Friday, September 12, 2003

Two Years Later

The second anniversary of the unspeakably sad events of September 11, 2001, elicited eloquence from writers and journalists across the country. Yet the most poignant remembrance I came across in yesterday's coverage was the thoughts of three of the four people who rode in the last elevator to descend from the World Trade Center's Windows on the World restaurant before the building was struck by one of the highjacked jetliners.

NPR's Morning Edition broadcast its interview with the three at quarter to nine yesterday morning, about the time the first of the Twin Towers was hit. (Click here and scroll down to "The Last Elevator.") No interviewer's voice was heard; the voices of the trio were separated only by somber piano music. What emerges is the realization they came to quickly and with brilliant clarity -- that through fate, or luck, or God's will, they were spared. As one put it, if she had had simply an extra cup of coffee with breakfast and needed to go to the ladies' room, she'd be gone.

They spoke with appropriate reverence for their good fortune, and none seemed afflicted with survivor's guilt. The fourth person on the elevator, noted Bob Edwards, declined to be interviewed, leaving me to wonder whether he or she found the prospect too distasteful or was simply unable to come to grips with the fact that but for mere seconds, the list of nearly 3,000 dead in Lower Manhattan would have lengthened by one.

Shallow Center's Washington correspondent lost a dear friend that day, a bright, young physician, committed to the noble pursuit of public health, who was aboard the plane that was crashed into the Pentagon. I was not as close to Paul as SCWC, though to be in his presence even briefly was to absorb the incredible joie de vivre he radiated like sunlight. A month after the tragedies, a participant in one of Carolyn Hax's chats, responding to a post from a woman who was frightened to get on a plane to go see her beloved, submitted something I have kept on my computer desktop ever since and read from time to time. I think Paul would have approved:

My wise father said something to me last weekend: the courage that is required now is defined by looking into the face of potential death, recognizing and grappling with the reality that it could happen, and then going forward bravely in that knowledge.

We're in a different world now, and it does require living. Here's what I say to the woman: fly. You get one chance in this life to be with your sweetie. There's lots of security right now and you're probably as safe (statistically) as you've ever been.

Live your life. Do what you love. Strip out the crap and pay no mind to it anymore. Be yourself.

It's all we have, really. And that, when looked at closely, is quite a lot.


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