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The B&B Team
Idyllic Inn Setting

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On Transformative Events and the Human Community


Today is September 11, 2009. We all remember this date eight years ago, but today as I was listening to many of the memorials and speeches and talking with friends and family about it, I was reminded about how our lives can be forever changed by transformative events like the attacks of 9/11/01. And many of the changes are positive.

Big, and I mean really big, events and periods, especially those that we view as terrible at the time of their occurrence, have a way of causing us to reexamine what is important in our lives. Whether it be an illness or death of a friend or family member, a stock market crash and harsh recession, or watching the attack of our homeland on live television, we always end up taking stock. Taking stock of what we think is important: our jobs or careers, whatever. And then, surprisingly, many of us decide that we need to do something else. Behave differently. Be kinder. Do something more meaningful. Worry less about some things and more about others. And it is this taking stock that has brought many people into Innkeeping.

Why? I think it's because Innkeeping is about people. Service. Kindness. Restoration. Many of you who believe that you want your life to be about more than just "making a living" and, instead, want to make a difference in other people's lives while still making a living, have chosen (or are considering) Innkeeping as a profession. At The B&B Team we're glad you think this way, because we have the good fortune of working with people who, in our humble opinion, are somehow a little bit better than many, more elevated, sharing a higher purpose.

After the attacks of 9/11, innkeepers across the country found their business upended. An initial flood of cancellations in many cases lead to new bookings by folks needing to get out, get away, find some peace and security. And where did they turn for that sense of safety and togetherness? To small inns. These weary and frightened travelers looked to innkeepers for solace, even as those innkeepers themselves needed some solace of their own. But in the serving, the sharing, the caring for, the feeding and smiling for the benefit of others, innkeepers found themselves uplifted as well.

Community is an overused word in this era of social media, but the community of humanity remains an enduring precept, one which transformative and often tragic events make us appreciate all the more.


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11 Responses to “On Transformative Events and the Human Community”

  1. Anthony Cooper says:

    Community values are great. But I find it rather tasteless that you should use the tragic deaths of 9/11 to promote anything. To tout Inn keeping or any other particular “career”. Have you no respect or ethics ?

