If you are looking for something political or angry or exceptionally sad, I humbly ask that you move on. Those are all valid perspectives and I’m sure you will be able to find blog posts to suit what you seek. This is a discussion of personal discovery.
Backdrop: In August of 2001, I was fortunate enough to travel with a friend to the West Coast and see parts of the state of Washington (Ocean Shores and Friday Harbor both come to mind). Took in a little whale watching and even spent some time in Vancouver, BC. Everything was incredibly beautiful. The “better do this now before I’m chained to the lab” trip was right before I started graduate school.
Story: I was running late on 9/11. I know this because my same friend would normally drop me off at the subway station. He drove me to DC only if it seemed as though I wouldn’t make it to class on time. Jumping from the car, I scurried into the building and plopped down in a chair. Whew, on time again. After starting class, the professor was called away and left the room. I do remember him, at some point, indicating that we had to evacuate the building. Something about a plane hitting one of the Twin Towers in New York. Everyone gathered up tangibles and streamed outside into the courtyard. There we stood chattering, reminiscent of a childhood fire drill until some lone voice broke through with the message – just go home. Don’t stand here. Everything was canceled. Just go home.
The crowd (this wave of people) began to move. Slightly confused, I moved with it. Part washed down the escalator leading to the subway (Foggy Bottom for those familiar with the DC area). Today for me, that was not an option. My friend, my ride. How would I ever contact him? I had a cellphone but he did not. Looked at my watch. Figured he was probably more than an hour away. Purely out of instinct, I continued to move with the crowd. As my brain focused, I could hear one-sided phone conversations. One plane had hit. A second plane hit. This was not an accident. Possible other targets. It was starting to sink in. I traveled a few more steps until I reached a bench. Sat down because, in that moment, I honestly didn’t have any other place to go.
I stared at the moving wave of humanity. Felt no panic from them. Not even a tremendous amount of confusion. Simply that they were all just trying to get home. I looked to the sky in time to catch a glimpse of fighter jets screaming overhead. Was this it? The end of the world? The end of my little piece of it? The end of me? I sat several blocks from the White House thinking this could be it.
Thought of my parents and siblings. Oh, and my grandmother. I so loved Mama Dear. I thought of them all. Quickly came to the conclusion that it would be okay because they all knew that I loved them. Thought of my lovely summer trip and smiled. Thought about getting back into grad school and accomplishing that goal. All seemed so positive. Then I thought:
If it is truly my time to leave this earth, I am ready. I’m not encouraging it but I am prepared. Tomorrow is not promised. Sometimes, today isn’t. I am at peace.
I stared at the crowd again. Noticed it was thinning. Then, something familiar caught my eye. My ride, my friend. How did he find me so quickly? I walked to the car as if our meeting was somehow planned, opened the door, and climbed in. He spoke of not leaving DC that day. He had stayed in the city for breakfast, saw everything on TV at a diner, and rushed back for me. We quietly listened to radio reports and entered the highway to join another wave of humanity just trying to get home.
Five years later, I reflect on that day just as countless others. I am sure there will be moments of anger or sadness but I know I’ll always come back to my 9/11 truth:
Tomorrow is not promised. Show love to those around you TODAY. Wake up and treat each day as special. Promise to (think, feel, act) do better that day. Be at peace.