I woke this morning with an almost physical pain, haunted by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and those who died in them. The sky is the same brilliant blue, the air as crisp as that fall day the towers suddenly fell as I was getting my baby ready for her first day of pre-school.
Eleven years later, I was driving her to high school with a sea of other moms and dads like any other day. But, of course, it isn’t like any other day, at all.
Friends all over Facebook have posted memories of where they were when the first plane hit the side of the World Trade Center tower. I did, too, as a way to help fill the gaping loss I still feel. I hung my American flag outside the house in respect, as I did back then, recalling the range of deaths that shocked me — from a hometown favorite son to the scores of friends and neighbors that had a sister in New York attending funerals for weeks.
Death is the great equalizer, and mortality has never been more strongly on my mind. I am keenly aware, almost every second of every day, how one moment in time can change a lifetime and not one minute should be wasted.
I often visit the cemetery where my parents rest. I run my fingers over the names carved into the rough stone to remind me that they are really and truly gone. It is still so hard to believe. Last week, I stopped by to also search for a friend’s parents, and in the process stumbled upon the graves of a handful of other people I didn’t know were gone, or had never visited before.
My father’s crazy golf partner. A beloved neighbor. The sweet husband of my old school nurse.
In fact, everywhere I looked, either from the car window as I crept along, or under the beating sun strolling among the stones, my past surrounded and embraced me with the litany of familiar names. Some, though, were unfamiliar but equally as touching. Like the World War II veteran memorialized by a lovely granite bench and the heartbreaking inscription, “Love You Madly.” Did he live life to the fullest? It seems he was well loved.
Someone reminded me recently that we are fast becoming the oldest generation, orphaned as we are by the deaths of our elders. That is a lot to think about. And what we do with this moment of clarity is the day’s big question.
No one can know when another tower will fall, when people we love will die, or life will take a twist or turn. All we can do, to honor the past and this gift we have been given, is to be sure we are living our best and fullest life now. Because when it’s gone? It’s gone.