I woke up on 9-11-01 to the sound of a plane crashing into the World Trade Center.
My studio space is in lower Manhattan, and when I got out of bed, I had to squint a few times to see if what I was seeing was real. A gaping hole in the tower. Flames licking out. And the beginning of a trail of smoke drifting horizontally across a pure picture-perfect blue sky.
Then a fireball.
The second tower hit.
I turned on the television a few minutes later and saw on the news the exact scene I was watching out my window.
And like most of us since 9-11, my life has never been quite the same.
What happened that morning and what I felt as I watched papers fly from the World Trade Center tower windows; as I watched the towers impossibly implode and later; as people walked by my building stunned with white dust on their arms and heads; as the acrid smell filtered through my windows over the next few days — burnt buildings and burnt flesh; as the horrifying nightmares twisted my sleep and as military men stood outside my lobby front door; as I went down to ground zero to help at the mess tent feeding iron workers and firefighters who were pulling apart twisted metal in hopes of finding life…all this changed me in profound and indelible ways.
It is all unfathomable and it is all so real.
And it has led me to a sense of incredible appreciation.
We each have our own memories of 9-11 — everyone of a certain age can tell you where they were that very day — and we each have losses in our lives…not just of 9-11 victims but of close family and friends from times unrelated — our own 9-11s.
Today is a day of remembrance.
The greatest gift we can give those we have lost is to honor those who are here, those we still have, and to respect and appreciate the extraordinary, amazing experience that is LIFE.
A few years before 9-11, I met up with a man named David who was a friend of my sister’s husband. He was exceptionally handsome — wavy dark hair, blue eyes, tan skin, chiseled jaw, bright white smile.
Our get-together was sort of a date but not really…more of a chance to reconnect for an afternoon as we’d shared some great moments at my sister’s wedding.
That day as we sat on a bench near the World Trade Center towers, David told me that he had just been diagnosed with lymphoma. I started to cry. He asked me not to tell anyone as he was still finding the best timing to tell his close friends but somehow he told me early on…I think because I was safe, I was outside his orbit.
He asked me what I would do if I knew I were going to die soon. I thought about it for a while and then said: Tell people I love that I love them, have a big party, dance…and eat more chocolate cake.
He was committed to living. He was committed to “winning” the fight against lymphoma. He went on to get married, have two kids, and build an incredible life. But then, in spite of his fierce intent, he started to lose ground and was eventually, after a long uncomfortable stretch, overtaken by his illness. No one could believe he was gone.
After the funeral, my sister sent me the ceremony’s program. On the cover was a photo of David, looking breathtakingly handsome. He was lying in the sand, propped up on an elbow, grinning into the camera. A navy polo shirt, a shining smile, the setting sun glowing in the background of this beach scene.
Below all this, the phrase:
This image and incredibly profound phrase has, since David’s death, been on my kitchen cabinet. Though I have since lost many people close to me including my own mother, the power of this brief connection and of this phrase reminds me of the power of every life.
Out the window beyond the photo of David is the empty sky where the twin towers once stood. Now new towers are going up…
When my day is tough, when a client is pissing me off, when I am feeling the intense stress of a work day gone awry, I go into the kitchen to get water or tea or food, and I see David’s photo, and the phrase; and I look out to the empty sky.
My perspective shifts in a nanosecond.
As I write this post tonight, two beams of light reach up into the blackness and cloud cover above ground zero, illuminating the skies from which so many lives were lost.
May we each live our life in memory and in celebration, honoring those we have lost by remembering always that our lives today are a gift.