Watching the coverage of the 10th anniversary of 9/11 has derailed me. I felt something coming on all week but today the whole thing crystallized for me. Everything in our lives changed that day, but what went on to happen in the next two months almost crushed me.
The September 11th attacks were surreal. I kept thinking we’d find it was just a few rogue idiots – wishful thinking, it turned out. When in the following days it became clear the scope and source of the attacks amounted to an act of war I was bewildered. This was something that happened to other generations (WW II, etc.). I did not think I would live to see something of that scope happen in my lifetime. Throw in the weeks of coverage and struggling to get a grip on it all, I needed to go away and regroup.
Luckily, I was booked to fly out of Boston to Jackson Hole just a few weeks later to spend a week with my sister and her twins in Yellowstone. It was an annual trip and I always loved going out there, but when I woke up the morning of my departure I had such a knot in my stomach I was almost physically sick. Flying out of the Boston airport was suddenly very scary. I had no idea how the security and processing methods had changed, or even if it was safe. Copycat hijackings were on my mind as Joe dropped me off at Logan Airport. We have not before or since had such a tender farewell.
Just after I returned from Yellowstone we got word (on October 23, 2001) that my 69-year-old mother had pancreatic cancer. I remember the date because it was my wedding anniversary and Joe had given me a necklace with a gold heart and a little ruby (my birthstone) in the crest. I made him take it back because when I looked at it all I could see was a broken, bleeding heart. My mother, diagnosed with cancer? She was the healthiest person I knew. Three weeks later she was dead.
Ten years later I feel it all very keenly. Calling 9/11 it a “life changing” event is an understatement of epic proportions. Watching the coverage this morning, I kept thinking, “10 years ago right now, everything was fine…..10 years ago right now, everything was fine.” Then 8:45AM came, the time the first plane hit, and I felt like I had stepped over a line. Everything was no longer fine. Ten years later our country struggles with the far-reaching impacts of that day, including our current economic storm. I struggle to find the “new normal” but nothing seems stable. We live on the shifting sands of economic threats, challenges of aging and everyday unknowns. Maybe it’s because I’m 10 years older and see things differently from the perspective of my fifties. Maybe it’s because I lost my much-loved dad just 5 months ago and now I feel both their absences so intensely.
Maybe there is no “new normal” because there is no “normal”. This could all just be a rite of passage into becoming a wise elder, but I don’t feel grown up enough to be a wise elder. I remember with great nostalgia being able to effortlessly jump on a plane and fly home by myself to visit my mom and dad. Dad was usually watching golf, football or baseball. I’d be stretched out on the couch watching the game, reading or (usually) snoozing. I did not have to make a decision or be responsible for anything. Mom would bustle around and inevitably say, “Did you fly halfway across the country just to sleep?” and I would always smile and say, “Yes, Mom, I did.”
I liked that era of my life, of America’s life. I will never stop missing that “normal”, nor stop wishing to find a new one for myself and for all of us.