Each one of us brings an association to this day, September 11. Perhaps you were there, in New York. Perhaps you had family or friends who died on one of the planes or the towers. Perhaps you weren’t anywhere nearby but lived in Paris or Singapore or Montana or New Hampshire. Were you home, watching the news, live, or did someone in your orbit—your husband, wife, co-worker, mother, brother—call you in a frantic state, urging you to turn on the news, suggesting in the meanwhile, “You ought to call So and So.” At a moment of such epic crisis, the world shrinks, and there just might be a single degree of separation. Even if your association is more distant – there are no So and So’s to check on and you bear witness only via the television – how and when you heard the news, and what you felt that day, and in the months and years to follow, has likely changed your world sensibility.
Everything at once. This is what comes to mind today.
A day of absolute horror and yet in the midst of death and irrefutable fear and sadness, there was life: story after story of rescue workers and ordinary people risking their lives to help others; and the web of humanity that emerged in the hours and days and months after September 11, 2001. Humanity that made it possible to go forward.
This is what I mean by Everything at Once. There is death and there is life.
I would not remember until recently rereading a journal that my son, Casey, smiled for the first time on September 11. He and his twin, Rebecca, were just shy of four months old. More life: my friend, Kristi, is fifty today and Riley Hope turns two.
These are happy thoughts even as I fight against an unrestrainable ache in my gut. I am having trouble watching the ceremonies, hearing the names of the deceased, seeing the familiar images of carnage. I don’t want to relive it because it makes me too sad: there is a high school classmate who died; a friend’s husband, a father of three, who kissed his young family goodbye, never to return; thousands of children who lost parents; husbands who lost wives; wives who lost husbands; brothers now without brothers, and sisters without sisters.
And I think of Brett, how he was preparing for a double stem transplant in the midst of this but true to his character, went to work that morning at his midtown office. Were it not for his sister, Marcy, I have no idea how he would have arrived back home that night, at 8:30 p.m. as I recall. He walked with a cane and had to climb down forty or so flights of stairs and then begin the long walk north, more than fifty blocks. Somewhere along the way, a kind taxi driver saw him hobbling, took pity, and squeezed the two of them into a back seat already full of passengers.
Life at its best. Life at its worst. Everything at once.
Here, a happy memory.