On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I was supposed to be in Tower Two of the World Trade Center for a television interview at 8:30 AM.
Let’s allow that to sink in for a moment:
World Trade Center.
8:30 AM ET.
Twenty years later, I still can’t believe it.
Since I’m here sharing with you my 9/11 experience, obviously I wasn’t there, but that was only out of sheer luck. The night before, I had asked the producer of the show if we could move the interview to the following day. I would be teaching a class right
downtown that morning anyway, so it would be much easier for me to just drop into the studio while I was already down there.
Only problem was, I didn’t tell anyone that I’d moved the interview, because for me it wasn’t a big deal. I had already canceled my 6 AM class for the morning of 9/11, so I decided to go out salsa dancing the night before, since I’d be able to sleep in for
a change. (I’ve taught 6 AM classes for my entire career, and mostly I love starting my day that way, but it’s also nice sometimes to be able to sleep past 5:30!)
So when the first plane hit that morning, I was still in bed. I woke up to find that one of my friends had tried calling me over and over. When I finally answered, he said, “Sarina where are you? Turn your TV on! Are you downtown right now?”
As soon as I did so, I saw the second plane hit. I froze and said, “I was supposed to be at that building today. I changed my meeting til tomorrow.”
The whole city went numb as we continued to watch the news coverage. Classes were canceled for the rest of the week for obvious reasons, as people needed time to process what had just happened. I flew back to the OC to be with my mom. Only two other people
were on the plane with me—that’s how terrified we all were of flying right after.
I came back to a New York that was slowly getting through its shock and starting to rebuild. People needed community and a positive outlet more than ever, and many of my students told me how grateful they were to have my classes at that time. Our lives as New
Yorkers were uncertain and full of fear, and I was happier than ever that I could provide a safe space for people to come together. Of all things to happen, my classes were surprisingly packed.
Unfortunately, the New York I’d come to know and love so quickly was no longer a safe space for me. The racist fallout of the attacks was sudden and extreme, and a lot of Indian people around the country were attacked because people thought they were terrorists—just
for wearing a turban! Even here in New York, people would look at me and think I was Middle Eastern or Arab, and they would yell at me, “Go back to your country.” Suddenly I felt unsafe and unwanted in my own city, which broke my heart.
And my classes, this whole cross cultural platform I’d worked so hard to create—was it going to get me in trouble now? Was I going to attract negative attention by teaching Indian dance moves?
All the way up to 9/11, I completely rocked 2001. I got up at 5 AM every morning with joy. I was on fire, and it showed. But the year following that was the first of many downturns in my career. As with every entrepreneur, it’s easy to see the successes, because
those are obvious. You can see them, smell them, taste them. What people don’t see are the things that go wrong—the stuff that keeps us up in the middle of the night, that we have to fight against with our whole being just to stay afloat. But, just like the
good stuff, these events have been defining moments at every junction of my career, and no story of my business would be complete without them.
Over the last twenty years, the world has been reshaped by 9/11. This day will never be forgotten. Rest in peace to all the lives lost that day and since.
Standing with you,