By Shanon Sidell
“Where were you on 9/11?” a classmate asks. It’s my high school reunion. I admit to him that I don’t think about it much. My heart isn’t big enough to hold the conflicting emotions of the event. It elicits pangs of hatred from all sides. The damage seems irreparable.
Where I was is truly insignificant. I was at home when I awoke with an eerie feeling, perhaps from the silent skies overhead. My phone had a message from my boyfriend. While doing research at the Library of Congress in Washington DC, it was announced that the building was to be evacuated. He went to a pub and watched on a flat screen TV, a single plane stab into the tower, and then a second plane, the clip looping over and over.
My friend Pamela worked at a bank within the Twin Towers. That day, she was to return after maternity leave, but her youngest son had a fever. Though she knew it would be a hardship to her colleagues, she called in as the mom of a sick infant, just for the morning, until she could get family to come help. A choice that likely saved her life.
Jennifer, a graduate from my high school, was working at the World Trade Center that day. Drawing on lessons from her first love, theatre, which exists solely on the teamwork amongst cast and crew, Jennifer both directed and ushered all the people in her department to safety, before she succumbed to the collapse of the towers. She was eight months pregnant.
Jennifer’s story came alive this past weekend at our high school reunion. A few years after her death, her husband contacted our high school, offering to purchase a grand piano for the theatre that she had so loved. That one piano purchase brought about a groundswell of generosity from other alums, affording luxurious seats, state-of-the-art sound equipment, and modern mood sconces for the auditorium walls. The fixtures held 34 lights in all, one for each of her years.
The construction worker who opened the shipment found a “mistake” in the order: A 35th light, unlike all the rest, a tiny, bare, blue light. He knew of the ghost light, a single bulb that is left on at night for theatre ghosts around the world. While the living are asleep, those departed can feel welcome to be a part of the world they left, and replay favorite roles in the space they loved.
The worker took the light, and the lore, to the project manager, who took it to the architect. They all agreed on its significance and what needed to be done.
Now, when asked about my reflections on that day, I can share a deeper story.
For every soul that takes to the stage to express their spirit, joy and creativity with the audience, there is one solitary, blue light continuously overseeing them. The light that only actors on stage can see. The light that theatre ghosts at night can see. A tiny pathway between the worlds to remind us of Jennifer’s smile, her kindness, her leadership, and her legacy.