  2. Vikki Woods says:

    With your comments today,had to pass this along. Hilary is my daughter – I didn’t know she was under the World Trade Center, thank heavens!
    “Don’t worry, we have plenty of time, it’s only quarter ’til! Once the train starts moving we’ll be there in seven minutes, and you can run across Sixth Avenue like a maniac, you’ll be fine!” I know this because we’ve taken this train a thousand times, or at least it seems so. Hilary is never late, and her first day of Cosmetology School is not the day for her to start. She’s taken six months off of work to do this and she won’t have some train ruin her perfect attendance record at the outset. We had run like hysterical rabbits to make the PATH train into the City, and were taking the quickest route we knew, but we had hit a snag. We’re stuck in the station, waiting for the E to leave. It’s been several minutes and the wait is unusual for the train at this hour; just before 9 am. Normally it pulls in and leaves in under two minutes, but despite the doors being closed, we still haven’t moved and the commuters are getting hotly impatient. The warm late summer morning hasn’t heated up much yet, but a full train never gets less tense or less crowded.
    “Eight forty eight!” I chime, “Still plenty of time if we leave soon.”
    My watch doesn’t have a second hand, but I eye it as closely as possible so keep her appraised of how little she has to worry about. I’m two hours early for work because I wanted to ride in with her, I’m only here for support, because I want her first day to go smoothly too. I’m excited about her venture into my industry, I imagine how much we will have to share over the next several months, and how our futures might change because of her unexpected and daring move into a new career. “Look! You still have TEN MINUTES. It’s plenty of time. Plenty!” I’m only partly making it up, I know that the train rattles the tracks in the first few speeding steps of its long path through Manhattan.
    Suddenly the train takes off with a jerk, everyone falters and fastens their grip anew. There is no accompanying inertial pause, which I note. One of many notes I make this day, but it’s still early yet. We go screaming through the tracks in the darkness, and I joke that the conductor must have heard Hilary’s impatience and is trying to making up for lost time. I still count the minutes to her as we speed towards this important, significant day of ours. “OKAY we’re here run run run!” We’re laughing as we run up the stairs, leaping up the last few steps onto Sixth Avenue, the last laughter we share for what seems like a lifetime.
    I run across the avenue with her, I am protective of my best friend and I intend to run interference for her through the traffic. I know that she is focused on her destination more than she is on anything else at this point. I would have stopped short had I not been shadowing her so closely and unable to stop; there was no traffic at all. At all. Not one car careening up Sixth Avenue bearing the last-minute latecomers to work, not one delivery truck, not one cab. I lingered, commenting on this; “Did we come up into a Twilight Zone episode? Where are all the cars?” Hilary, determined, runs on. “I don’t know!” she yells over her shoulder, and clearly doesn’t care. Okay, see you later, lunch, the usual hurried goodbye we share in a friendship of total trust and acceptance. We’ve been friends since we were fourteen, and we’ve never had to say sorry or goodbye; we’ll always see you later and we’ll never be mad.
    I turn, my own mission accomplished; Get Hilary to Her First Day of School Unscathed. Check. Now to get some breakfast and get to work in my new and temporary workplace, referred to as ‘The Office’. The retail boutique that I work at is being renovated, and we’ve set up a makeshift interim space in an oddball space in Soho. It’s a conglomeration of Independent Film makers, lawyers, and a sound production studio for good measure. It’s a wonderfully laid back environment, a loft turned into spacious ‘offices’ surrounding a massive pool table and sitting area, with weekly parties that spin anecdotal stories of lost shoes and drinks that find their way into my keyboard. I’m looking forward to a leisurely breakfast over the great wooden table with the cute lawyer with the stories about Sundance Festival parties.
    But something catches my eye and makes me hesitate, no longer able to brush off the absence of normalcy as easily as Hilary can. Maybe there are no cars on the street for a reason, hey maybe there’s a holiday that no one told me about. I can walk past a lot of things, that’s what growing up in New York City can do for an individual, but I can’t ignore TWO major differences in my city. Aside from no cars, there are groups of people gathered here and there, all staring the the same direction, South, and looking up at a huge cloud of what looks like glitter. “Glitter.” I say pointlessly, to no one. This is becoming surreal. It looks like some kind of promotional stunt, but coupled with the stark, empty streets, becomes less than inviting. Nothing stops this city, so what could it be?
