While indulging my Facebook addiction this morning, I read many stories answering the "Where Were You?" question that appeared for the 15th year on this date. I don't even need to give backstory here - 9/11 is synonymous with death, destruction, terror, and profound sadness.
On this day in 2001, I was a new mom to a colicky baby girl and living in the Boston area. My darling was 4 months old, and I had just gotten her down for a morning nap after being up for what seemed like days of nonstop screaming. I dragged my weary body to the couch with my morning cup of very strong coffee/cream/sugar to watch some of the Today Show, my one treat each morning. Expecting to see Al Roker up to some hijinx, Katie Couric looking peppy and perky, and Anne Curry attempting some serious broadcast journalism, I was shocked to see live footage of one of the twin towers after a plane flew into it. Like the rest of the country, I was captivated; glued to my television set as the horror unfolded. "It was a mistake," I thought. "The plane just went off track." Then, the second tower was hit. Then, the Pentagon. Then, a plane went down in Pennsylvania. Then, the towers collapsed along with our national security. At one point, I went into the shower and just cried. What would be hit next? How many would die? Who would do this?
That afternoon, I met up with some other moms of babies at a local waterfront park. We discussed and analyzed the events and how we knew this was a turning point; that our babies would grow up in a completely different world. The day was beautiful - clear, blue skies and warm. But quiet. Oh, so quiet. We found out that the planes had mostly flown out of Boston, and everyone knew someone who was either on one of those planes-cum-weapons or victim related to someone we knew. The terror hit so close. Our babies did what babies do, unaware of the world around them. They ate grass, cried for food, rolled about, and touched each other with wonder and joy. They'd never know the world before. No subsequent person born would, either. For my children, taking off their shoes and being practically strip-searched in an airport is the norm. Terrorism is commonly spoken of. They are always a little afraid.
I'll never forget where I was physically that day, or mentally. I doubt I'll ever again in my life watch such tragedy unfold, the truth of what's happening slowly dawning and breaking through the denial. The whole world stopped, broke, and started again in a completely different way. The terrorists took something from us all that day, and denied everyone born after that day the chance for a life "before 9/11", when every plane trip didn't engender just a little hesitation. I'd like everyone to take a moment today, as if you aren't already, to think about how just a few hours changed everything. And how since then, not much has changed at all.
It's my birthday today. I'm 46 years old, and if my math is correct I am now closer to 60 than to 30. I find myself with many aches and pains and wobbles that have crept up on me, mostly from kicking myself for thinking I was old at 30 and from an unfortunate ligament-tearing incident at roller derby a couple of weeks ago. The boot prints of time show everywhere - in the age spots forming on my hands (but I'll never give up the sun, so they're here to stay), the stretch marks on my stomach and thighs (but I'll never regret having my babies, though I do regret some of the cake), and the lines on my face (but I'll never regret the laughter, or really even the tears, that put them there).
Neither of my parents lived to be 65 years old. If this genetic legacy continues through me, I have less than 2 decades to go. Statistically, even if I live to the average age for a woman of 81 years, more than half my life is over. This is a staggering thought, because my mind still believes I am 24 and have all the time in the world to fulfill my dreams. I'm convinced this thought is the basis for midlife crisis and urgency to do more, be more, have more that I see every day. The only thing that may keep me alive into very old age is that "only the good die young."
I found a picture of myself the other day from the approximately 25 minutes in 1990 that I could be considered "hot." In that photo, my hair is thick, shiny, and hangs around my shoulders in perfect spiral curls. My cheekbones and collarbones are in evidence, and my smile is the careless smile of a young, pretty girl who takes her prettiness for granted. It's all been downhill from there. At 46, my body is a warning for what will happen if you aren't very, very careful. I worry, at 46, if I can ever reclaim a firm figure or a head of nice hair (which has gone from lovely spiral curls to fright wig in the blink of an eye).
The great upside to getting older is that I truly don't care if people don't like me. The things that made me weird as a kid make me quirky and fun now. And the urgency of knowing I don't have decades left on this earth helps me make much better decisions and prompts me to get things done. Which reminds me, I still have 10,000 words or so left on Cate Book Number Two, which I am sure you're all waiting with bated breath to get your hot little hands on (insert shameless promotion).
I'm going to enjoy today. It started off with a thunderstorm and rain, but I just burrowed under the covers and went back to sleep since it's Saturday. My sons and daughter and fabulous husband all remembered so I don't have to be like Samantha Baker in 16 Candles (though she did score Jake Ryan in the end). And I'll make the most of the fleeting years I have left. Mark my words.
Courtney is a most fabulous writer and teacher of gifted middle school students. She is the author of two novels - see the "Cate Books" page of this site for information! Watch for updates about future books that need to be part of your personal library. In the meanwhile, enjoy her pithy life observations.