I am sure there isn’t a person out there who doesn’t remember what they were doing at 8:46 on September 11, 2001. That day changed us all. And every year at this time, I can recall how it felt on that gorgeous Septmember morning. These beautiful days, blue skies, crisp mornings… All remind me of driving up to Princeton, NJ early that Tuesday to babysit my nephew. I was helping my sister and her husband that summer a few days a week so they didn’t have to do the daycare thing yet. I got there around 8:20 that morning, in time to say goodbye to my brother-in-law and ready to do breakfast with my 18-month old nephew. I was planning the day with him outside, going for a walk, and playing with his favorite ball. It was a day just like any other day. I talked to my sister on the phone for a few minutes as she was telling me how she would decide that daycare was the only option. She was upset and felt badly that they didn’t have a way to keep him at home. She knew I had to get back to my business in Delaware, and they needed to make the tough decision. That phone call could have saved her life.
See, what I haven’t told you is that my sister Rebecca is an attorney for the Port of Authority of NY and NJ. Her office was on the 61st floor of the World Trade Center… Tower number 1. And yes, she was there that day… sitting at her desk when the first plane hit just above her. It shook the building so hard, her door slammed shut and she had to find her way out. Without hesitation, she made her way to the stairs and began her journey down. Passing firefighters and police on their way up. Knowing, they may never make the trek back down. She made her way out of the building and to my brother’s apartment, about a mile away. Through the streets, covered in ash. While we sat dialing and redialing to hear her voice. Three hours had past before we knew she was alive.
That day, for all involved was a labor of love. It was a day that we tested the strength of our ability to reach out and understand. To find new ways to appreciate each other. To love, regardless of the barriers we once held onto.
That day changed us all. We became a country who loved each other over night. Flags flew everywhere. People held doors again. We embraced strangers. We smiled more. All through tragedy and loss. 2,993 people lost their lives that day for us to remember to be kind and gentle to each other. And I knew some personally. Yet, regardless of whether or not you were personally affected by loss that day, you were a part of the “kindler, gentler nation” we all witnessed and found solace in.
That night, I was given the task of driving to the train station in Princeton to pick up my sister’s car she had left there earlier that morning. She was still stuck in the city until they would let people out. As I pulled into the train station parking lot, it occurred to me I wasn’t the only one there to pick up a car for someone. I saw tears, and fear and so many other emotions I had never seen before. It also occurred to me that some of these car’s didn’t have an owner coming back for it. We were lucky.
On the way home, I stopped at a local sub shop to pick up food. We hadn’t really rememberd to eat all day.
While I was waiting for a large order to feed our family, I sat and watched the days events unfold on the TV. I was glued to it all day, and sitting in the sub shop with strangers didn’t take away the tears. I was mezmerised. I was in shock. I am sure you remember the feeling. And as I sat there, a child, no more than about 6 or 7 was running around the shop screaming, playing with his toys. He was loud. VERY loud. And while that would usually grate on me after a short while, I looked at him and smiled. I had no knowledge of what his day was like, and if he had lost anyone that day either. And if he did, did he even know?
And it hit me… we are so quick to react and to get frustrated with people and we have no idea what their world is like in that moment.
I am always reminded of the quote by Thoraeu: “Most men lead lives of quiet desparation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”
This one day allowed us all to feel the same, and to accept each other for however we chose to be, or not be.
I want that back. I want to find a better way. I want to not get aggrevated at the car driving less than the speed limit in front of me… maybe there is a reason. I want to not get annoyed at the loud children in the restaurant… maybe there is a reason. I want to remember that everyone does things differently and it’s not always wrong. Because my reminder every year at this time is strong. I want it to be strong all year. I want us to not have to wait for tragedy to be kind to a stranger… to hold the door. To be more understanding of our shortcomings as human beings.
Because at the heart of all things is love. Always. How about we find that again? We are so much stronger that way.