    The glittering, moving cloud seems to be coming from a building only a few blocks away, a new hotel. I wonder out loud, vaguely hearing someone say something about building materials. A cloud of building materials? Some kind of explosion? I get some measure of humor from the idea that this new structure should fail so catastrophically and in such a pretty manner. I make some joke about a drag party gone awry, which gets an appalled look from a passerby. Eh, no sense of humor. I’m in no rush and this looks more interesting than paperwork, so I start walking towards the hotel to get a better look. As the angle changes and the distance shortens, the origin of the event is changing, moving further away. I see more and more small congregations of people. I wonder what would bring these disparate individuals to huddle together, men in cook’s uniforms seeking refuge with a woman in a suit, neighborhood locals in pajamas discussing this foreign intrusion with worried looking tourists in bright shorts and forgotten maps dangling from limp hands, all focused on this one point to the South.
    I finally make it far enough West and South to make out where this unending, glittering, pulsing cloud is coming from, and it can’t register in my head. I round the corner to see one of The Towers torn wide open, a gaping oblong hole in it. It’s a sight so unnatural that I cease to process any more, I am so engrossed in convincing myself that it is indeed real and not a special effect. I tun to the nearest huddle of strangers, “What happened? What’s going on?”
    “A plane hit the building” someone says. Really. This is beyond experience, and I turn back to retrace my steps back to the school that I’ve left Hilary in moments before. I look at my watch, the definer of my morning, and it’s barely past nine o’clock. Hilary should know about this, it’s important, I tell myself. This is important. But I don’t know why. I go back to the school and lumbering through the salon, find her classroom, standing outside the doorway until she sees me and I motion for her to come outside. Hilary’s presence in this new reality will help, I tell myself. I can face it better if it’s her and I together, knowing at the same time. She can separate reality from imagination with me. But she’s determined to stay in the classroom, so I leave, not wanting to cause a disturbance. I make a quick call to my husband Sean at home in Hoboken, not wanting to miss getting this on video, I tell him to get on his bike and go to the river and film it. It’s a lucky hit with the phone, and one that will save my family and Hilary’s much worry over the course of that day, because it’s the last phone call that goes through.
    When I return to the street, I have a new boldness with me. Hilary doesn’t think it’s scary so it must not be. I tell myself that this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, not one to run from. This is the second time in the City’s history that a plane has hit a building (the first being a small plane hitting the Empire State in it’s infancy) and I don’t want to tell my grandchildren that I went back to my office rather than witness it for myself. I don’t want to see the pictures on the news, I want to see it in person. I start walking towards the World Trade Center, quite proud of myself for taking the more exciting path of Witness rather than Viewer. Several blocks later, something strange in a day of strange starts happening. I see people running up the street, running as if they were being chased. A man in a beautifully tailored suit pelts past me, looking over his shoulder and crying, face contorted in fear. “What’s happening!” he bellows, it’s a guttural, horrifying scream that freezes me to the spot for a moment. “He must be crazy” I think, putting one foot in front of the other, not wanting to put all of these pieces together. Let me keep my world as it was for one more moment, one more block. Let my life stay unchanged for just a little longer…
    I stop occasionally to ask someone if they know what is happening. It seems everyone is paying attention but very little is known. Someone has the outrageous thought that it is a terrorist attack. “Total Bullshit” I think, “There’s never been an attack on U.S. soil, how is that possible? It’s just an accident.”
    I’m walking faster, and things are changing more as I get closer to the Center. It’s only about fifteen blocks from where I started and I walk quickly, not wanting to miss anything. Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, right? “I mean, how often do planes hit the World Trade Center?”
    I receive my unfortunate answer in a roar and a ball of flame that burns the air above me, I can feel the heat from the blast, the smell of gasoline harsh in my nostrils. I was directly North of the Tower when the second plane hit, I never saw it coming from the South. A moment that I would relive over and over for hours, days, years bursts into all of my senses at once, the sound and the agony fierce in my ears and my eyes, on my skin, in my heart. I too, turn and run now, scrambling to keep ahead of crowds of fleeing humanity. I run all the way back to Hilary.
