Twenty years ago today, I woke up on my thirty-seventh birthday. Still groggy, I thought about what my special day would hold. Most of all, I hoped to relax, maybe read and spend time in the garden. My friend offered to take and pick up my daughters from school and I was planning to meet my husband for lunch at our favorite Chinese restaurant. Dinner and chocolate cake at my parents’ home.
I had no idea that in that very moment, our world was horrifically changing. Life would NEVER be the same.
September 11, 2001 is etched in my mind forever.
That morning, our phone rang a little after six (we’re in California). We wondered who was calling so early. It was my husband’s assistant from work. “Turn on the TV… NOW.”
The horror unfolded before our eyes.
WHAT is happening? Was this a freak accident? I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that planes had crashed into the twin towers at the World Trade Center in New York City–on purpose.
When it was deemed a terrorist attack, I clearly remember my reaction. WHAT? Terrorists HERE, in the United States??? How can that possibly be?
As the terrifying events unfolded that day–another plane crashing into the Pentagon and one in a field in Pennsylvania–I was glued to the TV in shock, horror, and disbelief. I heard terms and names I wasn’t familiar with, but would soon become common: Kabul, Afghanistan, the Islamic extremist group al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden.
At the time of the attacks, my daughters were in first and fourth grades. I couldn’t imagine explaining to them what had happened. I knew they’d have questions and I’d have no clue how to answer. I was sad for them, for their generation, to be brought up knowing that terrorists are a real threat–even here in America.
None of us could predict that the United States would be involved in a twenty-year war in Afghanistan.
Needless to say, I certainly did NOT feel like celebrating. My husband, daughters, friends, and family did their best to make me feel special. But I was anxious and jittery. I felt guilty it was my birthday. It was all so surreal. I kept thinking that just the day before, September 10, we were all living totally normal lives, oblivious to what was about to happen.
Each year when I wake up on my birthday, the very first thing I do is pray for the nearly three thousand beautiful souls who died on 9/11 and their families. I think of and pray for the first responders and the survivors of that day. And for the hundreds of thousands of troops who served in Afghanistan, the tens of thousands of them who lost their lives. We have family in the Air Force and British Army, many who served in Afghanistan. One of our nieces was there for six months, helping the women and children in villages.
Four years ago, my family and I were on Maui in September. On 9/11, a beautiful memorial was held on the beach. Representatives from the city of Maui, police officers, and firefighters were there to pay tribute. Kayaks filled with first responders glided out into the ocean to form a “surfers memorial circle.” The floating memorial is a traditional Hawaiian tribute to the life of people who have passed away. Members of each kayak tossed out plumeria flowers–2,996–to commemorate those who lost their lives on 9/11. It was hauntingly beautiful, watching thousands of plumerias float gracefully on the water.
What moved me the most was a firefighter who spoke–a first responder in New York City on 9/11. Through a shaky voice and tears, he told the large group that was the first time he’d ever spoken publicly about his experience.
Following the memorial, I went up to thank him. I told him it was my birthday and the first thing I ever think of on 9/11 is him, and all the others so tragically affected by that day. He hugged me tight. I hugged him tighter.
It still seems strange that my previous nondescript birthday is now known as 9/11. Someone suggested I celebrate on 3/11, at the six month mark. But that wouldn’t feel right. This is the day I was born, and I can’t change that.
Now September 11th is SO much more than my birthday.
Today I’ll be celebrating with my family and friends. But there’s no doubt I’ll go through parts of the day with a heavy heart, remembering the day all of our lives changed forever.