I've always loved this time of year: sun's still strong during the day, nights begin to take on a pleasant chill. Things feel more orderly, predictable as kids are back at school, schedules are set, football's constantly on TV. Leaves start to yellow, some languorously dance down to the ground. Twelve years ago, I worked in book publishing in New York's famed Flatiron Building (second floor, Fifth Avenue side). The day began bright and clear, not nearly as humid as today. It was Election Day in New York and the birthday of one of my dearest childhood friends.
These things were on my mind as I hurried up the side stairs to my office, maybe 15 minutes before nine. I logged into my computer, started to check email and then wondered why it was so quiet. I had headed into the building from the south, from the Broadway side; after all, the Flatiron, like one old grouchy traffic cop, divides Fifth Avenue from Broadway at 23rd Street. The devastation of the day was behind me; not so, for my many colleagues unfurling from the subway. They saw smoke straight down Fifth Avenue and paused, puzzled. That was the beginning of a very bad day and now, 12 years on, so much has changed while all has pretty much stayed the same.
I've been reading the remembrances of folks online today. A former colleague at National Geographic who's teaching at Boston College pointed out on her Facebook feed that today's college students were in third grade when 9/11 happened, third grade! For me, the devastation of that day prompted me to quit my job in New York, join the Peace Corps, teach English for a time in Uzbekistan, return early to Washington, D.C., go to grad school, work at a think tank, then National Geographic, travel to Hawaii and the south of France, and now, here I find myself working for myself, on projects for NG and others.
Here I find myself hoping the adoption of three kids from foster care for which we've waited so long to actually happen. And I wonder how this all fits into the spark, the plan, the grand idea that knocked me out of my path, my security of a real job-job, out into the unknown and uncertain. And, it seems, these are pieces meant to fit somehow into the quilt that is my life. There are jagged edges, disappointments, failures, retreats. There are some patches that are oblong, circular, some are even torn but they'll fit together, sewn carefully and with joy, joy felt due to simply still being alive. Watching the yellow jackets spin about, sucking up pollen from the now-pink sedum plants in the back yard. Day after day, monitoring the cherry tomatoes, which I started from seed, get plump and redder and redder. Walking my goofy dogs too often, greeting kids in the neighborhood.
For me, I think back to the horror of this day, 12 years on. Every year. I mourn the people I didn't know who died. I empathize with the grieving families they left behind. I feel thankful I am still alive, to struggle on, to hope, to try, to live.