It's hard to believe it's been 17 years since this moment. 17 years of days strung together, one at a time. The time passes quickly, so quick that sometimes it seems like yesterday, especially for those of us who call the East Coast home. Life has changed so much since then. In ways that we see and in many more that we cannot. Since I wrote this post, I learned that one of my former high school classmates died that day, a firefighter named John Collins, who, like many of the heroes that day, gave his life in service to others. This morning, as I face my students, I am reminded that many of them do not remember that day. Do not know what life was like before that day when everything changed forever.
Our freedom is a gift. Our country is a gift. Life is a gift.
We can never forget.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, my cousin Diana woke up, got her two children ready for school and sat down to eat a bowl of cereal as she did almost every morning. She flipped through the newspaper, glanced at the headlines and looked at the score of the Yankees game from the night before. She glanced up at the clock in the kitchen and sensing time slipping away from her, she crunched on the cereal just a wee bit faster. She was on her way to a meeting.
Diana is my first cousin. Her father and my mother were raised as siblings. Her father was one of my father’s fraternity brothers at Brooklyn Polytechnical Institute. He introduced my parents to one another. Her parents are my godparents.
Munching away at her breakfast that morning, Diana heard a crack. A sharp pain shot through her mouth. She had broken a tooth. Annoyed at the inconvenience, she picked up the telephone and made an emergency dental appointment. “Could she come in right away?” the receptionist asked. “We’ve had a cancellation.” So off she went to the dentist. The meeting would have to be rescheduled.
On the morning of September 11th, the phone rang, waking me from a deep sleep. “Turn on the television,” my husband’s voice shook as he uttered the words that morning. “A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center.”
I ran to the living room, fumbling for the remote. It seemed like an eternity as I waited for the images to come into focus, frightening, horrific images the likes of which I had never seen before. Images that still, seven years later, I cannot forget. Likely never will.
I was a young woman when the towers went up. I didn’t like them. I didn’t like the way they changed the skyline of the “city”. The way they dwarfed my beloved Empire State Building. They were big and loud and ostentatious as buildings go and they pushed their way into the sky the way a big black Hummer overflows it’s allotted parking space, forcing the other cars around it to adjust.
When I was a young girl, in the summertime we would go to stay with my grandparents in Yonkers. They would take us into “the city”, to ride the buses and the subways, eat lunch at the Horn & Hardert or see the sights. One day we climbed to the top of the Empire State Building. We walked out on the observation deck and looked down on the matchbox sized cars and out to the East River, gazing through big metal binoculars, the kind you have to put a quarter in to see. It was a magical sight.
The World Trade Center changed that view.
But after a time, I hardly noticed them anymore. I, like the rest of those who resisted their arrival, grew familiar with those two loud ladies that reached so high into the sky.
Diana’s meeting that morning was at Windows on the World, a restaurant on the 107th floor, at the top of the World Trade Center.
Each night at dinner we say “grace.” It’s not a formal thing. We don’t recite a wrote prayer the way my family did when we were young. Instead, we simply hold hands and say what we are thankful for that day. Each day. One small thing.
Like the unforgettable images of those planes flying into the tower, today will always be a reminder of the people who lost their lives, of the day that our experience of the world changed forever. The pictures that are burned into our collective brains are not pleasant images.
But today is also a reminder to be grateful for life, as imperfect as it is sometimes. For the teenager who needs to be driven to weight training at 6:00 a.m. and never quite manages to say thank you. For the house that gives us shelter and yet is always in need of repair. For the phone calls from home even though they sometimes drive us crazy and the jobs that take up too much of our time. For the grumpy bank teller and the guy who delivers the newspaper, even when it's late. And yes, even for a broken tooth.
We can focus on what we lost that day or we can be grateful for what we did not. We can make our own list, each one of us, of eleven things we are grateful for today.