Sunday, September 11, 2016

A Personal 9-11

One of the planes that slammed into the twin towers, carried a bag of US Postal letters. One of those letters, an invitation, survived the fireball and was most likely sucked out on a magic carpet of an air pocket. It floated downward amidst all the other pieces of chaos and ash. The invitation was in a red envelope and caught the eye of a man running from the soon-to-collapse tower. It was a gesture of hope that something so slight, so fragile, could survive the mayhem. He carried the letter, still covered in dust, back home to England where he placed the envelope in another envelope and addressed it to the intended receivers.

The letter's journey became a symbol of hope for everyone who came in contact with it. It is now part of the 9-11 museum's collection in New York City. The NYTimes made a short film about the letter, and I watch on the morning after a former and beloved student sent an email with news of his change of plans.

He was on a trajectory for success until he was slammed with thoughts of suicide. He'd had his own personal 9-11.

Unlike the real 9-11 tragedy, he stopped the collision: he'd asked for help.

September 11, 2001 is seared in my memory, so much that when my students don't remember that day, I am surprised. Possibly in the same way our parents, grandparents, great grandparents share a reverence for December 7, 1941. Just like my father who remembered he was playing football at Sugarhouse Park when he learned Pearl Harbor had been bombed by the Japanese, I recall the day I walked down the basement stairs after Tony called me to come down. He was peddling his exercise bike, was flipping channels before putting on a show, and he'd seen the confusion of the first hit--which we thought was crazy that a jet had lost control, because we didn't have it in us to believe a jet would intentionally target a tower with thousands of people inside.

It was a tragedy, but a tragedy from which we learned about vulnerability, sorrow, the existence of incomprehensible evil. We learned about resilience, the preciousness of life, that people can become their better selves when circumstances demand. An entire nation had moments of softness, kindness and sacrifice.

It is the rare person who will go without a 9-11 in his or her life, but as Viktor Frankel so eloquently taught through his own personal tragedy-- we must find meaning in our suffering. When we do, life becomes a gift; the tragedy can even be a lens through which we see more clearly and more dearly. A 9-11 can be personal proof we are strong, resilient, and able to stand tall after sinking so low.