I woke up at 5 am, put the coffee on, turned on NPR. As I poured milk into a blue thermos, I was waylaid by two people talking about their loved ones who died in the 9/11 attacks, Sean Rooney and Karen Juday.
I stopped, sat down with tears in my eyes, and thought about how the most moving stories of tragedy require an ordinary beginning.
My dislike for the public emoting over impersonal tragedies has grown over the years. The memes, the bumper stickers, the slogans. Nope, we will not ever forget. Promise.
But I still can’t talk about 9/11 without a hitch my throat, and I can’t hear stories about trapped loved ones calling their spouses or their parents to say goodbye as the smoke grew thick without suffering a near total emotional collapse.
Today, I mark another anniversary, The calendar has swung around and it all lines up perfectly. Thursday September 11, 2008 was my first chemotherapy. I closed the door on two months of gut-wrenching searches for answers and allowed the poison the flow. It took my hair, my ability to fight of infection, my irrational sense of immortality, my heart’s ability to pump to its full potential, and most importantly, almost all the cancer.
How do I honor this day? How do we honor this day?
Maybe just for today, we stop sorting people into us and them, stop with the small-minded litmus tests, stop laying judgments on nations of people, temporarily ban the idea that you’re either with me or your against me.
Just try for the next hour not to focus on everything your life isn’t, all the mistakes you made or didn’t make, whether you’ll ever reach those 20 year old dreams. Stop obsessing over the outside forces that unfairly shape your fate. Stop trying to guess what’s coming down the road because you don’t know.
Just give it a rest.
Instead, let’s pay attention the hectic race to the bus or the train, the housework, the packing of the lunches, the coworker who makes loud personal calls, the mindless stuff that passes us unnoticed, fading into the gray-blue background. Check out the way the strong summer trees are starting to fade into autumn. The orange mums your neighbor put on her porch. The faint smell of woodsmoke. This humid morning full of crickets, accented by brief showers and hints of a cool breeze.
We ignore the ordinary until it’s gone, then would make any bargain with any force of good or evil to bring it back.
Instead of wailing, gnashing our teeth, focusing on everything that’s wrong and seeking revenge, let’s remember what those grieving loved ones miss most, what I miss most about my pre-cancer days.
A sparkle in an eye, the wholeness of a body, a morning check-in phone call, a shared grocery list, a walk in the woods, moments that matter solely for the dignity of their face-value, a day unburdened by the heaviness of loss.