Our local newspaper’s main story today is headlined “The Last Ordinary Day.”
In the story the reporter tells of encounters those who lost loved ones had with their husbands, wives, sons and daughters on Sept. 10, ordinary moments that became instantly more precious than jewels the next day.
It’s a moving story, and it resonates with me, even though I lost no one I knew on Sept. 11. What I lost was what all of us lost that day – complacency. What we gained was the unquestioned understanding that those we love could vanish in an instant.
Our theoretical understanding of mortality became a knowing lodged in the gut.
It changed me. I suspect it changed all of us.
My husband and I were three states away from home that day. Even though we knew our family was safe, as soon as we could we rented a car and drove 1200 miles through a day and a night to get home to see them, to touch them, to hold them. What our minds knew didn’t affect what our hearts and bodies needed.
Like everyone else, we watched and listened to hours of news coverage, hours of heartbreak and anguish and terrible loss. This is the thing that most strongly remains with me:
News story after story reported that, when they knew they were going to die, people in those towers and on those planes had one thought – to tell the people they loved that they loved them. Countless cell phone messages were left with goodbyes consisting of “I love you.”
Yes, unimaginable hate caused those planes to crash into buildings and into the ground. Yes, out of the ashes and wreckage arose waves of anguish -- but so did waves of love.
All of us alive that day were as indelibly marked by that loss and love as we would have been if our foreheads wore permanent thumbprints of ashes. For months afterward, it was Ash Wednesday everyday for everyone.
I think of that as I watch my two grandsons, ages 4 and 2. They have lived their entire lives in a post 9/11 world.
I can remember a “before” and an “after.” They cannot.
I wonder what it’s like for them. Do we love them differently, more fiercely, than we would have if 9/11 had not happened? Are we more protective? Are we more appreciative of every milestone – the first smiles, the first steps, the first words – than we would have been before?
I cannot know the answers to these questions, of course.
What I do know is that they are surrounded by adults who know in their guts how precious these and all children are. They are surrounded by people who know how fragile life can be in a much deeper way than we did five years ago.
Most importantly they are surrounded by people still unafraid to love, even though we witnessed the terrible risk of loving on that heartbreaking morning filled with ashes.
The terrorists get so much so wrong. Perhaps the thing they get the most wrong is their belief that hate can defeat love.
Every cell phone call from those burning towers and falling planes taught us just how wrong that is.
Yes, people and planes and buildings turn to ashes, and hearts break.
But love arises.
In spite of the ashes.