The sound of falling rubble resonated from the TV and had abruptly awakened me out of a deep sleep. As I tried to adjust my eyes to view the screen, I suddenly remembered…it was the collapse of one of the Towers of the World Trade Center. I looked over at my brother Eric who sat quietly on the other side of the room.
"What's going on?" I asked, still puzzled about what I had heard.
Eric walked over and sat by my bedside. His expression was one of fear and agony as he rested his hand on my shoulder and said, "Just relax, Michelle. A lot went on in last 24 hours."
"Oh my God…it's true." My eyes began to sting as tears rolled down my cheeks. I buried my face in my hands, unable to breathe or speak.
It was the morning of September 12, 2001; a day after one of the most horrific terrorist attacks the US had ever seen. Having survived the tragedy, barely escaping Tower 2 before its demise, had unexpectedly led my life path onward to an unknown destination.
Looking up at Eric I asked, "What do I do? Has my boss called? Have you heard from anyone? How do I know if anyone's alive?"
"I don't know, but someone called earlier," he said, as got up to hand me a sheet of paper. "They said you needed to call them to account for yourself."
"Account for myself? What does that mean?"
"You need to let them know you're alive."
I took the paper and walked over to the phone. My hand trembled as I dialed the number.
"Hello. Please state your name." The operator said.
"Michelle…Cruz," I replied, my voice beginning to crack.
"Thank you, Ms. Cruz. You have been accounted for. God Bless You." The operator hung up.
The next few hours were spent watching the ghastly footage over and over (and over) again. Returning calls from friends and relatives who left messages on my cell the day before was even harder to bear. I still didn't know if my co-workers, some who had become my good friends, were even alive. The distinct feeling of nausea overcame me as I still bore the stench of burning rubber and smoke from the day before. I had hoped a shower would take away at least the 'outer' memories of what occurred.
Almost immediately after the shower I began coughing heavily and noticed that blood had seeped from my mouth onto the bathroom floor. I reluctantly called to make an appointment with the doctor. The receptionist said he was booked for the rest of the week, but when I mentioned my condition I was told to come in right away.
During the routine checkup the doctor asked, "Have you had any allergies to foods or anything of the sort?" I replied, "No, but…" I hesitated. "I was in the World Trade Center, and I believe that when it collapsed I may have breathed in some of the debris."
The doctor's eyes widened as he stepped back in disbelief. He immediately called one of his nurses into the examination room and I was then given numerous tests. It was found that dust particles consisting of glass and soot had entered my lungs, but they informed me that it should be cleared up in about a week.
As I walked home later that day I felt as if the universe had slowed down; I was more aware of my surroundings than ever before. "Am I dead?" I asked myself. "Am I walking around not knowing I've died?" I couldn't help but purposely bump into pedestrians on the street just to reassure myself that I was still living.
I began to think of my life as a New Yorker in a city known for its strength, courage and resilience. This was my home. In this state of shock and awe, New York had become a haven for lost, tormented souls, and I was among them. Policemen and Firefighters were struggling to keep their composure as they spoke to enraged and panicked civilians, while I could do nothing but look away. I was consumed with guilt for surviving such devastation and wondered why my life was spared. Just then I came across a neighborhood church and felt the impulse to walk in.
This place of worship, where my Mother and I had visited so many times before, also seemed quite different. There was an unusual silence, so deafening I wanted badly to turn around and run out the door. But there was comfort in knowing there were other parishioners in the church, so I slowly made my way towards the front row and knelt before the statue.
As I looked up, my hands began to shake. I clasped them together and said,
"God, I don't know why I'm here – on Earth. I don't know why you let all these people die so tragically and my life is continuing. Whatever the reason, please, please embrace those who have lost family and friends, and let them know you're there for them."
I sat in the presence of God and felt his love surrounding me. I didn't know what was to become of my life or what my next step would be, but I knew in my heart that there was still work to be done. As I arose, I heard a faint voice through my consciousness which said, "You do have a purpose." I felt immediate calm as I walked out of the church.
