We were enjoying some new found freedom on that Tuesday morning. I had recently gotten an electric scooter, which meant that I could venture out with Marshall, my yellow Lab service dog, to places we didn’t previously go by ourselves because they were too far away to push myself in my wheelchair. So, sitting in Burger King, savoring the last few bites of a biscuit sandwich, while writing some thoughts in my journal was a new thing for us, but it was a habit that I definitely wanted to get used to. Marshall stretched out long at my side. He was napping but alert to my every move, ready to go as soon as I said the word. As I finished writing, I pondered whether I wanted to go straight home or wander into some shops in our neighborhood. Shopping won.
I was clearing away the wrapping and napkins when another customer came in and told everyone that an airplane had hit one of the Towers of the World Trade Center. I looked up, caught by surprise. “That is weird,” I remember thinking. “How would a commuter plane get into that airspace?”
It wasn’t until I got home a few hours later and turned on the TV that the horror of the day hit me in the gut. Black smoke gushed out of a huge hole in the New York City skyline, a hole that was once the Twin Towers. Another plane hit the Pentagon and one crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. The scene that I watched reflected the chaos in my heart.
My first thought was my favorite relative. Uncle Tom is seventeen years older than me, so he spent lots of time babysitting me as a kid. We are very close. He is also my godfather and at the time, was an active duty New York firefighter. Memories flooded through my head. For Christmas one year when I was about seven years old, Uncle Tom bought me the soundtrack to the musical “Annie.” I was obsessed with the story of that little orphan and her hard knock life. I played the record incessantly until it was too scratched to make sense out of. It felt like there was no breath inside me until about six hours later when mom called to tell me that he was okay.
I watched the news that day, along with the rest of the country, and heard all the stories of heroism and heartache. I wept with people who had lost loved ones and celebrated with the people who had made it out alive.
And I was changed. Forever.
On September 11, 2001, I truly understood what it meant to live in the land of the free and that America absolutely was the home of the brave. I realized in my soul, for the first time, that police officers and firefighters routinely put their lives in jeopardy to save strangers who are in danger, and that they do that every day because that is what they choose to do.
Many can say that their lives were changed by the events of September 11th, 2001. People reevaluated their priorities and made different life decisions. I have a cousin who decided to leave her career and go to medical school because she had always wanted to become a doctor.
Every year I take the time to think back to the events of that day and how many people were directly affected by them. I say prayers and watch YouTube videos and read stories of the many memorials. I will continue to do so as long as I live.
A few days ago, when I was thinking about the fact that September 11th was coming up, a new thought struck me. I remember so many details about that day, where I was and what I was thinking. But I don’t remember anything about September 10th, 2001. The day before the terrorist attacks was typical, ordinary, uneventful.
But was it?
I must have had the usual complaints that day. My back hurts, I have lots of spasms. It sucks that I can’t drive. I am out of one ingredient, so I can’t make my favorite recipe for dinner. Why is cable so expensive? What do you mean there is a back order and you can’t ship what I want from your online store for two more weeks?
The next day all those details seemed trivial and silly. And in the light of what happened the day after they certainly were. It is much more important to tell people in my life that I love them than it is to make my favorite meal. I get that. Really I do.
But I also think that one of the lessons I can take away from the events of September 11th, 2001, is to be grateful that there are some days like September 10th when my back hurts and I struggle to get in and out of bed. Because those irritations are part of living my life.
And I need to be grateful every single irritating, incredible moment that I have a life to live, and I am free to live it.