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A very New York 9/11 memory

Pat Hedemark spent five years celebrating life in New York in a joyous “Kirtan” (singing and chanting session) almost every day. Photo: Pat (Progosh) Hedemark

by Pat Hedemark

I was in New York on 9/11, with my wife Radhanga and all six of our kids. They were back from India for a spell and we all camped out with some devotees in the Lower East Side.

I have a unique sentiment for New York. I spent a few years there during the last 5 years of our time with our spiritual leader, Srila Prabhupada. During those years, everyday was quite literally a festival! 5 x 365! That’s a lot of festivals!

I had left New York on an adventure of sorts, only to be drawn back in roundabout 2001. On September 11th, 2001, our sense of normalcy, like everyone else’s, was altered completely in 24 hours.

We were as astounded as everyone. I had left that morning for New Jersey to return a car to a friend. I did so intending to return to promptly to Manhattan. Impossible! I had yet to hear of the attack but all about me were people in degrees of panic! I hustled back to the front desk of the hotel at which I was to drop the car. The lobby was filled with dozen or more people, all watching the TV.

I joined them for a few moments. I saw enough. I left the hotel, kept the car and set out for Manhattan. It took 8 hours. What should have been a 30 minute trip became 6 hours. But I made it!

 When I finally arrived back in Manhattan, Radhanga and  the kids were very quietly relieved, naturally. The street was a flurry of motion. But to my recollection, subdued: not the normal chatter and smiles, which were conspicuous in their absence. The sirens were the soundtrack of the day.

For most of the city, what came to be called “Ground Zero” was unapproachable, it’s goings on left for our imaginations to provide some semblance of reality. I certainly have my personal recollections but the one that sticks is simple and personal. Around 6:30 p.m., one our friends there in the center there told us hundreds were gathering for prayers and readings and just spontaneous moral support. He suggested we go as well and do “what we do;” ie, chant the Hare Krsna Mantra.

I asked Radhanga and the kids “How ‘bout it kids”?

“Let’s do it Pita!” they agreed.

Half hour later we were walking up 1st Avenue with a small contingent of devotees. We turned east and arrived at Thompkins Square park ten minutes later.

“Hey! We said ‘yes’! Shut up and sing!”

-a new yorker in the crowd

The park was packed, with 200 people or more; a decent cross section of folks. In due course, the opportunity presented itself and I asked if we could chant a bit? Our contribution to the moment?

Many people called out their appreciation and invited us to “do what you do!” So willing were they, in fact, that when I attempted to offer a brief preface to the kirtan, some guy shouted “Hey! We said ‘yes’! Shut up and sing!”

You gotta love New Yorkers!!!

Later, many stepped forward and thanked us for joining in. We all did whatever we could, not really sure of what in fact we could do in that moment. I believe we all got schooled that day. We were all mounted upon the spiritual track, deeply questioning our purpose and how to pursue it with newfound determination and humility. This is a day to naturally look back …and to look forward.

Perhaps even more importantly: look around, and reach out to those we can help. We have limited time in these bodies. Then we move on.

“Look around, and reach out to those we can help. We have only a limited time in these bodies. Then we move on.”

-Pat (Progosh) Hedemark

Pat Hedemark (also known by his Krshna name, Progosha Das) worked as a Taxi driver and an Uber driver in New York City. Currently he drives Uber in Los Angelos. He has travelled, worked, and lived in many cities around the globe, but he has a special love for New York.