My experience happened on September 11, 2001. I was temporarily working in New York, away from my partner in England. My new colleagues were all busy with their own lives, and I had found the experience of living in New York very lonely. The day before, I had handed in my notice, intending to move back to the UK, and having done so I felt as if a great weight had lifted from me.
The morning of September 11, I had headed into Manhattan from the house in New Jersey where I was renting a room. It was a sunny morning, and I was feeling the best I had felt in a long time. After leaving the Port Authority bus terminal, I went into a nearby HSBC bank. There was a woman in the line in front of me and she was watching a muted TV on the wall. I heard her gasp and looked up. On the screen, I could see one of the Twin Towers on fire.
At that time in my life, I had a great fear of terrorism. In the previous few years, I had had some near misses with terrorist attacks in London. Coming from New Zealand where things like this didn’t happen, the experiences had left me very frightened. When I told people about my fears, they would say things like, “Don’t worry about it. What are the chances it will happen again?” And then it would happen again. One of the reasons I had accepted the job offer in New York was to get away from the bomb scares in London.
In New York, after seeing the burning tower on the television screen, my heart erupted into a hard, rapid beat, my limbs turned weak and tingly, and my mind began racing in pure panic. I remembered that after some of the events in London, public transport had been closed down, so instead of walking to my office in midtown, I got back on a bus to New Jersey. On the way back an announcement to the drivers came over the intercom. It said something like, “All city bound drivers turn around and return your passengers to where they boarded. This is not a drill. This is a genuine emergency.” I had quite literally caught the last bus out.
As we exited the Lincoln Tunnel, the other passengers and I stared silently at the burning tower as smoke was belching out of it. Back in the empty house, I turned on the television and viewed the unfolding emergency. As I watched, I became even more frightened, with my imagination thinking that this might be the beginning of World War III, and that I was stuck in one of the most dangerous places on Earth, far from my family and partner. Not knowing what else to do, I filled the bath with water thinking that clean water might be hard to come by in an emergency. However, the water slowly leaked away as the plug was not a tight seal. To me, this seemed like a disaster. I wanted to flee, but I had nowhere to flee to; everyone I knew lived in either Manhattan or Brooklyn.
I decided to pack a bag anyway, but I found that my body wasn’t responding properly. It felt as if I were trying to wade through thick mud. My limbs were heavy, and my mind was filled with static terror. Deciding what to take and making my body do anything took enormous effort. I tried to ring for a taxi to go somewhere, anywhere far away, but the local taxi firm only spoke Spanish and couldn’t understand me. I felt trapped.
At this point, I became aware of how cold I was. Although it was a warm day, I was shivering uncontrollably. I remember sitting down on the side of my bed and then lying down and pulling the covers over me. I lay there shivering until, all of a sudden, every muscle in my body relaxed and a wave of warmth spread over me. The only thing I can liken it to is that moment of utter relaxation just before you go unconscious when given full anaesthesia.
I don’t know what happened to me next; I don’t know if I was just asleep or whether I was fully unconscious. I’ve tried to find information about this happening to other people on the Internet but have had no luck. I can’t swear to the order of the following events; what happened when is a little unclear.
I remember being shown a large black-and-white pattern of fuzzy concentric circles radiating outward at a fast pace. Someone, I don’t know who, explained to me that this pattern was waves of fear. The waves were spreading out from downtown New York, out to the whole world.
Next, I was in a place of white light that seemed as if it were a world of clouds. In it was a large group of people standing as if at a concert, looking toward the stage. I understood that these were the people who had just died in the Twin Towers. None of them seemed at all distraught. In fact, everyone was very calm and peaceful. A most wonderful sense of love and peace pervaded everything, and they were soaking it up. It is hard to describe just how loving it felt. I was also aware of more spiritually advanced beings; one of them I felt was Mother Mary, at the front of the group. They were transmitting messages of welcome and comfort, enfolding the people in love.
The other thing that I became aware of (and I don’t know if it happened before, after, or during the events that I described above) was an image of my brother back in New Zealand. A voice spoke and it very clearly said, “The only thing that matters is love. Nothing else matters.” I looked at my brother and knew that I was being asked to give up my feelings of resentment toward him for some of the things he and my father had said to me as a teenager. I knew that I had to let those grudges go and see him as the wonderful man he now is. I knew that I needed to love him now and not wait until I died.
The next thing that happened was that my phone rang. My mother back in New Zealand had woken up in the night and turned on the radio near her bed. She had heard about what was happening in New York and was calling me. I, on the other hand, did not want to return to the terror of New York. I desperately wanted to stay where I was and resented the phone ringing. It was with a great deal of reluctance that I returned to consciousness and answered the call.
For many years after the events of 2001, I was plagued with great anxiety. I later learned that the term for this was PTSD. I was also weighed down with overwhelming shame for not having been braver. While one of my friends was spending the days after the attacks helping out downtown, I had been paralysed with fear. It is only many years later, that I have been able to realise how blessed I was to have had that near-death-like experience. I have read and watched many videos of NDE experiences. This has helped clear away much of my fear of death. This year, like everyone else, I have been locked down due to COVID, but unlike in the past, I am not overwhelmed with anxiety. Instead, I feel calm and at peace.