Thursday

Reflections of 9/11: Life Goes On

*This post was originally published in 2011.



You'd have to be living under a rock - or a seriously cold-hearted person - not to realize or care that today was the 10th anniversary of the worst terrorist attack our country has ever experienced.  It is our generation's Pearl Harbor or Kennedy Assassination.  And just like those before us, we all remember exactly where we were when we heard the news.

I was driving to work listening to our local NBC station on my car radio. I can picture in my mind the precise location of the street I was on when I heard Katie Couric say something about a plane hitting one of the Twin Towers.  What a horrible freak accident, I thought to myself as I turned into my elementary school's parking lot, and prepared to go about my day teaching fifth graders.

I didn't give it another thought until my colleagues began pouring into the school building, and the emerging story came out.  The teacher next door to me kept her t.v. on all day. While my class was at P.E., I sat in her room, grading papers and watching the coverage. A sick feeling came over me as the fact that it was no accident was sinking in.

During lunch, I sought solace in my classroom and desperately tried to page my husband over and over.  We had only been married three months, and he had been doing part of his new residency at a military base near us.  I felt certain that he was in imminent danger.  When I finally heard from him, he reassured me, "Kathy, I am probably at the safest place I could be right now."  The calm in his voice did little to put me at ease.  I proceeded to call my sister who lived three hours away in a neighboring state to tell her I loved her . . . just in case.

Every night that week after work, it was all I could do to curl up in a ball on the couch in our apartment watching in horror all the news coverage, thinking 'We could be there right now...'  During our engagement, Hubby traveled around the country interviewing for residency programs - New York City being one of the possibilities.  In the end, we settled on the program in our city over moving anywhere right after we were married.

One of the many stories that struck a chord with me was that of Howard Lutnick, the CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald, whose firm occupied the 101st - 105th floors of one of the Towers.  He had taken the morning off in order to take his son to the first day of school.  He approached the Tower at the height of all the mayhem.  As people were fleeing the building, he kept asking them, "What floor are you from?"  He broke down as he told the interviewer, "I didn't find anyone higher than the [86th] floor."  He lost 657 of his employees and friends, including his brother - more than any other company and the police and fire departments combined.  However he was villainized in the weeks after 9/11, I will always remember the absolute and total grief in his voice.

By Friday of that week, I was at my breaking point. Hubby came home to find me, on the couch, bawling watching the news coverage.  "How can we possibly begin to raise a family in this world?"  I asked him.

And in his always unwavering logic, he said to me, "Kathy, our parents did it, and so did their parents.  Every generation has a conflict, even a war. And babies are born. And life goes on." Then he hugged me.

And life went on.

We did fly again. And we did get pregnant.  And here we are ten years and five children later.  We even found ourselves living on Long Island for two years.  In 2004, we moved ourselves and our 7-month-old twins so Hubby could do a residency there after all.  I admit I was concerned at first, nervously looking around every time we were in Penn Station or someplace like the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building.

But the tragedy didn't keep us from these places.  It didn't keep us from flying, from having children, from living our lives.  And ten years later I found myself riveted to the news coverage once again, reliving all of the tragic stories, crying the same tears.

But ten years later, there are new stories.  There are stories of hope, of new relationships, and of lives going on. This time, some of my tears were those of joy.  Matt Lauer interviewed five young adults, all of whom lost a parent on that tragic day.  He noted that this anniversary must be particularly hard for them.  One of them remarked that this was just like any other day, that she missed her dad every day.  More than this day alone, she thought of him every day.

Wow, I thought, I can totally relate to that.  In the past ten years, we had a beautiful child, and lost that child to cancer.  And I think about him every day.  The day he was diagnosed with cancer and the day he died...yes, those days sting quite a bit, but so does every other day he is not here.

In spite of that tragedy, our lives have gone on.  Most strikingly, in the addition of another child to our family.  Even though I have fears that something will happen to him, that he or one of the other boys will get sick or fall victim to some freak accident, I know I cannot be afraid of that happening.  I can't keep us all in a bubble. 

In the past ten years, people's lives have gone on . . . really, what choice do we all have?  We still all fly for business, but we take vacations, too.  We still work in federal buildings, but we visit historic places as well.  The fact is, we cannot be paralyzed by the fear that something bad is going to happen to us or our loved ones.  Yes, planes crash, diseases are incurable, people go psycho. Bad things happen to people every day, but those are the exceptions rather than the rule.  We should embrace every day not as if it could be our last, but as it is - a gift.  Every morning the sun comes up, and we all are faced with another new beautiful day full of endless possibility. 

As a sheer coincidence, Baby E was baptized today, September 11, 2011.  It was a day of joy and new beginnings.  As my sister-in-law put it to me in so many words, we shouldn't let a person or a disease steal any more moments of joy and happiness from our lives.  Because, in spite of everything bad that happens, life will go on and the good stuff will keep happening, too.
                                                                                                                                                                                   
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