I joined co-workers for lunch on Friday to celebrate a birthday. The birthday girl is the youngest among us and we had a little good natured fun at her expense, teasing her with comments like, “Oh, think you feel old now!”
Then someone said, “I just always want to make sure you remember to celebrate your birthday, and be OK and happy for your life, regardless the day it falls on.”
I did not know my co-worker’s birthday is September 11th. She turned 13 on that day in 2001. She told us 9/11 has forever changed her feelings about the day of her birth and how she recognizes it.
It was an early morning work day, and the weather was as beautiful in Seattle as it was in New York. I had just swung my legs out of bed and hadn’t yet stood up when the phone rang. It was my mother, in hysterics, repeating, “They’re attacking us! Oh, my God, they’re attacking us!” For a woman who’s childhood was defined by the vagrancies of the Depression and whose teen years were marked by World War II, the horror of watching the 9/11 attacks unfold was a terror she didn’t ever want to have to face again (she used to talk about how much she and her friends dreaded, hated, attending high school graduation. “All those kids, our friends, those lovely boys and some of us girls…walking off that stage with their diplomas…we knew all too well that many of them were going off to their deaths.”)
For all it’s dreadfulness, I nevertheless learned that day about the saving grace of community. In the face of something so terrible, people put aside differences and grievances and pull together as equals. They embrace the divine and earnestly become keepers of their brothers and sisters. The stories that poured out in the weeks, months and years following told how people console, support, stand up, sacrifice, and serve one another. Even my boss at the time and I, who were typically at odds, pulled together. That morning over the phone we rationally discussed whether to open the office, or close for the day. Taking care of the people in our charge was paramount, and both of us came to understand that responsibility in a way I don’t think either of us had fully appreciated before.
People look to others in such emotional times. But, who they choose to look to can be unexpected. I had an overwhelming need to be with others, but at the same time wanted nothing more than to be in my own home. That meant being alone. I talked for long hours on the phone with my parents, siblings and two of my closest friends, but declined invitations to join them in their homes. Even the man I was seeing at the time only wanted to be surrounded by the people and place he considered home. The fact I did not mind he did not want to be with me that day and be comforted by it, but preferred to keep to his family and friends was my first indication our relationship was not was I thought it was. He did not see me as part of his community, nor did I see him as part of mine. Not really.
Last October I was in New York City. On our way to Brooklyn we stopped at the 9/11 Memorial plaza. It was a gorgeous day, as it was that September day in 2001. The place was a mix of high energy and solemn reflection. Hundreds of people strolled around the memorial fountains and under the many trees. Hundreds more stood in an all-day queue to visit the 9/11 Museum. It was, quite literally, an awesome experience to stand in Ground Zero among all those people, from all over the world, and be within my clear memories of where I was and what I was going through that day. We lingered far longer than we thought we would. It was a comforting closure I didn’t know I needed until I was there.
They say the world changed since 9/11, but from what point in time do we mark this change? In many ways it is no different that what’s come before in human history, including the care we take of one another when it is most urgent. I take a cold comfort from knowing this.
This blog, TBP, and my photo blog make up a lovely little community of readers and followers for which I am very glad to be a part. I started my blogs as a means to get through a particularly sad and challenging time in my life, and they continue to provide a happy escape from the stresses of the day-to-day. I thank you all for reading, writing, snapping photos, liking, commenting and contributing.
Today I remember those who’ve suffered true tragedy and commend their tenacity to live each day to the fullest. I took the photo on this post on my visit, and a few others of my visit to the 9/11 Memorial are on my photo blog: https://photosbylrose.wordpress.com/2015/10/24/sense-of-community/