I remember. The morning of our one month wedding anniversary, my husband M, and I woke to a beautiful September day, all wrapped up in our love and the significance of the 30 days we’d spent as married folks. Then the phone rang and the TV went on and we watched the second tower fall. We were living in Philadelphia at the time, and as the reports of planes crashing all around us, New York, DC, near Shanksville, PA, came in, we first felt the fear that comes along with an unfolding and uncertain crisis situation. Then the horror sunk in as we realized all the lives that were lost, smothered under rubble and soot and snuffed out in a field. We grieved with the rest of the nation, in a singular moment of connection that will never be forgotten by those who lived through it.
A week later, M and I ventured into NY City to visit our musician friend, A, who had been in the towers buying shoes the day before they fell. As we entered the city via train, we saw the billows of smoke rising from the collective gravesite of our fellow Americans. We smelled the char in the air. Candles and handmade memorials were everywhere. Posters seeking lost loved ones papered the streets. In one of the busiest, most bustling cities in the world, the silence was reverent. The hush told of unspeakable loss. I will never forget.
Today, on the 10th anniversary of that day, I know we remember the lives lost. I know the family and friends whose lives were forever changed that day will be grieving still. Love never dies, and though the pain dulls, senseless, brutal, wrenching loss tenderizes the soul.
I was nursing my daughter to sleep tonight, when she hopped up, ran in the living room to cuddle her Daddy, requested that “bof” of us snuggle with her in her big girl bed and then fell asleep after stroking my husband’s face and throwing her arms around us. I lay there, thinking about how precious this moment was, about how I wanted to savor every second of it, how in the stressful moments of parenting and everyday life, I wished I would draw upon moments like this, remembering how none of us are guaranteed the time we expect to have with each other. I thought about what I wanted to write for this post, and wondered how I could ever hope to write about unimaginable loss with sensitivity. What I felt after 9/11 and what I felt cuddled, safe and loved with my family, is a deep appreciation for the fragility of life, and a recognition of the overwhelming power of love to transform life into something of meaning. When tragedy befalls us, as a nation or as individuals, all of the frivolous concerns are shed, and we are left with acute awareness about what is essential to our lives. Love remains.
As a nation, we have weathered a lot over the past decade. Today, I’m not going to get into the politics of it all, but I worry that we have lost that sensitivity, the heightened understanding we seemed to have in the days following 9/11. We remember the people. But I worry we’ve lost sight of the connection; that we leave the important message of 9/11 to anniversaries rather than carrying it into our daily lives. While it is hard to live each day with the intense awareness of the value and vulnerability of life, when we are in a situation where we can choose connection over conflict, forgiveness over vengeance, love over hatred, we would do well to remember the courage and grace that so many Americans demonstrated after 9/11. We have it in us to be a people of dignity and honor, a people who hold up love as the highest ideal. We just have to choose it, every day, not just when we take time out to remember. Until every individual, every nation learns to do this, we will not have peace. This is not an easy challenge, it requires great sacrifice, struggle and forgiveness; it requires us to be our best selves. For today and tomorrow, let us remember, and honor those we remember by bearing peace and love into a world that can often threaten to bury us under the rubble of pain and discord.