Sunday will be the fifteenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Do you remember where you were? I had just come back from getting the boys on their elementary school bus. I was straightening up the kitchen and had started running the vacuum. The telephone rang. It was my sister.
"Did you see the tower? I can't believe it!" There was no hello just disbelief on the other end.
"What are you talking about?" I said.
"Turn on your television." she replied. I went into the adjoining room and turned it on. Didn't matter what station, the picture was the same: An airplane careening into the side of the world trade center, smoke billowing up into the clear, blue sky. My first thought was to do a mental check of my family members: I figured our boys were in the safest place, the school with the gold and black triangle fallout shelter image on the side. My husband was at work in a small indistinguishable office. Unfortunately my nephew was in college in NYC. I had a couple of hours of worry but eventually heard that he was uptown and was not immediately impacted.
As much as it was a horrific day and for those who lost loved ones, unimaginable, I still cannot help feeling a gladness in the pride of my fellow humans. They went through such trying times, yet they rose to the occasion and did not succumb to the level of those who terrorized us. There was such compassion, generosity, and care for one another under unbelievable conditions. There are countless stories of people helping others. On the radio this week they have been remembering with stories from survivors.
One survivor is Brian Clark, a retired executive vice president of Euro Bank who was working on the 84th floor of the second tower. Once the tower was hit, the overhead speakers announced that the building was secure. It was then that the plane exploded inside and the tower shook and moved. Brian left his floor and with a feeling that something was pushing him towards stairway A, he descended. Along the way he heard a stranger's voice coming from the 81st floor and stopped to remove the gentleman from the rubble. They both escaped seconds before the building came completely down and the debris washed like a grey tsunami over the streets.
He talks about how he doesn't spend time wondering why he did what he did; if he had taken staircase C as he had planned, he might not have made it, or his now lifelong friend wouldn't have been found in the rubble. He says, "I have learned, and I tell other people, that there's no point in wasting time trying to answer unanswerable questions. ... Likewise, one cannot predict the future with any certainty. I went to work that day, a normal day, had no idea what was about to happen. So if you don't dwell on unanswerable questions in the past, you don't worry about the future, it pretty well leaves you with the present, and that's where I try to live every day. Every day's a great day. Some are just greater than others."
In a way, what a gift he has been given. To have learned to enjoy the present. I know many people who have endured tragedy say the same thing- in the midst of horror, they have been given a gift of learning to appreciate life. Some people live their entire lives and never really enjoy it.
Sometimes I feel that I am that way. I replay the past and worry about the future. I don't truly appreciate the here and now.
What a joy to know that I don't have to stay that way. That I can make a choice to concentrate solely on the present. Sad that it takes a major catastrophe for us to get it. I think that Jesus speaks to the heart of this when he tells us, "Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?"
I do find that some days it is hard to rise about the muck of the past or to move beyond the paralysis of an anxious future. I have to go through all sorts of mental exercises. It is hard work, but I press on. I try to think of the moment as my last moment. I try and appreciate all the nuances of my surroundings. I try to concentrate on the person I am with. I try and recognize that some moments are more memorable than others.
I try and embrace Brian Clark's attitude: Every day is a great day. Some days are just greater than others.
What about you? As you hear the stories of 9/11 and as you reflect on your life, what is your daily attitude? Do you replay past mistakes, hurts, grudges? Do you worry about the future and become anxious? How is your day going? Is it a great or greater day?