It seems like only yesterday. Cliché, yes, but true. Even before the 20th anniversary of this most tragic day, “twenty years” has weighed heavily on my mind.
When my father died in February, after his hard-fought battle with prostate cancer, I realized how quickly the 20+ years since his initial diagnosis had flown. I thought about who I was twenty years before, about how my life had changed.
My kids had grown up and now have children of their own.
I’d traveled around the world and been married and divorced. I’d become a published author. I’d lived in three different towns.
Still, the time between my dad’s prostate cancer pre-diagnosis of his death passed in a blink.
I began to think about how quickly the next 20 years would pass, which lead Steve and me to make some difficult decisions about how we wanted to “write” what could possibly be the last good twenty years of our lives. (Though I’ve told Steve many times I plan to live beyond 100!)
And that’s how we ended up moving from Dallas, Texas to Avon Lake, Ohio. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “Wow, what a big move. What brought that about?”
“We wanted to be closer to our kids and grandkids,” I’d reply.
Silently, I’d think to myself, “Twenty years.”
In the week leading up to the anniversary of 9/11, again, I’ve thought about how quickly those years flew by . . . about where I was and who I was at the time. Shortly after 9/11, I wrote an essay titled “The Second Airplane.” It describes a tiny part of how the world changed after that second airplane hit the World Trade Center.
What it didn’t describe was how it changed me personally.
As I learned stories about the sacrifices of heroes and stories about final messages to loved ones, I was left a lesson about what matters in the end.
Love. Despite our differences.
There were countless heroes, many unsung and known. From the firefighters who rushed into the buildings, to the police who directed people to safety, to the paramedics who treated the injured, to the passengers who took down Flight 93, to the countless every day people who helped others at risk to their own lives. All sacrificed themselves to save others, not knowing anything about the politics, religion, or any other characteristic we so often use to divide ourselves from others. The only thing that mattered was helping a fellow human being.
Then, there were the heartbreaking final messages. You know what struck me most? In the final moments of their lives, what really mattered was not the need to know they’d been loved. Instead, their final words were to express love–to assure those who were left behind would know how much they’d been loved.
Nothing else mattered. Not the differences. Not the arguments from the night before. Not missed deadlines. The final words were expressions of love.
That’s how 9/11 and twenty years has changed me.
It would be idealistic of me to think I’ll never have differences. Believe me, I have many differences with those I love! But what changed in me is the sound of a little voice, just beyond any thoughts of disagreement or misunderstanding. It pushes its way to the forefront of my mind and whispers:
“In the end, it doesn’t matter.”