I was 19 when 9/11 happened. I was sleeping in my childhood bed at my parents house because I didn’t move into my new dorm until Saturday. I was woken up to my mother screaming “We are being attacked” and that my father was possibly on one of the planes. Within an hour we found out my uncle may be on another. It was unreal. We lived just outside of Boston and my father regularly traveled for business as did my mother’s brother. He had rescheduled his trip and sent someone in his place. They all perished. My father had been late that morning and went to work cancelling his flight because he would never make it. His coworker perished. On the other side of the world in San Diego California my now husband was at the hospital with his now ex-wife and 1 day old newborn baby girl who turned 12 yesterday. She is my oldest stepdaughter. My husband was enlisted in the US Navy at the time and had to begin preparations immediately to leave his 1 day old baby behind. While he made preparations our phones were all turned off in Boston. Since the flights came out of our airport. I got in my car and drove on an empty highway all the way to my father’s work. I found him there and eventually got in touch with my mother to tell her the good news. Everyone in his office was crying or glued to small TVs. I then had to take one of their workers who was also a reserve back into the city because he needed to report for duty. He hopped in the car and we headed back south into a city that everyone was escaping. It reminded me of that scene from Independence day where they drive into DC and everyone is in a traffic jam going the opposite way. I dropped him off and headed home. The whole world seemed numb for days. Everyone I knew was affected in some way, lost someone, knew something. Boston became this tiny city where everyone new everyone and New York was only 3 hours away so it just became this devastating day in this tiny area of the world. When I was 22 I even became a Homeland Security Officer because I was so influenced by those days and moments that seemed to last forever. However years later, I see it differently now.
I look at my stepdaughter. She was born 1 day before this devastating terrorist attack. She is still growing and happy and beautiful. My husband gave up an epically important moment in any father’s life, that first year of his first child’s life, to protect people he didn’t know from an enemy that was threatening our livelihood. I do not know many people who could do something that courageous and even as his wife I am humbled by that commitment he and so many men and women made. I also learned that this little girl represents the one thing we say so often but never practice, “Live for today”. We need to enjoy our lives and treat our lives and days with respect because tomorrow anything can happen. Find joy in your day and soak up that moment. If you learn anything from 9/11 it should be the heroism, the selflessness, and the joy others share. The calls of “I love you” that people made from planes and the babies that were born to remind us that life will go on and we need to protect it for these little guys. Be selfless, be joyous, be happy, be free. It’s what being an American is really about that pursuit of happiness. We should learn from the past in this way. No one who perished that day would want us to dwell they would want us to continue on and fill the world with peace and joy. So today honor them by doing something to pay it forward. Pay their sacrifice forward and fill this world with more joy.