“The burnt out ends of smoky days”

Not my quote, unfortunately-this beautiful line belongs to TS Eliot. And it always reminds me of 9/11.

I lived in Manhattan and worked in an office downtown on 9/11/01. I was fortunate enough not to lose anyone I loved, but I knew people who had. A woman living in my mother’s building lost her son. Another woman I’d known from a “mommy and me” class lost her husband. And because we lived in the area affectionately known as “hospital row,” we became used to the flyers posted on store windows, hospital doors, bus kiosks, signposts. “Have you seen…” A husband, a wife, a child, a friend.

This Sunday marks the ten year anniversary of the attacks that changed so many lives. For myself, the changes weren’t profound-we moved from the city, something we might have done anyway, but perhaps not as quickly. We were friendlier to strangers, simply because we didn’t know their stories, what they might have suffered. Maybe we became a little more jumpy, a little more likely to cringe if we heard a plane buzzing too low or the wail of a fire engine.

And maybe we learned to value our lives-and our families-a little bit more.

On 9/11 I’m going to do what I usually do-sit by myself for a few moments to remember. Not the fear. Not the grief, although that usually takes hold. What I remember are the stories. The ones of strangers offering water to the stunned survivors of the World Trade Center collapse as they made their way home. The stories of the rescue workers who put their own lives on the line to help the trapped and injured. The office workers who waited in smoky corridors to help guide their colleagues downstairs. Because it was those actions, and the power behind them, that made the smoky days more bearable.

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