I’ve seen so many people talking about where they were on September 11, 2001. Much like my parents talk about where they were when Kennedy was shot, and how my grandparents would talk about Pearl Harbor. That placeholder we use to encapsulate the horrors of the day is where we were.
And for me, that was true at first. I would say that as we neared that first anniversary, most of the talk at work, at home, at the grocery store was about where you were when the World Trade Center towers were hit. The feeling was fresh, remarkably so, even after a year. On TV, the coverage of the memorial services and the retrospectives ran all day, eerily reminiscent of the constant coverage the year before.
And I realized – while we all talk about where we were, we rarely talk about how we felt. Where we were is a fact, and there is a certain comfort and safety in fact. How we felt, however, is something far deeper, and something less comfortable to talk about.
Which is nuts. Our whereabouts that day are the things that make our stories about 9-11 different. How we feel, however, is what unites us. It doesn’t matter if you were the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or the guy who cleaned up after the CEO of a Fortune 500 company – we all felt the same way. Horrified. Sick. Terrified. Unfathomably sad.
The other day, as the anniversary loomed again, some 14 years later, someone in my Twitter feed wondered if we observed less deeply as time passed because we’ve forgotten. I’d like to think not. I know I haven’t. I still get that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, but I reached a sort of epiphany about two years after the massacre at the twin towers, the attack on the Pentagon and the crash at Shanksville, Pa., – and that’s what won’t let me forget.
It changed me.
Because those folks that died on 9-11, they died doing the things they do every day. They were pushing papers, and emailing contacts and kvetching over who didn’t refill the coffee pot after they took the last cup. They died on airplanes, wondering why they got the middle seat again or worrying their luggage wouldn’t make it to their destination. They died in situ, in their everyday places.
And upon pondering that, I resolved to make sure that every single day, the people who were important to me knew it. I decided to make sure I left my pocket of the universe a little better than it was when I arrived, in whatever way that I can. It may sound trite, or even a little bit Pollyanna, but I want my people to know without a doubt that I love them. I want my community to know I care. And on 9-11, I say a little prayer for those who did lose friends and loved ones, for peace, for comfort, and for an abundance of love.
So instead of talking about where we were, let’s talk about how we felt. How we feel. How it did or didn’t change us.
Because that, my friends, it what still unites us, even in a world filled with a whole lot of opinions and even rancor.