Today is a significant day in our nation’s history…
But let me begin by telling you that it’s also my mom’s birthday.
Since she is the most amazing woman I know, and that’s saying a lot since I know a lot of pretty amazing women, I’d like to take a moment to honor her.
My mom is the one who taught me how to love by loving me every second of my life. She has given me her undivided, unconditional support every step of the way. She has held my hand through all of life’s challenges. She believes in me and my dreams. She gives me advice when I need it yet never says “I told you so” when I prove time and time again how stubborn I can be. She has been my #1 fan since the day I was born. I couldn’t ask for a better mom or friend.
Ten years ago today, I woke up thinking that the day would be significant simply because it was my mom’s birthday. I hoped I wouldn’t forget to call her.
I was 25-yrs-old, living in the NYC area and working at the National Basketball Association. I was on my way to work when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. I saw the smoke from my car. The DJ on the radio said a small plane had crashed. His tone made it sound like no big deal. It seemed more like a nuisance than anything else. Of course he turned out to be wrong.
As I pulled into the NBA’s parking lot, my then-boyfriend called me from the subway platform beneath the World Trade Center. He switched trains there on his way to work nearby. He said there was chaos there, alarms going off and he was stuck underground in a mob of people. He wanted to know if I’d heard anything and if I could tell him what happened. I told him what I thought I knew – that there was an accident, that a small plane had crashed into one of the towers. My tone probably made it seem like no big deal. At the time, I didn’t think it was. Of course I too was wrong.
Moments after we said goodbye, I parked, entered the building and climbed the stairs to my desk just in time to see the second plane strike Tower II.
Like millions of other people, I watched it happen live on TV.
Suddenly it was a very big deal.
I tried to reach my boyfriend but couldn’t. For hours, I tried to get him back on the phone. But cell phones were useless that day. All circuits were busy. No one could get through.
In pure panic, I called my mom. I was in shock when I said, “Happy birthday.” She was in shock too when she thanked me for the flowers I’d sent her. Then she told me that my dad was in New York too and that she hadn’t been able to reach him either. But she put her own worst fear aside to focus on me. Was I OK?
I wasn’t even close to OK. Neither was she. No one was. We were all scared to death that day and rightfully so. What was happening? No one knew for sure. As the details unfolded throughout the day, it only became scarier and more confusing. None of it made any sense. It was all too horrifying to be true.
My mom’s voice was the only thing that comforted me. Even though we were in different states, knowing she was there somehow helped. It gave me hope. And with her there on the phone with me, I wasn’t alone.
People were leaving work to go home to be with their loved ones. Some stayed behind, glued to their desks or huddled around television monitors. Like me, maybe they didn’t know where else to go. Should I have gone home to my empty apartment? I practically lived at work so it made more sense for me to stay there. At a point, that too became too hard to bear.
I could no longer sit there waiting. I needed to go out and physically search for him. I’d heard people were flooding out of Manhattan and many of them were heading for Hoboken. So a coworker/friend drove me there.
I remember how oddly peaceful and eerily beautiful it was outside that day. It felt like the first day of spring. Was it all a bad dream?
My father eventually got out of New York and came home to my mother, giving her a birthday present that blew my 1-800-Flowers out of the water.
My then-boyfriend made it out of the city too. His ordeal was far more traumatic. He’d finally made it to his office after speaking to me that morning and from his window he later told me that he could see the towers burning. His office building was eventually evacuated and he managed to make it on foot to the Hudson River, where he somehow got across and then walked home.
He couldn’t talk about what he saw that day. He gave me blurbs here and there. I tried not to press him for the details I was sure I could already see on his face. I was horrified for him when he eventually told me some of what he’d seen, like people jumping from windows. I could only try to be there for him.
While a day that didn’t make sense continues to not make sense 10 years later, it’s true that the whole world changed that day. I know my life did.
For one, I am obviously no longer with that same person. He broke up with me exactly 2 months later. That’s OK. It simply wasn’t meant to be and it didn’t take me long to figure out what was.
I know how lucky I was that day.
It breaks my heart when I hear stories of people who lost loved ones. Tears fill my eyes and I get the exact same lump in my throat every time I think about it. But in a way, my experience on 9/11/01 helped set me free. I learned a lot about myself that day and in the days and months which followed. I learned to appreciate my life and not to take anyone in it for granted. I learned to follow my heart and to go after my dreams.
You and I live in a post 9-11 world. It’s a world where anything can happen. We can choose to keep on living and trying to achieve great things or we can run and hide in a corner. I don’t know about you but if there’s a chance that it could all end tomorrow, I refuse to waste this moment.
Today is a significant day in our nation’s history. It’s a day to look back and remember something we could never possibly forget, to honor the heroes and pay tribute to all those who lost their lives or loved someone who did. But most of all, it is a day to be thankful for life itself and for the people who love us.
And today is my mom’s birthday.
Happy birthday, Mom. I love you. And I thank God for you every day.