September 11, 2011
I remember exactly how I found out about the World Trade Center tragedy. I was walking my dog, Louix, as I often did in the morning, before I had to take the kids to school. It was early. When I approached the house, my (then) husband was on the porch. “A plane just crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center,” he said as I approached.
“Then another one ran into the other tower….”
We went in to watch the chaos on television, stunned and shocked. I got my kids ready for school. I went on about my day, but my head was in a fog.
The ensuing time in our country was a time I try to forget: threats, war, and “freedom fries”.
When people ask me, in my travels, about my country, I just tell them how I feel. I’m not heavily into politics. I’m not big on patriotism, although I recited the Pledge of Allegiance with my kindergarten kids every morning for the ten years that I taught. British people I have met say that they have very different ideas about their country, that no one ever displays the flag or would dream of pledging any kind of allegiance. Americans, especially post 9-11, are seen as absurdly patriotic. I don’t count myself among the flag-waving group. When GW Bush was the president, I was embarrassed to be American. Much like you wouldn’t claim to be the relative of a drunken, blustery uncle running amok at a holiday gathering, I distanced myself from the war-mongering and just waited for it all to end.
Now I feel, if not patriotic, at least a little pride of country from time to time. As I travel, I see the differences. We in America have so much. So much variety, so many resources, beauty and culture and an abundance of food, gadgets, shopping. Oh, how I miss the shopping! From a distance it is easy to appreciate it all again. At last, I’m not apologetic any more about being American, and that feels good.
But the message I took from 9-11 wasn’t that of patriotism. Today, on the ten-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks, I only feel sadness and sympathy for those directly affected. The day after the attacks, ten years ago, I went to the barn to ride my beloved horse. My friend asked me how I felt, “now that the world has come to an end.” I patted the sleek dark neck of my Thoroughbred mare and just thought, grateful. I felt true appreciation for my family, friends, and yes, my animals too. Three months later that horse was dead, snuffed out like a candle before her time.
Others have been lost in my life – two good friends to cancer, aunts and uncles, grandparents. But I have my children. I have my parents. I am fortunate. Here in Spain, I am staying with a lady who lost her husband four years ago. Her son is just fourteen, growing up without his dad.
I think the biggest lesson of an unforeseen tragedy, big like 9-11, or smaller (but still devastating) like the loss of a single friend, is that we need to be aware of and grateful for what we have right now. This moment. Buddhists call it mindfulness.
We never know when everything we have can be snatched away. We never know when a person we love will no longer be with us. So love fully, unabashedly. Tell the ones you love that you love them. Kiss your mother, play with your kids, ride that horse and give her a carrot when you are done.
Tomorrow is not guaranteed to any of us.