It's 9/11 again. And for the last seven years, I've written on this day about how I have grown since the World Trade Center. I was standing next to the first tower when it fell.
Mostly, I don't think about 9/11 anymore. Well, not on a daily basis at least. But, for example, I so seldom hear a plane flying over my town—Middleton, WI—that when I do, I have flashbacks to hearing the second plane fly right over me and into the building.
I also have flashbacks when I go running with the farmer on his dirt road. On a dry day the dust gets in my mouth and it feels like the moments leading up to when the air was so thick with debris from the fallen building that I couldn't breath. We stopped running on the dirt for the summer.
In an odd way, though, 9/11 has helped me. It helped me focus my career, and understand my personal history, and it helped me have compassion for my husband when our marriage was ending.
Over the years, what that upsets me the most about 9/11 has changed. In the beginning, I was most upset about how when I saw danger, I walked toward the building, to see what was happening, rather than getting back on the train and going home. Later I learned that most of Wall St. responded the same way, so I was beating myself up for what was simple human nature.
Later, the thing that most upset me was that I needed so much help from people, but I did not offer help. For example, someone else broke a window, I don't know how, but I pulled myself into a building with breathable air just as I was preparing to accept death. I made my way to a bathroom that was clean and had running water.
Our mouths were so coated with debris that we couldn't really breathe without first swallowing water. There were men fighting over who could drink out of the toilet first. The fighting men scared me and my instinct was to lock the door—I just wanted to be safe.
Later I realized that most people around me were being selfish. It is another natural instinct that you never read about in the newspaper. Who wants to tell a reporter about their selfishness on the anniversary of 9/11?
This year, I realized that my most upsetting moment has changed again. It was the moment where I accepted that I was going to die. I had just married my husband, and I was so disappointed that I would not see how our lives unfolded. I realized that the greatest joy in life is simply watching the lives of people you love unfold in their very own way.
After 9/11 I had a series of nervous breakdowns. I was scared to walk in the city, I could not handle the stress of being the primary breadwinner with a newborn, and then we lost everything we owned to bed bugs, and I got a divorce.
For most of that time, I don't remember feeling excited about watching my life unfold. I felt like something was wrong with me. And I also felt like, if what you are most sad about when you die is not getting to watch life unfold, and if I am not excited about getting to do that now, then what am I living for?
I tried not to think about it. But I know from my post-traumatic stress therapy that trying to not think about it is not healthy.
But just lately, the past few months, things changed. I have financial stability since my company is more stable and doing well, I fell in love with the farmer and convinced him to un-dump me. And I found a nice rhythm with my sons in our post-divorce life that is actually much more peaceful and intimate than we have ever had.
So I am excited again to watch my life unfold. I am excited to see my sons grow, and my relationship with the farmer grow, and I'm excited to see what happens with my company.
And I wonder: Did the World Trade Center cause me to become completely unstable for a time? Or did the World Trade Center give me a framework for creating a different stability that grows better every year?