According to my Yahoo weather widget, it is currently 78 degrees and partly cloudy. According to the view out my window, though, it is about 78 degrees with a clear blue sky.
Nine years ago today, the skies were clear too. September 11, 2001 is one of those days that is grafted in our memories. I think I remember that day more vividly than yesterday. I remember driving to work that morning, expecting to have a really good day; a good night’s sleep and sunny skies can encourage optimism. Reality often ignores our expectations, though.
We can all share our stories in intricate detail. I will leave out some details of that day, mainly because I was not as directly affected as other people. I knew a handful of people who worked in or near the World Trade Center (thanks be to God, all of them had some reason why they were not there when the planes hit; none of them were immediate family or close friends), and I was working in Melville, NY (about 35 miles away).
Still, the memories linger. I remember all the chaos at work that day. Co-workers worried about sons, boyfriends, and other loved ones who worked in that area or served as police or firemen. People checked the Internet for news updates and received phone calls with the latest news; some of it turned out to be fantastic rumor or conspiracy theories. A television was set up in the break room so that we could get news updates. Ironically enough, since most New York television stations relied on antennas at the World Trade Center to broadcast, we could only pick up Long Island-based public television station WLIW (channel 21), which simulcast news coverage from England’s BBC. Since people were in a state of shock, and nobody was working anyway, we were free to leave early.
Fear had settled like thick fog over the New York metropolitan area; you could see and feel it everywhere. I remember driving home wondering, “What will they attack next? Will they try to hit something out here? Is this road safe?” All I could do was pray the entire time.
Joyce and I arrived home around the same time and turned on the television. Almost every channel was covering the day’s events. Even MTV, VH1, and all the sports channels were covering the terrorist attacks. The shopping channels merely suspended broadcasting in honor of those who lost their lives. Maybe one or two channels continued their regular programming. (I developed a much greater respect for the Home Shopping Network than for two basic-cable networks whose programs I rarely watch anymore.)
After a while of watching TV and juggling phone conversations, Joyce and I decided to go to Trader Joe’s and pick up some groceries; we figured we were better off doing something normal instead of driving ourselves crazy with the news. Oddly enough, this excursion gave us our closest link to the tragedy: driving across the overpass at Daly Blvd. and Lawson Blvd. in Oceanside, we could see the giant plume of smoke in the distance.
Two or three days later, an acrid aroma permeated the air over the Long Island Expressway as I drove home from work. Yes, the stench of 9/11 reached 40 miles east to Suffolk County as well.
America was changed. For good or ill, our public policy changed. Our public discourse about immigration, foreign relations, and Islam was radically altered. Ten years ago, nobody would have cared if an imam wanted to build a mosque near the World Trade Center. The entire nation, and the Islamic world as well, would have ignored a pastor of a small church who threatened to burn copies of the Quran. Times have changed, though.
Many blogs about 9/11 close with the lessons we learned that day. Well, I learned one in particular that is universal, but is not mentioned too often in this context.
In the midst of the insanity, my son called from Missouri that day. His school had a moment of silence when news of the attacks came out (unlike New York, his principal was not afraid to be heard praying under his breath over the intercom). During our phone conversation, we talked about of our thoughts and feelings throughout the day. One feeling stood out for him, though.
A few months earlier, we had visited a friend in New York City. We spent a while at the Empire State Building, enjoying the view of the city. As we exited the building, Daniel asked if we could go to the World Trade Center. It was almost evening, and I thought that would be best saved for another day. “Not today, Danny. We can do that next summer,” I told him.
So, as Danny and I discussed the days events on 9/11/01, we recalled that. We would never have that opportunity. We merely assumed another day would come. Summer 2002 came on time, but the world had changed. The opportunity was lost.
Grab the good opportunities in life while you can. Daniel and I missed out on visiting the World Trade Center because I wanted to wait for another day. That is a small loss compared to what others lost that day. How many people put off saying “I love you,” or “I forgive you,” or “You are special to me because…,” and will never have that opportunity now because their loved one worked in the Twin Towers? How many people wanted to make some sort of amends, but put it off for another day? How many couples wanted to delay starting a family, because they wanted to get more settled in their careers first?
In Second Corinthians 6:2, Paul writes, “Behold, now is the acceptable time. Behold, now is the day of salvation.” Not just in spiritual matters, but in all things, we are not guaranteed another day. Now is the only chance we have.
I recently stumbled across a quote, attributed to James Dean: “Dream as if you’ll live forever, live as if you’ll die today.” That phrase appears on my Facebook profile. Whether James Dean said it in a movie, or an interview (or even if it was misattributed and someone else actually said it), it is a good principle to follow in life. It is too bad that we often need a disaster to remind us to cherish and pursue the things that matter.