Today is the eighth anniversary of 9/11. Each of us has our own distinct memory of how it unfolded. There are two things I think about every year on this day: The first is to remember all those who went to work that day and died before lunch. The second is to recall the only person I know who was in the World Trade Center, a cousin by marriage.
I do not know him well. He has never spoken of that day at any family event. I would not dare ask.
I only know the story as it has been passed through the family grapevine. It goes like this: My cousin by marriage worked for one of the Big Three auto companies. He was sent to New York on business. His wife, my cousin by blood, had recently given birth to twin girls.
After my cousin by marriage escaped the World Trade Center and ran like hell for countless blocks, he was able to patch through a call to his wife — who was no doubt consumed with the care of newborns. When she answered the call in her quiet suburban-Detroit home, he told her he was OK. He made it out alive.
My cousin by blood, who did not have the TV or radio on, did not know to what he was referring. She then turned on the TV news (I’m sure, to her horror, to find out what was unfolding in this country), made arrangements for child care, packed her car, and drove to the Eastern seaboard to bring her husband home. They were among the lucky ones who survived to tell their story.
Remembering this day is important. On a personal level, it helps put things in their proper perspective. This year has been a 9/11 of sorts for my family. The threat of unknown forces has kept us on the edge of our seats, made us cautious and deliberate in every move we make.
This year also has deliver to me some unexpected gifts:
The first is a healing balm applied to a festering wound of a family relationship. The magic began with two words: I’m sorry.
Two words that took more than 20 years to say.
But it’s a beginning. It’s a chance to make things right before it’s too late.
More than 20 years of anger and resentment and fuming and side-stepping and outright lying on both of our ends has kept open wounds from healing. And now, there is a chance to set boundaries and stay quiet long enough to understand the other side.
The second gift is an appreciation for what cannot be pulled from an ATM or rented from Netflix or arranged through Expedia. It’s the hunt and discovery of that which is already out there, free, available to anyone curious enough to seek it. Free stuff. Simple pleasures. Enjoying the moment. Gratitude. Guess what? It turns out some of that stuff we thought was essential really wasn’t so life-and-death necessary after all.
The gift of spending time together, of being grateful that we are alive and in good health, and living in a country that still allows personal freedom is priceless.
The third gift is the deep well of support I didn’t know I had in my own yard. Without having to ask, I’m blessed with wonderful friends who share their own wealth and good fortune with me. I’ve learned that true friends appreciate the gift of time and attention when you don’t have much else to offer in exchange.
Three simple gifts came to me when I least expected it.
And maybe — if I allow myself to believe such things — three gifts came to me when I deserved it the most.