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The Space Between

Erika Petrelli
Erika Petrelli

Erika reflects of her memories of 9/11, her life fourteen years later, and the space between.


I lived in New York City on September 11, 2001. I don’t live there anymore, but my work is still there, so I’m in the city usually about once a month. As it happens, I was there last week—including Friday, which marked the fourteenth anniversary of 9/11. For myriad reasons, some of which I understand and some of which I don’t, the anniversary hit me on a particularly visceral and emotional level on Friday, and while I can’t even begin to imagine the endless ripple of lives lost, damaged, or forever altered as a result of the events of that day, I still hold my own small experience in a quiet place in my mind and heart. Like most events with such epic consequences, I can recall the day as if it were yesterday. Can’t you?

It was an absolutely gorgeous Tuesday morning. I had just voted in the primary election. I walked into the foyer of my office building in lower Manhattan and immediately heard an unusually loud sound. So loud, it caused me to walk right back outside and look around. Look around, but not up. After a moment I shrugged my shoulders and walked back inside and up to my office on the 5th floor. By the time I got off the elevator, the sirens were already screaming. Moments later a colleague walked off the elevator and said, “A plane just hit the World Trade Center.”

Later. Standing on the roof of my office building with some colleagues and others. Us, among a sea of New Yorkers standing on the roofs of their buildings. All of us staring at the two gaping holes and billowing black smoke pouring from the twin towers. I remember thinking “Wow, this is bad.” And then. And then the distant rumble of thunder. Only it wasn’t thunder. Helplessly, we watched the sky fill with dust and debris as 2 World Trade Center, the second tower hit, fell to the ground.

Later still. Walking from lower Manhattan with my husband all the way to the 59th Street Bridge and then across to Queens where we then lived. Walking amidst thousands of fellow New Yorkers in absolute silence. The city quiet, wondering. Blood centers were already turning people away because so many had turned up to donate blood—to do whatever they could think of to do. The day still beautiful. The soldiers already lining the streets. An early understanding that somehow the world would never be the same.

Back to now, to Friday. My colleague Ana led our company in a beautiful tribute in honor of the day, and invited us to not just look back on what was lost but also look forward into all that has filled the void, to be grateful for what we have.

So on Saturday, back in Indiana, the kids and I were at an outdoor fall festival that my husband organized. We were having a great time, and it was another picture-perfect day: blue sky, huge clouds, light breeze. At one point the kids were gleefully rolling down a large hill. I was sitting on the grass next to my mom, and had literally just commented to her on the contrast between what I had felt the night before—the tightness, the sadness, the fear—and what I felt in that moment, so peaceful and grateful in the wide open and serene space. When seconds later, my daughter Marlowe jumped up and started running toward me, screaming. When I caught up to her I could hear what she was yelling:  “I got stung! I got stung!” She had rolled right over a yellow jacket, who zinged her on the arm. As it happens, I have written not once but TWICE about my own fear of yellow jackets at fall festivals. The irony is not lost on me here.

Is there any connection between the two events? Of course not. Just, this: Bad things will happen. Whether it is the horrific and unimaginable, like 9/11, or momentary discomfort, like the bee sting. My own emotional roller coaster from Friday to Saturday just reminded me of the importance of focusing on the space between that bad things, the space that can be filled with so much good. If we don’t, we’re sunk, because if we don’t, all that is left to focus on is our fear of the next bad thing. And as Frederick Buechner reminds us: “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” Beautiful and terrible things will happen. And our fears about the terrible things that will happen don’t usually stop the terrible things from happening… they usually just block our ability to see the beautiful things. I was on the cusp of this realization when I boarded my airplane Friday night, needing an extra dose of “confidence wine” given what planes represent for that terrible day. And as we took off it occurred to me that I could continue clutching the seat and wondering if some evil was about to befall us, or if some malfunction would bring down the plane, or I could let go. If I let go, I could realize that there was not much I could do if either of those scenarios came to light, so instead I could choose to look out the window and watch how simply stunning the city looks from that distance. I could watch the miraculous cloud formations as the day gave over to night. I could fill the space between with gratitude and awe.

How can you fill the space between? 


As the universe is truly trying to clear the way for this message for me right now, just after I finished this entry I saw a post by Simon Sinek paying tribute to a man named Scott Dinsmore, whom I had never heard of but who died in a tragic accident a few days ago while hiking Mt. Kilaminjaro with his wife. Sinek included a link to a TED talk that Dinsmore did in 2012, which I watched, and loved. It was an inspiring talk about finding your passion—finding the work you can’t not do. Dinsmore founded “Live Your Legend,” a website with resources designed to help you do just that. At a very young age, Dinsmore figured out what some of us never do—that life is to be lived, now, and that if you are living your passion you not only make your life better but you make your community and the people around you better. It is heartbreaking to me that his life came to such an early end, and it further emphasizes for me the importance of filling the space between… of grabbing onto RIGHT NOW.  

He posted his final entry on his website on Sept. 4th, saying that he was going off the grid for a week or so to take on Kilimanjaro. He talked about the importance of disconnecting in order to reconnect. In it he talks about another kind of space between-- the pause between our connection to our technology. He closes his post like this:  

"Get out, play, explore and watch what comes of it.

No one else is going to do it for you.

Be the example.

Give life to the pause, and the pause will offer you even more in return.

See you in a few weeks,


Let's all take time to give life to the pause, to the space between, today.



Interested in having Erika’s blog come directly to your e-mail each Tuesday? Have comments to share?  E-mail her at erika@tlpnyc.com.   Find all her previous blog posts at www.tlpnyc.com/author/erika

Erika Petrelli

By Erika Petrelli

Erika Petrelli is the Senior Vice President of Leadership Development (and self-declared Minister of Mischief) for The Leadership Program, a New York City-based organization. With a Masters degree in Secondary Education, Erika has been in the field of teaching and training for decades, and has been with The Leadership Program since 1999. There she has the opportunity to nurture the individual leadership spirit in both students and adults across the country, through training, coaching, keynotes, and writing. The legacy Erika strives daily to create is to be the runway upon which others take flight. If you enjoy these blogs, you should check out her interactive journal, On Wings & Whimsy: Finding the Extraordinary Within the Ordinary, now available for sale on Amazon. While her work takes her all around the country, Erika calls Indiana home.