By now we all know the facts, the statistics of all those who died, we’ve seen replays of the horrific footage, documentaries on the history channel, various poignant pictures and photographs artistically touched to capture the sadness, the terror, the one moment when the United States actually felt united. We’ve promised to never forget, to freeze in our brains that moment when we realized what was going on, and to some how acknowledge this day in subsequent years so that future generations would honor the dead and the survivors.
Here’s my thing. I see myriads of posts on facebook every year on 9/11, the pictures, the statistics, where people were on the day it happened, etc. I feel like there is a struggle between rememberance, true grief, and moving on. It’s different for families who had loved ones die (be they on one of the planes, in the towers, or a firefighter/paramedic/police officer responding to the scene) and I feel like an intruder on their grief. I did not have anyone I loved die, pretending I’m just as affected by those who did is…some how wrong to me. Was I horrified? Yes. Did I cry? Yes. I also cried over the victims of Katrina (what can I say, I’ve cried over patients before). But even though 9/11 impacted pretty much everyone in the nation, I feel like there is a difference in wallowing in the terrifying memories, and living in a way to honor those who died and those who lost loved ones.
You don’t know when you are going to die. The people in the trade towers were at another humdrum desk job, some of them probably in cubicles with pictures of their families pinned up above their computers. Death and desk jobs don’t usually coincide. The passengers on the planes were, visiting family? on business trips? on their way to a wedding? a honeymoon? a vacation? coming home from any of the above? Of all the bazillions of flights that happen every year, what are the odds that you would land on the one hijacked by a terrorist? First responders risk their lives on a regular basis, but they still don’t know when or which emergency might claim them. You could slip and fall in the bathtub and break your neck, your children could get hit by a car at a bus stop, your parents could suffer a massive heartattack watching a football game. You simply just don’t know when, or where, or how, or who.
I’m hoping this post is more than just another “You Only Live Once” saga. I don’t mean you have to go skydiving or take up an extreme sport or ask out that guy you’ve been crushing on for two years who doesn’t even know your name. I also don’t think you should wrap yourself in bubblewrap and never leave the house. But I think, of all days, 9/11 would be a pretty good day to consider life and death. Have you answered the big questions? Is there a God? Is there an afterlife? Is there a heaven and hell, do you know which one you’ll end up in if there is? Reincarnation? Nothing? And if you have these answered, are they answered truly to your satisfaction or do you have doubts? You don’t get to take anything with you when you die, I think most people can agree on that, but you do leave an impression on those you leave behind. Are you holding grudges? Does anger and bitterness eat at you-maybe only about “certain subjects” but is it there? Are you happy being angry and bitter? Have you truly forgiven those who have wronged you? Or are you waiting, impatiently, for karma to slap them into the dirt so you can gleefully chuckle behind closed doors?
This is my point of view, and it may be silly or niave, but it works for me: there is always room for improvement. And on this day, as a rememberence for all those whose lives were cut short, I promise to continue to improve how I live, how I treat those around me, how I appreciate the blessings of a (mostly) sound mind and body, how I can hear, and see, and touch, and experience all that this world has to offer. I won’t forget, I can’t, the moment is etched in my memory, but I promise I won’t just remember on 9/11. I may not post a bunch of pictures, I may not know those who died by name, but I will try and live the cliche, living each day as if it may be my last, be it a rainy day curled up with a book, a sick day feverish and in bed, a beautiful sunny day running errands or doing yardwork. I will be thankful that I get this day to live since I don’t know if I’ll get tomorrow.
At the risk of patriotic blasphemy, I’ll add this. I acknowledge that 9/11 was not only a tragedy for those who lost lives but also an attack on this nation. Like Pearl Harbor is (was) etched into the memories of those who where alive when it happened, so 9/11 is etched into the memories of those of us who where old enough to witness it. However, I admit that my personal insistence on grateful living is a visceral response to all tragedy and unexpected death-be it a toddler drowning in a pool or the victims of a tornado. 9/11, for me, cements and reaffirms my desire to appreciate the blessing of my life and the lives of those I love, and every year it reminds me that I don’t know when I or someone I love may die. I feel the best way to honor those who don’t get the chance to keep living is not to focus on the horror of their deaths to the exclusion of all else, but to remember the importance of their lives and who they touched while living. If you do believe in an afterlife, how do you feel like those who died would like to be remembered? Many of them simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, do you think they want people continually focusing on how they died? Or remembering how they lived?
**DISCLAIMER: I am by NO means saying posting pictures or quotes on facebook is somehow NOT honoring those who died in 9/11. I am not saying they are cheesy or the people who post about 9/11 have fake intentions. Not hardly. That is how some people cope and remember this day and I don’t think there is anything wrong with it. I merely want to challenge people to take it one step further and instead of posting pictures on just one day, honor those who have died by embracing life all year round.