What was going through your mind on 9/10/01?
I'll bet you don't remember. I don't remember what I was thinking about either.
Life was just sort of buzzing along like it usually does. I was aware of some of it and much of it went by unnoticed. But I sure remember what I was thinking on the morning of 9/11.
And so do you.
What did we lose when those jets slammed into the World Trade Center? Worst was the loss of 2,977 unsuspecting victims and the pain their families have gone through since. But also a sense of peace of mind that we weren't even aware we enjoyed until it was ripped from us.
Like when the doctor walks into the examination room holding your test results and says, “Why don't you sit down? I have something serious to discuss with you.”
Like when the phone rings in the middle of the night.
Like when the parents of a military man or woman serving overseas look out the window and see uniformed officers walking up the drive.
Our bodies know before we do that something's wrong; that things will never be the same again. It's the lump in your throat, the catch in your breath, the staccato beat of your heart, the suddenly sweaty palms.
In his New York Times article, “The Trauma of Being Alive,” Mark Epstein writes: “While we are accustomed to thinking of trauma as the inevitable result of a major cataclysm, daily life is filled with endless traumas. Things break. People hurt our feelings. Ticks carry Lyme disease. Pets die. Friends get sick and even die.”
After writing about how his mother is dealing with the death of both his father (her second husband) and her first husband, Epstein concludes “the willingness to face traumas – be they large, small, primitive or fresh – is the key to healing from them. They may never disappear in the way we think they should, but maybe they don't need to. Trauma is an ineradicable aspect of life. We are human as a result of it, not in spite of it.
But at the risk of sounding too pollyannaish, I think there's another way to deal with Epstein's trauma of living.
What if, by some intentional rejiggering of the way we look at the world, we could learn to appreciate the things that we usually take for granted BEFORE they're taken away from us?
What if we spent more time with friends and loved ones while they're still alive instead of just missing them so intensely once they're gone?
What if we celebrated our good health while we have it rather than wish for the “good old days” only after the doctor shakes his head slowly and sits us down?
What if we learn to appreciate what we have now instead of moaning about what we don't have — or worse, what others have that we don't?
I know that none of this is new rocket science and that the self-help aisles of most bookstores are jammed with cheesy gratitude journals, posters with uplifting messages, and calendars offering daily affirmations. But why do we need to be reminded of such a simple, yet potentially powerful message?
I don't think it's the human condition to wallow in our woes, and I don't believe that we're all destined to lead Thoreau's lives of quiet desperation. It just seems that sometimes we're too jaded, too distracted, and too busy to see all the beauty that's already in our lives.
I, for one, am determined to pay attention and enjoy what I have before events and happenstance — big or small — conspire to jolt me out of my complacency. If this makes sense to you, I hope you'll join me.
You can commit yourself right here, in the comments section of this blog, or you can do it privately. But please do make the effort to know what you've got BEFORE it's gone.