It just so happened that I had gone to Connecticut to visit family and friends in September of 2001. I had been there for a few days, and my flight home was on September 10, 2001 aboard an Airbus A320 from Logan in Boston to SFO.
It was a Monday. I had arrived on Friday afternoon, spent a great 4-day weekend hanging out and revisitng my childhood haunts like I do every time I go there. I saw my friends, and my Mom for the first time in a couple years. I talked to my brother and debated him about the work ID program that Vicente Fox was in Washington pushing on W to get in place.
And I remember clearly that my Mom wanted me to stay for dinner on Monday night, even though I had already spent time with her. But I had to get to the airport. I remember her saying "Could you just leave tomorrow instead? I miss you and I don't get to see you much."
And I'm sure I told her something about having to get back to SF for work on Tuesday or something, and I left.
And I remember getting home to my apartment at Washington and Polk in SF, where I was living with 3 guys around the corner from The Cinch where we all hung out almost nightly. And I'm sure that that Monday night, I went there and had a few drinks before going to bed.
The next morning is both extremely clear and oddly blurry.
Like most folks who weren't physically there, I stood in front of my roommate's TV aghast, slack-jawed and tried to suppress the growing nausea.
I try to not think about what would have happened if I'd accepted my mom's request and just "pushed the flight" to the next morning.
But every year, without fail, when this day comes, the pit in my stomach sinks and I revisit the exact sensation I had as the events unfolded. The nauseated feeling is so distinct to this day. Thinking about how many times I'd been in WTC and marveled at the view and the sheer size of it. Knowing how many people worked there, and the visual impressions we all have in our collective consciousness to remember. How I couldn't conceive of the Manhattan skyline without the WTC, and thinking that this just couldn't be real. I think about how four or five years later I worked with someone who lost her dear, wonderful father at the Pentagon that day, and how unimaginably painful that must have been.
And, even though it is so troubling, I hope that I never stop feeling this.
I honestly hope that I never lose contact with this sick-stomach feeling. As ill as it makes me, it is a trigger to snap me out of whatever idyll or malaise I happen to be in and re-feed me the lesson of a lifetime. I feel this iterative illness as reverential to those whose pain far surpasses mine, and to which I can have no bearing of familiarity. My personal proximity to these events pales in comparison to so many. This annual sickness is my hardwired homage to them.
I think of sudden loss as the hardest thing. When there is a slow decline, or a predictable path, we can psychologically prepare. But the essence of "terror" is emotion. We feel "terrorized" because it shocks us into the fear of uncertainty and sudden loss.
I've lost close friends suddenly. And all I did afterward, besides cry and grieve, was think of all the things we didn't say or do, all the things we will never get to say or do, and how few and fleeting the things we did do seem when the unspoken undertanding of "more to come" is dashed...
And all roads then lead back to how precious our small little gift of time really is.
As I look forward to becoming a father, I think of all the things that I want to convey to my daughter. I want her to know about everything. The easy stuff, and the hard stuff. The fun stuff and the not-so-fun stuff. And I'm sure she'll get there.
But mostly I think that I want to guide her, at her pace, to realize that this isn't a dress rehearsal. I think if she understands that, more than anything else, she'll grow up to be the daughter, woman, partner to another and overall citizen that I so romantically and optimistically envision today.