    She comes out of the classroom again, sympathetic but still unmoved, she is not going to be scared by this. So I return to the street but a little less sure of my place in the world this time. I make my way to the office, thinking that it’s time to find out what the rest of the world is seeing. I hear the words Pentagon and White House murmured in passing, but don’t know how to connect them to what is happening here. When I arrive at our office space, some people are huddled around the TV, some are having quiet discussions in a corner, there are some friends gathered around. The electricity is out in many areas here, so people are finding each other in small havens of working televisions, radios and coffeepots. I learn that the whole world is watching us and I learn some of the details that are now so familiar. I can’t reach anyone on the phone, and I can’t imagine that the worst is yet to come, so I determine that I could at least see how the day unfolds.
    I take the freight elevator down to the street again, and figuring that New York’s Finest and Bravest couldn’t have failed to get everyone heroically to safety, I stand on the corner to remain Witness, not Viewer, to the News-worthy scene before me. I could not enjoy a crime taking place, but watching the cleanup is at least interesting. So I watch. I note the white-hot metal at one of the corners of the second building, thinking to myself that it could not remain for long, it could not maintain that weight above that spot. Thinking about this monumental event that would be taking place when the building eventually accepted it’s role in history, I actually started wandering closer again, fascinated by this moment unfolding before me. The Towers burned, this would be remembered for a lifetime. As I watched, the same glittering cloud enveloped the scene, a mist of glass and pulverized metal, the last breath of the Tower is the powder of desk phones and plaster. I see something else in the fluttering debris, and I try to focus on it, I don’t want to miss a detail in this profound tragedy. Multiple shapes, larger than the surrounding dust, oddly jointed and moving independently. I try harder, calling to mind all possibilities. Finally with a gasp and a retch, I recognize it.
    It’s people. People are jumping or falling from the building. Rather than spend another minute in this new hell, they are choosing to leap off the building, a journey of interminable seconds with a predictable ending rather than agonizing eternity on the roof. I see people holding hands. I see people dying in front of me in the dozens, maybe hundreds. I cannot stop the progression of horror, I cannot breathe, I cannot think. I turn, blinking, blinded, and stumble away, finally full of the new experiences. No amount of regret can take that image away, the people falling through the shimmering cloud of building material.
    I get away, my hands on the walls in front of me, guiding me away where my eyes can’t see any longer. I somehow make my way back to my building, I don’t remember those few minutes. As I approach the doorway, a sounds begins, deep and far away. It starts as a low grinding, as if a garbage truck were crashing in slow motion, and builds to a noise that is so loud I feel like it’s never stopped to this day. I can hear a screaming voice, many screaming voices, my own is one of them, and I’m running again. I am running towards the Tower as if I can make it stop by force of will. It has to stop. I remember standing in the spot that I had just vacated, hands in the air like everyone around me crying NO as if it mattered what we thought. The ground shook and groaned, I felt like the Earth was going to move and swallow us up, I wished that it would, just to make the noise stop, make the images stop. I’m on my knees with shock, hands over my ears, hands on the ground, I have to get up before I get trampled.
    What do I do now? What matters? Hilary matters. I run like I’ve never run before or since, back to her school and I tear through the halls, the students are now out of the classroom, only now starting to join in the experience of the day, only now are they realizing that something is really going on. I demand that Hilary leave with me this time, now I am afraid for many reasons and all I know is that we have to stick together. She leaves with me, and I don’t tell her about the people jumping, it’s too vulgar to speak of, the desperate, silent deaths of these people in front of the whole world. But I tell her all else that I know, and together we decide to return to the office. We make our way through the streets towards the refuge of my office, but midway there is another sound, another crushing rumble of concrete and glass. Hilary and I are holding hands and I twist away from her, I’m trying to run somewhere, I know what’s happening and I can’t bear it, I’m about to overload. She keeps a firm grip though, and snaps at me “Keep it together! You can’t lose it now, we have to keep going!” It’s enough to get me focused again. Back to the office, where we make a few frantic phone calls that never get through. I reassure her that my husband knows that we’re okay, and her husband is only a few blocks from mine, so our families know that we were not in the building when it fell.
