Want to know the most haunting memory for me as we mark the tenth anniversary of 9/11? The most enduring memory? It’s not remembering driving by the Pentagon moments after the plane hit and seeing the truly unbelievable plumes of black smoke. It’s not remembering how worried Whit was, incapable of contacting his pregnant wife. It’s not remembering how millions of Americans lost their jobs. It’s not that it was the advent of worrying about the future terrorist plots that will threaten my world.
It’s remembering the sick feeling I got when I heard those stories of people who lost loved ones. Those stories that start with, "The last thing I said was..."
"The last thing I said was, 'I love you.'"
"The last thing I said was, 'Have a good day.'"
"The last thing I said was, 'Pick up the dry cleaning.'"
Or, "I was mad and I didn’t say goodbye."
For me, that’s the worst part. The fact that all those people thought it was a regular day. All those people thought their husband or wife would walk back through the door after work, or get off the plane. Just the way I leave, or send my husband or children off, every day, saying, "See you later!" All those people thought they were saying, "See you later!" And all those people were so tragically mistaken.
That has stuck with me for ten years...the lesson to try to live consciously. The lesson that we might be saying goodbye, forever, at any time. The bigger lesson that we all do need to live each moment like it’s our last.
Because we don’t do that.
Instead, we just live.
And living means fighting with your spouse. Or telling your child you’re too tired to read or play a game. Or getting mad at your friend and ignoring her phone calls, or feeling self-righteous and not saying you’re sorry to someone who deserves to hear it.
And anniversaries such as this remind us, in a quiet way, to be careful. Don’t get too complacent. Don’t assume you have tomorrow, or that there’s time later to say you’re sorry, or that you didn’t mean it. Don’t live your life thinking as though you have plenty of hours to read to your child, or that you can wait until you feel like it to play checkers or Twister. "Do it now," this anniversary reminds us. Say, "I love you" often. Say, "I’m sorry" often. Say, "Let’s play" often. Treasure every single moment you’re able to hug someone you care about. Treasure your friends. Treasure the siblings that drive you crazy or the coworkers you dislike. Treasure every moment, because every moment could be your last. Or someone else’s last.
This anniversary, as it should, shakes us up. This anniversary tells us, in a twisted way, to stop worrying. Stop worrying so much about an uncertain future and concentrate on today. Concentrate on kindness.
It’s a good message, no doubt. It’s a good reminder, even though it’s tinged with sadness.
I'm not so great at remembering this, even though I want to. I get mad or busy or tired or worried and I forget all about kindness or patience or making every moment count. I guess we all do.
But maybe this weekend I can think about it. I can remember.