September 11, 2001 and September 11, 2005 were both defining moments in my life. And defining moments become the stories that we tell and retell in the hope that we can make some sense of them.
On September 11, 2001 I was at a conference in the Plaza Hotel when I was told that a plane hit the World Trade Center. Like so many, I assumed that it was a wayward small plane from Teterboro. Only when I saw people sobbing in the hallways did I realize that something was dreadfully wrong. For hours, I was unable to tell any of my family that I was safe and I was unable to contact any of my family members to hear that they were safe. My mom was not certain which day was which conference where. Fortunately, I had spoken to my then boyfriend (now husband of ten years) first thing that morning and he was able to reassure her that I was not downtown (my World Trade Center conference was on September 12th). As a mother now, I can only imagine her tremendous relief.
Having just relocated to Pennsylvania, my brother had been reassigned from a project on the 80 something floor in WTC to an in-house project while he got his wife and daughter settled in their new home. My father, a Wall Streeter, was flying on a business trip somewhere near Washington DC, escaping the downtown chaos only for us to assume for many hours that he could be on the plane. In fact, he saw the planes hit in the rear view mirror of the car service as he headed out to LaGuardia. His driver spoke with a policewoman at the airport who in no uncertain terms told him to get out of the airport as they were about to shut it down. They drove back as far as City Hall before covering their mouths with restaurant napkins and walking the rest of the way back to Wall Street to help people.
Later, we realized that my mom could have lost all of us that day and by the grace of god lost none. Each year, our hearts break for the families and friends both of those we personally lost (numbered much higher than I like to think about as my dad and I were both Wall Streeters) and for all those affected by events of that day.
In May of 2005, our daughter was born. As we chose a date for her baptism, I wanted a date of deep significance. After receiving the approval of my family and minister, we chose September 11 which was a Sunday that year. We wanted September 11 to be a date of not only remembrance but also a celebration of new life, rebirth and renewal. Every year at this time, as I once again grieve my losses that day, my sorrow is now mixed with this beautiful memory of her being brought into the family of our church. And I remember the laughter and joy throughout our parish as our little girl was lifted high in the air by our minister with her full head of sopping wet dark hair, her smile and her eyes wide open with new life.
Those defining moments… The 16th Gyalwa Karmapa said “You take it all in. You let the pain of the world touch your heart and you turn it into compassion.” Today we remember and somehow, each in our own way, we move forward a little more compassionate.
If you want to read more, this is my post from the ninth anniversary… Remembering 911.