    We spend some time there, incoming phone calls are connecting us to the entire world that we know, our friends and coworkers are all connecting, their family members are reaching us for reassurance. When the calls stop coming and we know that our usefulness there is at an end, we start catching up on the rest of the world. We learn of the additional planes and their demise, we learn a new name and a new enemy. We learn a lot in a few short hours. The office has become a gathering place for many, it’s quiet and subdued as people come in and touch hands with friends, reassure each other with physical contact that they are really safe, really there. HIlary and I have long periods of silence, punctuated with moments of mild hysteria, which the other quickly quells. We have each other to keep sane in a world turned against us, where the ground isn’t safe and the skies are on fire. We efficiently transfer responsibility and sanity back and forth until we can both share it equally.
    I don’t remember exactly what turned the mood, but a moment came when I knew that we had to move, and now. I turned to Hilary and said “Either it’s going to keep happening, or it’s not, but either way, half of New York City is going to be without power, and I want to be off of it by the time the sun goes down. If we have to swim, we have to get off this island.” Which was much more dramatic than the reality, which turned out to be just a ferry ride. But we spent several hours walking and waiting, all the while we had our faces turned upwards, watching for another plane, or anything really. The unfamiliar and frightening had come home to stay, and nothing fearsome seemed impossible. We got on the first bus that ran up the avenue, no one paid and the bus driver just stopped for whomever raised a hand. As we sought a route home, we witnessed a new sight on top of all else that was new that day; simple human kindness. We saw people sharing their food and water with each other, we saw store owners passing out bottles of juice and drinks, we saw people offering help wherever they could to whomever they could. People were wandering around, bleeding and injured, far from the Center. Some were just standing in place, crying for any one or a thousand reasons. And people were approaching them and comforting them, soothing their hurts and finding them help.
    We finally stopped too, we were hungry and exhausted. Of all places, we stopped at a Church for water and food and a bathroom. And pressed on. I was determined to get to the water, and we made our way to the West Side and the Ferries, which weren’t running yet. We got on line and didn’t care where we wound up, just as long as we got to another shore. If Manhattan was a target we weren’t going to stand on it. We were lucky to have started early, the line behind us stretched out and up the streets, miles long it seemed. We also were lucky enough to find ourselves on the very first Ferry to Hoboken, we wouldn’t have to walk the five miles home from another landing.
    Riding that Ferry was one of the most conflicting trips I’ve ever taken. We were giddy about getting out alive, we’d discovered that a PATH train behind us had been buried in the rubble. We were shocked that we’d been on the last train to make it out of the tunnel, all others had been stopped midway and thrown into reverse, we had come close to getting left behind. We found out later that the conductor had made the decision to speed out rather than discharge the passengers; a move that had kept us from having to run outside into a scene of breaking horror, the people I later witnessed falling were already starting to jump within minutes of nine o’clock, if we had had to leave the train we would have had to thread the plaza where they lay. We were still fearful, vulnerable and on the water, we watched the skies still. When we turned the Southernmost end of Manhattan, the Ferry fell into silence as we passed underneath the site of the attack, a smoking, fiery ruin where a familiar skyline had always been. The smell will never leave me. Disembarking from the boat, we had to pass through a line of men in full Biohazard suits, they inspected every person off the Ferry for soot from the collapse.
    In the days and weeks to come, I would try to forget much of what happened, and deny that I suffered from it. After all I personally saw people who were really injured, traumatized, hurt, and they weren’t me. I didn’t deserve anyone’s sympathy because nothing had happened to me. There were real heroes of that day, real losses, real tragedies, and none of them were me. And for years I tried to find a way to be one or the other; unaffected or victimized, but could find justification for neither. So I lost my feelings in between, and filled the pain with other distractions.
    *This is only one small part of the September 11th event, even for me. But I realized today that I had never really faced what happened. I’ve told this story several times, but always as if it were no big deal. And it isn’t really, I didn’t suffer a scratch and I don’t pretend that I somehow deserve to be called a survivor. In the middle of it I never knew what was going on, it wasn’t until we were safe that I found out how close we’d come to having very different lives. But I can no longer tell myself that I’m not affected because I didn’t die. I am affected. I am angry. I am assuredly not a victim, but I am not unaffected. I can’t watch movies about it and I don’t understand why they exist. I don’t understand how the U.S. could have gotten so full of itself that this could have happened and that the rest of the world said “Maybe you deserved it.” It happened, we survived, the world is different, life goes on.
    I still remember and I always will.

