It was not my intention to write a 9/11 piece this year but this morning, I read a few of the many that are floating about and nothing quite hit the spot in my heart. I went searching for the one I wrote last year and, frankly, was surprised to find that it feels more true today than it did when I wrote it. If you’ve already read it, please excuse the repetition. I offer what follows in the spirit of love and healing for ourselves, all people, and our beautiful planet…
Yes, of course I remember 9/11. Without even closing my eyes, I can experience every single detail of that day as if I’m walking through it again right now. For two weeks straight, I’ve had one foot in today and the other in that day, since I first realized the deadline for a tenth anniversary piece was upon me. I’ve tried and failed to write something poignant a hundred times since then, but slipping in and out of that day feels strangely comforting. It’s like running into an old friend who was there when a part of me died.
I still don’t know what to say about it. But I know that I’ve never before felt so much, had so much to say, and been at such a profound loss for words. Instead, I stumble through a lifetime of memories, measuring and sorting, trying to find a way to make sense of this state I’m in, of this state we are all in. It’s been ten years, perhaps the longest and shortest ten years in history. Now, we’re here–looking back and also forward.
I was once with a woman when the doctor told her that her husband–who she thought was in the process of recovering from a heart attack–was dead. I watched the shock roll through her body, mercilessly exposing her soul to the grief that all but consumed her that night and in the months and probably years that followed. Much died that night–her husband, her daughter’s father, the second child they were trying to conceive, the future, certainty, security… and I imagine many other things I can’t conceive of.
I’ve lost things too, mostly innocence. I’ve lost the belief that people my age don’t die, unless there is some sort of drunk driving incident or other freak accident. I’ve lost the belief that eating irresponsibly won’t cost you your life until you are old. Some time ago now, I lost the belief that my husband leaving while I was still pregnant with our second child was a damn tragedy. Then in the hospital with the woman that night, I met tragedy in a whole new way, and it rocked my world.
They took her back to say goodbye, or whatever it is that you do back there while the person who’s along to “support” you paces the waiting room floor wondering what in the hell she is supposed to do for you now. I admit I was hopelessly ill-prepared for the entire experience, and particularly for that moment, the god forsaken act of… leaving. Her business at the hospital was done. No follow-up was scheduled. No care instructions were issued. The whatnot that had completely overwhelmed her life for weeks since his heart first failed was no more. It was time to leave.
After 13 years, I can still feel the hysteria in her body when I put my arms around her. She wasn’t behaving hysterically but her body was trembling and weak, I might say suddenly frail, as if she was no longer in control of it. She was overcome, or perhaps was coming undone, her head torn violently from her heart. One part desperate to get home to their little girl who was not even old enough to understand what just happened, and another part absolutely incapable of walking away from what remained of her husband.
“I need to get home to her,” she said and we began down the hall. I tightened my arm around her waist and guided her gently toward the exit. We took a few steps before she paused, and then a few more and another pause. I’d never done this before, and hadn’t a clue what to expect or what she was experiencing. A few more steps, and then she stopped again. She whispered, “I can’t… go… I can’t leave him here alone,” starting to turn back–against logic and reason and it seemed, even her own will. I have no idea what I said, I seriously can’t imagine. I was suddenly outside of myself watching the two of us in that hallway, me all but carrying her away from her dead husband’s body.
She was resisting me, in some ways, but in another way seemed to surrender. She fought, but not more than I could overcome. The intensity built until something within her broke, something that still echos through me thirteen years later… She turned back one more time and cried out to her husband, “Forgive me! Oh, please forgive me for this… forgive me,” and then I led her away. It was the leaving that almost took me to my knees.
We must allow life-changing experiences to change us.
I don’t know how (or even if) I would be able to recover from losing my wife. Period. The invitation to that knowing came all those years ago in the waiting room of that hospital. My children? Same. That invitation arrived not once but twice last year, and now I am humbly awake to the reality that children die. Sometimes it’s addiction and violence, and sometimes it’s a heart attack (yes, in a child). People die, I get that. I even understand that sometimes we have no control over it, but I am convinced that we must allow our life-changing experiences to change us, to change the way we show up in the world from that moment on.
We must learn from the great teacher of life. We must surrender to the natural evolution of our mind, body, and spirit that occurs when there is a loss like that. When a friend gets breast cancer, you check your breasts for lumps. When a beautiful boy dies from a drug overdose and violent beating, you better damn well recognize that it could happen to your kid and recommit to your parenting responsibilities. When your marriage idol’s marriage falls apart, you get the hell to work on your own marriage. When poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle kills a friend’s husband, you look at your own relationship with food and make some necessary changes.
No, it won’t bring them back; but, if in every tragedy, we can learn to recognize the invitation to become more than we were before, then there is always hope to be found beneath the pain. If in every tragedy we can just accept the invitation, then we are capable of change.
What I need to say about 9/11 isn’t about 9/11 at all. It’s about how I fell in love with America on 9/12… and she broke my heart.
On September 11, 2001, we experienced a loss so tremendous it took my breath away. Commercial airplanes were hijacked and flown into three buildings, killing thousands of people. A fourth plane was hijacked but before it could be flown into yet another building full of people that I don’t know, the passengers fought back and the plane crashed into a field instead. All of those beautiful people didn’t save their own lives but they took action to prevent it from happening again, to keep their airplane from killing more people.
I fell through level after level of truly mind-numbing emotions. I cried so hard that my young children cried, without even knowing what was wrong with me. I felt as though I’d lost a thousand layers of innocence, not the least of which was the shocking horror of watching people free falling to the earth by choice in order to escape the fate those terrorists assigned to them. Nothing would ever be the same for those who loved every single one of those thousands of people, for our country, or for me. It was… devastating, the fear overwhelming, the pain unbearable. I could barely think, let alone breathe, and I watched the television coverage through the night.
On 9/12, a new America was born. At least it seemed that way to me. I’d never seen people line up for hours to give blood, without complaining, and we did it across the country. I’d never seen a dozen people pull over to help in a single car crash but they did over and over again in the weeks after 9/11. Never before had I experienced that level of compassion and selflessness, that level of cooperation and oneness. I felt broken and America held me in her loving arms and gave me something to believe in. United.
We must allow life-changing experiences to change us.
I thought we could survive the tragedy of 9/11 if we allowed it to transform us. If we could be better than we were before, then perhaps… in some strange way, the pain of this loss might become bearable. Sure, it was a long shot but it seemed that America, with all of this love and vulnerability and thoughtfulness, was capable of being what I experienced on 9/12.
But, as it always seems to, time passed, and we allowed the fear of feeling, the risk of releasing, the uncertainty of a new way of being, to lull us right back to sleep. We took great strides to oppress people who deserve to be treated equally. We perpetuated the very same hate that brought that hell upon us ten years ago this week. We turned our backs on the needy, in this country and abroad. For the sake of all things holy, we haven’t even properly cared for the first responders. We abandoned our oneness like a cheap souvenir suddenly unworthy of a permanent place in our history and in our lives.
Do we remember 9/11? Of course we do, but did we allow ourselves to be changed by it? Do we remember 9/12?
This post is part of a collective tribute for September 11th. Click here for more Care2 stories on 9/11.