This I Believe
After 9/11, this I believe: That life is too short, and too precious, to put the important things–and, by “important things” I mean the things a person is meant to be doing given their unique loves, joys and abilities–on hold for any reason. Life is meant to be lived. And I’m living it. In the process, I’ve become a better person, more supportive of those around me even as relationships have changed in profound ways. And I’ve become a much bigger contributor to a society for which we all owe our comfortable existence.
On September 11, 2001, I died. Not in the literal sense. I was thousands of miles away from the tragedy that unfolded in the skies of the Northeast, supposedly safe in my home in Oregon. The Boeing 767s crashing into the World Trade Center, however, were as real on my television as if I had been there. When the towers fell, leaving shells of dust like giant ghostly tombstones for the three thousand who died, my soul also died. I watched my entire life crumble away with those buildings.
Just three weeks later, while I still grappled with my shattered internal world, my daughter was born. The moment of her birth was like none I had experienced before. The amount of emotion, the feeling of strong connection, was something I couldn’t have imagined. That little blue-eyed face staring up at me was burned in my mind with the same intensity as the giant fireballs that emerged from the World Trade Center towers. I wanted to cry. What kind of world had she been born into? The debris that rained down from the buildings were like tears, as if the towers mourned the loss of so many, and the sad state of a species that could bring such destruction upon itself.
Yet here was this little gem in my arms. I was supposed to be overjoyed. I was. But it was tainted with a powerful melancholy. And a newfound purpose. She would get the best I could offer. The best possible shot at life in a world full of potential for disaster. I sometimes wonder what I would have done post-9/11 if my daughter hadn’t been conceived. I try not to think about it too much. She gave me a strength, a purpose, at a time when I was lost, seeking out the pieces that would start a foundation for a new me.
My wife, a wonderful person who endured an 18-hour labor to produce that gift, was a D.C. “brat.” Apparently growing up in the center of U.S. politics prepared her for the kind of disaster that unfolded on that sunny day in September. She was not affected by the events of 9/11 as badly as I. She showed incredible strength. As I sat in a daze staring up at a sky empty of planes, she continued to work, to live. She didn’t change much. And I did.
Instantly there was distance between us. I couldn’t understand how anyone could witness such a terrible act without being so badly hurt as I. But then, we’re different people. She didn’t spend much of her time worrying about things like the Fermi Paradox, technological singularity, peak oil, and disasters great and small, like I did. A deep interest in the future had been a significant piece of who I was for most of my life. I had conceived of flying vehicles being used as deadly missiles against high-rises and had even illustrated such ideas over a decade before such fantasy became reality.
Having one of my fears realized was an incredible shock. I no longer feel the need to look into the future with the same intensity that I had. On 9/11, futurism, and a budding career in science fiction writing, faded with the rest of my old soul.
Instead of spending so much time trying to live in an imagined future, one that at times can look pretty bleak, and writing stories about it, I’ve now become dedicated to the present. Live life. See the world. Show my daughter all the wonders that are out there. Make sure she has a shot at something grand before some unexpected event takes everything away.
I strive to make life better, not only for my daughter, but also for everyone. I’m deeply interested in figuring out the challenges of sustainable natural resource use. We only have a short existence on this world, so why not make the best of it–for everyone?
Unfortunately, the emotional distance from my wife continued to grow over the years post-9/11, and now we’re exploring a separation. I’m a different person. In some ways, so is my wife. We may no longer be lovers, but at least we’re still good friends. I worry about my daughter, who’s caught in the middle of this change, but at least the situation hasn’t been tumultuous. I suppose all major psychological alterations have their “down-side,” though I prefer to look at this turn of events as an opportunity for everyone involved. An opportunity to further ourselves in ways that weren’t open to us before. We’ll do our best to keep things positive.
This is the new me, a new life, born of the ashes of 9/11.
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