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By FRANCINE EISNER
Francine Eisner is a New York-based artist, writer, and professional jeweler. Her B.F.A. and B.S. degrees are accompanied by a large array of interests including music, fine arts, archaeology, the sciences, medicine (both alternative and traditional), eyesight improvement, cats, and, most recently, the history and culture of India and the Sikhs. She has tutored physics and chemistry, edited manuscripts, mixed music recordings, and created prototypes for the jewelry industry. Her friends and colleagues consider her a renaissance woman, but she admits only to being "interested in everything, like a little child." Francine was formerly a "shut-in," who rarely traveled farther than the beaches of Staten Island. However, a few years ago a consulting job brought her to India and completely changed her life. Her experiences in India have given her an appreciation for simple life and effortess sprituality. Until recently, Francine was married to a famous jazz musician.
The Sikh Times, Mar. 6, 2003
I live about 1 mile from Ground Zero, and I saw the towers burning, and I saw the first of them fall.
At first, like everyone else, I had no idea at all about what was going on. My experience was unique, but it was also quite similar to what others went through. I had awakened early, aware that I had to go to work but with no particular impetus to do so. I watched a movie on T.V. called "Sweet November," a real tearjerker, and I finally got up and started getting ready for work. The first indication that something was going on? My husband and I heard the intercom buzzing. But when we went to answer it, the response was confusing. The person who had buzzed us, who remains unknown, sounded familiar but incoherent. Actually, I had thought it might have been one of his ex-girlfriends. I went downstairs and outside, but got no farther than the corner. There was an incredible mass of people there, and our corner of Sixth Avenue was not usually a busy one. Everyone was pointing and looking southward. And what I saw was just not comprehensible.
The World Trade Center towers, which had dominated our southern view for so many years, were encased in billowing clouds of smoke. I could see that there was obviously a fire, but I saw no flames. I ran upstairs to tell my husband, who already knew, as he had the television switched on. He then informed me that this was the end of the towers; that they would not be able to put the fire out. This also was not comprehensible to me, but it turned out that his words were prophetic, of course. Our telephone was dead. I knew I would get no work done that day, but our proximity to the towers made me realize that my family and friends would need to be informed that we were alright. So I went out into the street again. It was still early morning, and people should have been working, but no one could. The masses of people were growing, transfixed by the sight of the burning towers.
I was able to get one block farther, to Seventh Avenue. There were hundreds of people there, of all ages and races, and a news team. And as I turned to face southward, the first tower fell. I noticed that it seemed to collapse inward and straight down at the same time. It's amazing what passes through your mind at a time like this. Everyone screamed when the tower fell, like a rehearsed chorus. The hundreds of us who were there were all crying, and we were all looking at each other in disbelief. There was no feeling of shame or shyness in expressing our emotions; the situation had made us all comrades.
When I reached my studio I found a series of telephone messages from my mother on Long Island, each with an increasing edge of hysteria. Many of the telephone offices had been in the towers, and although some lines were dead others were operational. But when I tried to call my mother I received a message that the phone was inaccessible due to the tornado! Nothing was working very well, and most people went to their offices but no one did any work. We were glued to our radios, listening to the news of the other attacks on our country. And we were occupied with making efforts to contact our loved ones. I finally succeeded in doing so, and was able to reassure my Sikh friends in India that I was well, via email. Thank goodness for the Internet! I don't remember feeling any fear for my personal safety at any time. I was, and I still am, however, worried that the attacks on the U.S.A. might somehow lead to World War III.
Manhattan was on "lockdown" for several days and no traffic was allowed in or out. It felt much better by the weekend, when the avenues were opened up again for business as usual. But the wreckage of the World Trade Center continued to burn for some time, and the air was so bad that I, and many others, developed asthma. I had never before suffered from this condition in my life. And everyone in New York and practically our whole country seemed to be a nervous wreck. For some reason I was not, and resented the efforts of the media to further disturb us, with their continual replays of the planes hitting the towers, the towers falling, the envelopes with anthrax in them. I stopped listening to the news or reading the newspapers.
Americans were quite disoriented by the attacks. I recall some well-regarded Sikhs being attacked and one man in Arizona was actually killed. Of course, the Sikhs were not in league with the Muslim terrorists. But most Americans don't know a thing about Sikhism, a relatively young religion (about 500 years old), started by Guru Nanak as a reaction against the twin oppressions of the Hindu caste system and Muslim Moghul emperors. They just saw foreign-looking guys with turbans, from "that part of the world," and didn't recognize them as loyal Americans. This is the kind of tragically misguided thing that people often do when they are terribly upset, frustrated, and want to do something, anything, to alleviate their feelings of rage and utter helplessness. The only thing that kept me sane was business as usual: finalizing my program with the companies in India that had hired me.
My entire extended family conspired to prevent me from returning to India. Several family members arrived from out-of-state and they tried to present a united front opposed to my travel. But I was determined. When I arrived in Bombay, the war with Afghanistan was well underway. There seemed to be no particular tension in the air. So close to the war zone, I was finally able to relax.