While there is much we may wish we could forget about this day from 10 years ago, there is something I wish to remember.
In fact I wish it were something we could all remember every day.
On September 11, 2001 I was living in northern New Jersey about 35 miles from ground zero. Although very suburban, Hillsdale has the intensity, both for better and for worse, inherent in being a commuter town to New York City. We had friends who were there. We had friends who should have been, but gratefully had fortunate changes in plans. Many were lost from our area and many others worked tirelessly in the days and months that followed providing whatever was needed in the aftermath.
My daughter, only a year and a half old, was with the sitter at the time. Rich Largman, my dear friend and colleague, and I were sitting in my living room on a call with our friend and client Paul Miller from the Morristown Partnership. He told us to turn on the TV immediately. No more work would be done that day. it seems few forget where they were and who they were with that day.
We watched first in disbelief and then horror. At some point I just had to go get my daughter. I brought her home and quite honestly I did not know what to do with myself. It was hard not to watch the TV and I didn’t want those images in her mind so I took her for a walk into town.
We got to the point where there was a relatively new pedestrian cross walk, complete with cones to help remind people to give the pedestrians the right of way. As was typical, when a car saw a pedestrian they seemed to speed up hoping they would make it through the crosswalk before they had to wait a painful 2 minutes for someone to cross the street. It didn’t seem to matter whether I was pushing a stroller or not. I often felt like someone was trying to run me down if I dared to cross the road.
The tragic events that day were just unfolding. Nothing much had changed. Yet.
The next day, again not knowing what to do with myself, we went for a walk into town. Today something was different though. We got to that crosswalk and immediately the approaching car stopped. They waved, too. I was stunned and thought to myself, “they must not be from around here”.
I soon realized something profound had changed because the behavior wasn’t just happening at that crosswalk. It was happening everywhere.
People were giving each other the right of way. They made eye contact with each other. For a moment in time there were human beings who deserved to be acknowledged behind the wheel of the car trying to make a turn rather than a machine being driven by some nameless jerk who seemed to be determined to slow you down. For a few days we stopped rushing. We connected with the person behind the checkout counter in the grocery store rather than looked past them as though they were some inanimate object that could be disregarded without a thought.
We were kinder to each other. We were gentler with each other. We acknowledged one another. For a moment in time we were not perfect strangers, even if we had never met.
The grief, the sorrow and the disbelief may have been the source of this profound and rapid change in behavior. I don’t know what was happening elsewhere in the country or the world. I wondered whether this phenomenon was happening all over or whether it had something to do with my proximity to the twin towers. It didn’t matter because I liked what was happening, despite the reason. I lived in a small town and for the first time it felt like a small town.
For a brief time I had hoped that this horrific event had somehow changed us for the better.
As my husband recounted the events of that fateful day to our now 11 year old daughter the tears quickly welled in my eyes. I was surprised by the depth of my emotion so many years later. Then, as I looked in my daughters eyes, I was for a moment transported back to crossing the street with my daughter in the days after September 11, 2001.
I’d like to think the events of September 11th changed us for the better. Perhaps it is my need to find meaning and purpose in the horror and tragedy of it all.
So 10 years later I am remembering an experience of living in my community that I didn’t think was possible. That’s the part I never want to forget.
Today I remember. Today I grieve a profound loss on so many levels. Today I celebrate extraordinary heroism on that day and in the days that followed. And today I am reminded to slow down and be kinder and gentler.
At his concert last night Brad Paisley remembered 2011 with the images above while singing “When I Get Where I’m Going”. It is a beautiful song that celebrates those that have passed and imagines a world beyond where “there’ll be only happy tears” and love without fear.
How will you remember that day?