  3. Hoyt says:

    Well said, my friend, well said.

  4. Thank you for writing such a beautiful artical. It took us awhile to become innkeepers, but we love everything about it.

  5. Harriet Gott says:

    Peter, That is one of the most thoughtful and well expressed essays I have read. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with all of us.
    Harriet Gott at Bufflehead Cove inn

  6. Rick Wolf says:

    I don’t usually comment on my partner’s blogging…(bad business form?)…..but his posting triggered a flood of personal memories and emotions and I have to say, thank you Peter, for this posting.
    Jan & I were Innkeepers on 9/11/01 and remember the gamut of emotions that we experienced…..that our guests experienced…. that those guests who couldn’t get to us experienced….that those guests who couldn’t get home experienced….and how we all shared our grief and looked for comfort in an “upside down” new world.
    I was proud to be an Innkeeper then and I remain proud of our colleagues, personally known to us….and not, who yesterday and today still give of themselves first and foremost…. Thanks to you All!

  7. Thanks, B&B Team for making the effort to encourage we innkeepers. Clearly you were NOT using 9/11 to capitalize on anything, as one unfortunate responder stated. Following this horrific national tragedy of 9/11, we had guests from the Pentagon and others from Manhatten who came to “escape” the city and reflect on their personal experiences of. One weekend, we had two different couples from Manhatten that didn’t know each other, but had both been at the World Trade Center on that historic day. One was planning a move to Virginia; the other was planning on resuming life in NYC. Conversations were heart-wrenching and fascinating. In the case of the Pentagon couple, both worked in the section of the building that was hit by the plane. One was evacuated to the inner court yard; the other to the outside of the building. They didn’t find one another for six hours – all that time not knowing if the other one had survived! All of these folks were here for the same thing – rest, quiet, “peaceful porch sitting”; and the personal attention provided in a bed and breakfast setting. We are very grateful to have the opportunity to be stewards of a property that provides the setting. It is our privilege, as well, to hear our guest’s stories and serve their needs. Yes, innkeeping, is not just a business. Thanks for the reminder!

  8. A remarkably insightful and well written letter, Peter…Thank you! It’s so true that we who choose to open our homes to others, often open our hearts as well. And in the doing, enrich both their lives and our own. On that fateful day, I lived up in the Washington, D.C. area- working for years at the bustling Tyson’s Corner…people everywhere with lots of money- but not lots of time to really connect and live life as it should be lived. 9/11 brought that into sharp focus- and we decided to move down to Abingdon, Virginia and open the Copper Lantern Inn. I regret only that I did not do it sooner. What an amazing number of fine folks and fascinating experiences it has brought our way! The anonymity of big city life has been replaced by personal contact- sharing of talents and time and human emotion…often around our antique farm table, surrounded by the famous quotes of our Virginia forefathers on the dining room walls. “The example of Virginia is a powerful thing”…Patrick Henry, 1778. “To be a Virginian is a tremendous much is expected of us”..Nancy Astor, 1951. I have joined the long line of Virginians- and innkeepers everywhere- who have extended their hospitality to those seeking comfort and respite from the harsh realities of our world today. In the sharing, we all find our better selves, and we carry on the American spirit which has made our nation great.
    So, thank you, Peter, for reminding us and keeping us connected…grounded in the common purpose of serving in our own small ways.

  9. Thank you to all who have shared your comments. There’s not much to say or add except that I continue to be touched by the true heart of innkeepers. Carry on!

  10. Mary Ellen Mason says:

    I found this posting to be poignant and beautifully composed. Not that it should take a tragedy of any magnitude to arise the desire to “take care” of our fellow man but unfortunately sometimes we are so caught up in our own personal lives that we forget to look beyond ourselves. It is only when we share our time, talent, resources and simple words of kindness to others that our lives are truly enriched.
    Life is fragile and should be cherished as a responsibility as well as an opportunity to be the best person that we can be in our homes, our workplace, our neighborhood, our country and our world.

  11. Rick Wolf says:

    Thanks to our friend and colleague Mary Ellen for her comments. As one who has experienced great joy in her life, she has also experienced grief that is beyond words. So my friend, I say to you, “To Life” and that we all be the “best person we can be in our homes, our workplace, our neighborhood, our country and our world”.

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