It was a Tuesday morning. I was eighteen, a college sophomore. My boyfriend (now husband) and I were in my crappy minivan, which only had a radio for entertainment. We’d tuned into a talk show, and we thought we were hearing some kind of sick joke. As I parked, we realized with complete disbelief—as one talk show host said a second plane had flown into the Twin Towers—that it was absolutely real.
We were dumbfounded, numb. And since we were already at school, we headed toward our first class, hoping for some sort of clarity from our professor. Unfortunately, she had not been listening to the radio, and since she was running late, she rushed straight into class, never seeing another person before plowing right into the day’s lesson. Maybe she was a little miffed that her class of freshman and sophomores was a bit more subdued than usual, that we stared at her with incomprehension. That we dared to hope that, because the adult with the most authority in the room was proceeding like all was normal, maybe it actually was. The next time our class met, she apologized profusely and said that if she had known, she would have sent us all home.
Instead, we endured that class in a kind of limbo while the rest of the country sat glued to TVs, gathered in small groups, trying to process what was happening. When Thomas and I split up and headed to our next classes, we re-entered the flow of reality. In my class, all the TVs were on the news. Although I don’t remember any other students from that class, I remember the young military wife, tears streaming down her face as she looked at images of the Pentagon under attack, likely terrified for what this meant for her husband. The professor stood to the side, allowing us access to the TVs, explaining that classes were cancelled, but we were welcome to stay if we needed.
The rest of that week passed in a haze. I felt helpless as I watched people in New York searching fruitlessly for loved ones days after the last survivor was found. The one that stands out and still haunts me was a man with a picture of his wife. She was pregnant. That baby would have been an adult now. All that hope stolen from him and his family in a moment.
It’s not every year that I feel moved to share my thoughts and feelings about September 11, 2001, but this year is different. Not a particularly important anniversary year—nineteen—not like next year will be. But still, this is a year in which so much has changed for so many, and not just in our country. Around the world, people’s lives are drastically different than they were a mere six months ago. This is the year when, if something negative happens, you blame it on 2020.
So how does September 11th look this year? Bleaker because we’re already more somber? Or can we eek some glimmer of hope from the day? I am fortunate to know a girl who was born on this date, and while I’ve always felt a bit bad for her, my mindset is starting to shift. What a miracle, to welcome new life on the anniversary of such tragedy!
Recently, my pastor spoke of the human condition, specifically that propensity for humans to never be satisfied with what we have, even (and sometimes especially) when we have more than enough—and he’s right. On the anniversary of a day when so much was taken from us, what do we have left? And particularly on that anniversary in a year when many of us have lost [fill in the blank]—jobs, loved ones, milestones, time with family, normalcy—are we still supposed to be satisfied with what’s left? In my opinion, yes.
I am blessed to have my family, and so far, our health. My husband and I have our jobs, and our children are fortunate to be in schools that are looking after their well-being and their education. We have friends that care about us, even if we can’t see them. We have time together—more time this year than we’ve ever had. There are times when I’ve been bitter, dwelling on those other things that we don’t have, but I am choosing not to focus on those disappointments and lost opportunities.
I also have the capacity to remember, to spend a few moments honoring those who lost so much, to vow again to live with intent and purpose because I am blessed with life. It’s 2020. Anything can happen. Truly, anything can happen no matter what year it is. But this year—today—when I’m so much more cognizant of my mortality, I choose to celebrate being alive one more day in tribute of those who were not given that choice.