For about 20 years I’ve been an independent contractor. Because of the tragedy of 9/11 and its ripple effects, I came to know the term “income streams.”

And, my word, does it make me happy.

As we approach the 20-year mark for the despicable terrorist attacks that day, I have been reflecting a lot on how they changed my life and how important it is that I apply what I learned then to our current global health crisis, the pandemic.

Both are shattering events that call for emotional strength and soul searching. They beg us to reflect on our current lives, appreciate what we have, not take things for granted, but also make us more directed in our future endeavors.

On September 11, 2001, I was a New Jersey resident working as a television producer at Oxygen Media in New York City. Six months later I joined more than 20 colleagues in a mass layoff. Not only did I lose my job, but the Catholic Church was reeling because the Boston Globe had just exposed massive coverups of pedophilia among clergy, so I was church “shopping” as well.

After the initial shock of what felt like a crumbling world, some things started to sink in. It was the first time I had an opportunity to really connect with my community. It was a fresh start, a chance for renewal. I had spent most of the 1990s working as a sports writer/columnist for The Times of Trenton and had made the jump to the New York market and web journalism a few years earlier. All fine, but I was in a loop of nose-to-grindstone with little thought given to fulfillment outside of work, my own life’s purpose, or being in service to others.

I wondered, what now?

Motivated to do something that would help people, I trained as a life coach and earned my certification. I began taking editing and freelance writing jobs. I created a web presence, learned to network, built a clientele, sought volunteer opportunities. Sometimes my financial life got messy, but I took “money” jobs that would allow me to keep on being creative in my off hours.

A few years into this, I read A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf and became obsessed with the story she tells of living on a modest inheritance from her aunt and how it liberated her. I came across this life-altering sentence: Or watch in the spring sunshine the stockbroker and the great barrister going indoors to make money and more money when it is a fact that five hundred pounds a year will keep one alive in the sunshine.

That resonated with me so much I published a memoir with the title Alive in the Sunshine; it chronicles the new path I forged after our nation’s tragedy. Now I see it as a blueprint. The book is a mashup of lessons gleaned from books I read, films I watched, museums I visited, and a steady diet of reflection before panoramic views of the Manhattan skyline from my urban town on the Jersey side of the Hudson River.

We are heading into the final portion of a year in which I lost my father to COVID-19 and so many others are suffering and struggling to survive. There are days when sadness envelops us before we even get past our morning coffee.

I have finally, finally, reached a point where I am open to the idea of renewal again. Just seeing the Freedom Tower every day is a reminder about the power of starting fresh. I turn to my own words and they feel like a balm amidst the packed ICU units, flood-soaked possessions by the curb, and political division.

“Find your way in the world meaningfully,” I wrote in my memoir. “Read signs. Follow the breadcrumbs. There is a universal flow. There is. Pay attention to it. Don’t you see clearly now what resides there, in that attentiveness? Freedom, peace on most days, a capacity for joy, possibility, light beyond the darkness.”

In this week where we head towards 20 years since that fateful day in our country, I find myself focusing on not what is happening around us, but what can be. What is my part in that?

I can’t wait to find out.