Sunday, September 11, 2011

In a New York Minute

On September 10, 2002, USA TODAY ran an article describing what life was like on that same date in 2001 – the day before the world changed forever. And when you read it, you get the sense that things weren’t all that different from the way they are today. While terrorism may have seemed like something only other countries had to worry about (there was actually a suicide bombing in Istanbul), the news was still filled with frivolous headlines about Hollywood gossip and adulterous politicians. A Gallup Poll revealed that the majority of Americans were “dissatisfied with the way things are going in the United States.”

But what’s most striking about the piece are the stories of how some of the people who would perish in the impending attacks spent their last full day on earth. Some are, not surprisingly, heartbreaking, like the woman whose dinner plans with her mother got canceled. Some are eerie, like the son who, for some unknown reason, made his weekly call to his parents on that Monday night, instead of Wednesday like he usually did. And some are, in a way, touching, like the father who was forced to stay home with his two daughters, because his wife had a meeting; or the man who stayed up late folding a load of laundry, a surprise his wife wouldn’t find until the following morning as he was on his way to the World Trade Center.

Blessed with the benefit of hindsight, though, they’re all haunting, because we know what’s coming next. And that perspective allows us to see how these everyday, seemingly trivial occurrences, decisions and inconveniences add up to make something so much more, something that should never be taken for granted:


But if we spin things forward and apply that same perspective to our own lives, we may see that that’s exactly what we’re doing. Caught up in the tunnel vision of our day-to-day, weighted down by all of the pressures and demands and responsibilities, it can be difficult to be grateful for the small things, to not get frustrated with the never-ending hassles and annoyances, to step back and appreciate the big picture. There are just too many places to go and people to see. There’s too much money to make. There’s too much to do, and too little time to do it.

And while we talk a good game about living today as if it’s our last, that’s not really what shows up for many of us. We say that our families are our priority, that the people we love are what are most important to us, yet we spend the majority of our time away from them.

We’re like the out of shape person who claims to want to be fit, but never works out.

Of course, this neglect is not always driven by greed or selfishness. Oftentimes, it’s just the opposite – we work harder and faster and longer because we care about those who are close to us, to ensure that they have everything we can possibly provide them. But in doing so, we sometimes end up missing out on those precious moments we didn’t know were significant until it’s too late.

It’s a shame that we allow it to get to that point, that it takes something disastrous – an accident, a medical diagnosis, a death – to mute the madness, to strip away all of the trivialities and shift our focus back to finding some semblance of balance in our lives.

Maybe that’s just how it is, though. Maybe it’s impossible to be in tune to the good stuff without experiencing the bad.

So while September 11th will always live on as a time of great tragedy, as a symbol of heroism and bravery, of compassion and the American spirit, maybe it can also serve as a reference point for just how fragile our lives really are. Everything can change, just like that. One minute, our lives are about bank accounts and traffic and deadlines; the next they’re about…well…lord knows what. And by simply carrying that horrific day with us, we will no longer need any more misfortune to remind us about what truly matters.

Because really, for all we know, any day could be our own September 10th.

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"It's not a lie, if you believe it." Those were the words of one of my generation's great sages, George Costanza, and the more of life I experience, the truer they ring. And while I still haven't found what I'm looking for, the search for my own personal "truths" is never-ending. Care to come along for the ride?