For the next two weeks I dreaded leaving my house in the fear that I would no longer be able to function in the outside world. My eyes were glued to the TV as if there would be something different to witness – and there was…more World Trade Center victims' families were coming forward with photographs of their loved ones, begging for answers. The anxiety from watching countless hours of footage was unbearable, and I knew I needed to get back to work soon. But where was work? All surviving employees were reporting to an office in New Jersey but I was still waiting to be contacted by the firm.
My anxiety turned to relief when on September 26th I received a call from my manager who asked if I could handle the disaster recovery effort in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It was a two week assignment, and without hesitation I accepted. On the evening of October 1st I landed in Fort Lauderdale airport.
Once I arrived at the corporate housing I unpacked my bags and looked around at my temporary surroundings. For the first time since that horrific day, I was alone. I began to shake uncontrollably as the emotions overwhelmed me all at once. "I'm not dead. I'm not dead! Oh God. WHY?!" I screamed. "Why NOT ME? Why am I here?!" I fell to the floor and cried myself to sleep.
The next morning I awoke with the feeling of uneasiness as I was scheduled to meet with other employees who knew of my experience. "What will they think of me? Will they be afraid to talk to me? What am I doing here?" I thought to myself.
When I arrived at the Ft. Lauderdale office that morning I was greeted with nothing less than heartfelt compassion from all those I had the pleasure of meeting. One man in particular stood out, as if I'd known his face and had spoken with him before. His name was Randy Rosado, the systems administrator for the department and a fellow New Yorker as well. He was now living in South Florida and soon as he spoke I immediately felt drawn to his infectious smile and warmth.
The immediate attraction for Randy evolved into an unconditional love I had never known before. He was my Angel through one of the most emotionally grueling weeks of my life, patiently listening to my words of aching sorrow. He took care of my soul at its weakest, and when I mentioned that I wanted to write an article about my experience on 9/11, Randy gave me the confidence and strength I needed to pursue it. Two weeks after meeting my soul mate I made the conscious decision to stay in Florida and spend the rest of my life with him. I realized that my life path led me to this very moment and I would not lose the chance of happiness. On January 19, 2002 we became engaged.
Through ongoing encouragement from Randy and my loved ones I learned, day by day, to heal from the horror I faced. I then began to look outside of who I was and followed the steps which led me to the morning of September 11th – where I was in my career, my relationships, etc. Back then, which seemed as if it were a forgotten block of time, I saw myself as "Michelle Cruz", the façade of a lost soul who lived each day to the next with no direction or known purpose. It took the one-year anniversary of the tragedy to open my mind of who I really was and where my life path would eventually take me.
Although I was slowly but surely healing from what happened a year before, I awoke on September 11, 2002 with an overflow of the suppressed memories which suddenly surfaced. The startling images of death appeared vividly in my mind as if I were back to that very moment. The anxiety was unexplainable, and I wondered once again what purpose I had here on Earth. That evening I sat in silence, calming my bombardment of negative thoughts and fully allowing positive ones to manifest. In an instant, an unexpected block of thought entered my consciousness. As I listened, it guided me to the full awareness in the NOW of my existence. My mind concentrated solely on the present and a door was opened to new possibilities. I was aware of my own personal power and learned from those who understood true bliss. I was excited beyond belief and wanted to learn more! Once I made the decision to shift my awareness, my life was never seen the same way again.
On a beautiful, Sunday afternoon in New York, a dream came true. I married my soul mate. We came together as one, following the most horrific tragedy this country has ever witnessed, yet love did indeed prevail. As we were dancing to our wedding song ("At Last" by Etta James), Randy leaned in and said, "We did it. We finally did it." I looked into my husband's eyes and said, "Yes, babe. We did it. At last." At last, I was free.
We returned from our honeymoon two weeks later and I was delighted to find that my article, "Will I Recover?" had been circulated to thousands of readers across the US and overseas. I received countless emails from those who were inspired by my story.
After years of searching, I came to understand my true purpose in this world - to be a voice of those who to this day are still grieving from the tragedy, and to live, give and express the utmost gratitude. Life is absolutely magnificent when the heart and mind are opened to its bliss.
Happiness is here, waiting for you.
Find it, and live in the Happiness that is truly yours.
It will manifest and your Light will shine throughout the Universe.