We were in the old, rusty, Dodge Dakota, bouncing on the potholes as I impatiently tried to do my makeup. I was late for school. Dad was late for work. The morning was brisk, and I shivered and turned up the heat. I braced myself for an argument as he reached his hand toward the switch to turn it off. Instead he flipped on the radio to his favorite: KSL news radio 1160. This was my cue to turn off my brain. I screwed on the lid of my tube of mascara after added some finishing touches, leaned back, closed my eyes, and thought about after-school plans.
My daydreams were interrupted by sounds of concern from my father next to me. “The twin towers? They did what??” He turned up the volume as if it would increase his understanding. I racked my brain. Had I heard of the twin towers? Was there an airplane accident? Planes crashed all the time… didn’t they? Then why did Dad’s face look so pale?
As the day wore on I realized that this event was far more important than I had initially realized. The twin towers, as it turned out, were big and important. They could fit a lot of people. And it began to dawn on all of us that this was no accident. Still, my 15-year-old self failed to internalize the fact that there were real people with real stories and real families in that building. And they were gone.
Ten years later, I again shivered as I drove to work and flipped the switch to news radio: this time on my own free will. In memoriam of the events of a decade ago, they began to play the stories of the victims’ families.
One man, with a thick New York accent, described his two sons: one a firefighter, one a police officer. He had talked to the police officer the night of September 10. His son chatted about his night shift thus far, and the father ended the conversation with, “I love you, son.” The next morning, the firefighter called to say that the twin towers had collapsed. He was going in. His father ended this conversation the same way: “Be careful, son. I love you.” In a gruff voice, this time-worn New Yorker said of his two brave sons: “I had one of them for 34 years, and one for 36. And the number stamped on both of their badges? 3436.” As if allowing the impact of this to sink in, the father paused before adding, “But how many people can say their last words to their sons were ‘I love you?’ This helps me sleep at night.” His gruff voice cracked as he said it.
Others told their stories too. A boy who was 5 when his grandfather – his “papa” – disappeared from his life inexplicably. A woman whose husband called to whisper “I love you” in his final moments, and to give his love to his three small children.
Walking through the doors of my work today was not unlike my walk through the doors of my high school ten years ago. I was late. I was listening to the radio. A tragedy was reported. The difference was my perspective. The picture in my mind was not of flying machines and smoke and collapsing buildings. It was of a little boy crying at night over the loss of his papa. It was of a father and mother praying for their two brave sons, who would not return from work that day. It was of a young widow with a resolve to help her children and the world remember this important event.
So, with a tear in my eye, I walked through the doors of my office today with a resolve of my own: To laugh harder. To breathe deeper. To allow myself to cry. And to express my love for those I care deeply about so frequently that they could never possibly forget.
The new me would have squeezed my father’s hand as he dropped me off for another day of 10th grade.