Every year I wonder if this is the year I will forget. Every year I wonder if this is the year it stops feeling so fresh. Every year—as September 11th, 2001 slips further into history—I wonder if it’s strange it still haunts me like it does. And every year, as the anniversary of that fateful day approaches, I wonder… Is this the year it starts to feel like any other day?
Yesterday I tried to remember what September 10, 2001 had felt like. What was it like to wake up in a world where September 11th was just another non-descript day on the calendar? What did it feel like before the words nine-eleven lingered bitterly on our lips or hung heavily in the air like an acrid cloud of black smoke?
Try as I might, I can’t recall. I remember the weather was beautiful. People always talk about the weather that day. Have you noticed that? Sunny, warm, and cloudless… Everyone says it was the sort of late-summer day that makes you happy to be alive. In fact, everyone seems to marvel at just how extraordinarily perfect and “normal” that Tuesday was when it began.
As most people do, I still remember the day so clearly. I remember what I wore, what I ate, where I was when it happened, what I said, how I felt and how I didn’t sleep at all later that night. I remember experiencing a sensation that the sky was falling because a nameless, faceless enemy had brought the horror of war to our doorstep. And I remember wondering if anything would ever be the same again.
I don’t know when it will feel like just another day on the calendar, or if it ever will. I hope it never does. I do know that so far every year—like picking a scab off of an old wound—I still remember. I know that so far every year it feels as though it only happened yesterday.
So I guess I have my answer.
Tonight when I turn out the lights to go to sleep… I will close my eyes knowing that this was not the year that I forgot.
I probably shouldn’t be, but sometimes I get jealous of the fresh-faced, smooth-skinned twenty-somethings I see walking about. Tan and toned in shorts and tight vintage tees, they flip-flop around reminding me that once upon a time, I too filled out a pair of short shorts like they do. In fact, watching them only succeeds in making me painfully aware of the fact that gravity is most certainly winning in the epic battle of Me vs. It.
As forty looms large, hovering ominously on a not-so-distant horizon, all I need to do is look in the mirror to be reminded that nothing stays the same for very long. I can’t help but notice every new crease, line, wrinkle, dimple or dent that forms in my reflection as everything continues it’s relentless march southward. It’s so much easier now to get depressed thinking of times I looked better, felt prettier or had the stamina of the Energizer Bunny without any help from Starbucks.
However, (and this is a BIG however) if I were to be REALLY honest with myself about those alleged “better” times, I’m fairly certain I was unhappy with my appearance back then too. Surely it’s a losing battle entertaining thoughts that I was also miserable at a time when I should have been THRILLED that all the important parts remained solidly north of the equator. But it DOES beg the question: Am I EVER going to be happy!?
I’d love to find the answer. I know my mother would too as it’s a question she’s been asking me since the first Bush Administration. Someone older and wiser than me, please tell me this is something I’ll learn to do in my 40’s!? I’m begging you, because as I come to grips with the fact that gravity IS going to win in the end and my knees (among other things) are NOT EVER climbing back to where they were a decade ago, I need to believe that peace is possible. Please tell me that at some point in the near future I will be able to shake hands with my reflection and sign a peace treaty with gravity — or at the very least declare a ceasefire.
It’s odd how the most important moments in our lives are marked. It’s not so much by the grand pageantry of big events, but rather the small details that define our daily circumstances. We just don’t know it at the time. The little moments happen, building a collection of days and weeks that gradually mounts, moving us along until one day we look around and notice we’re no longer standing where we used to be.
As expected, moving day on campus was a flurry of activity. Anxious parents, faces wrought with concern, clucked and fussed over their newly-minted “adult” children while those same children worked to acquaint themselves with their new surroundings. Hard as it was to wrap my mind around it — my nephew was part of this new batch of freshmen at Ohio State. An avalanche of applications, test scores and campus visits now behind him, he met his roommates and unpacked his modest supply of dorm stuff. Class schedule in hand, he seemed set for this monumental First Day of the Rest of His Life.
Although I’m not his mother, an odd mix of emotions washed over me after we said our goodbyes. As I stood, squinting in the sunlight, watching his broad, grown-up shoulders fade and disappear into the darkness of the dormitory, feelings of pride, nervousness, nostalgia and sadness ran together in a silent churning sea of sentiment. The day he was born naturally leapt to mind alongside flickering memories of massive Lego builds, movie nights, school plays, sporting events and spontaneous trips to McDonalds.
I felt a smile tug on the corners of my mouth when I recalled the time, just before he left for camp, when he gobbled three cheeseburgers I was sure he’d never finish. The the hot sting of tears followed quickly after the realization that he was no longer that little boy on his way to summer camp and cheeseburgers no longer an effective currency for affection.
As we drove away I glanced out the window, noticing hundreds of bright-eyed coeds walking and laughing as they unloaded boxes or rested in slanted rays of sun on late-summer lawns — I felt emotion rise up in me once more. Only this time I recognized it for what it was: a beginning. It is the time when everything is shiny and new and the world rolls out in front of you like a warm and welcome ribbon of highway. It was at that moment—that little moment—that I knew it wasn’t the goodbye that was taunting me. No, caught instead in the corners of my mind… was the quiet turning of the page.
The seat cushion of my office chair was not yet cold before I started reaching out to former co-workers who had also been let go that day. Social media is truly a godsend in times like these. On Facebook I was quickly connected to five other women from the company who had found themselves in the same boat. Some I knew well, others only slightly. But an amazing byproduct in times of crisis is that of people coming together.
A day after the smoke cleared, I got up, showered, dressed and put on make-up to meet the others for breakfast. Believe me it was best for everyone close to me that I had somewhere to be just then. Twenty-four hours of feeling sorry for myself, was definitely long enough. It was only a casual meal at a nearby restaurant, but once I went, I felt like a new person. We had some laughs, exchanged contacts and swapped war stories.
There is something about shared suffering that creates an incredible strength and sense of community. We are reminded that we’re not out there alone, floating aimlessly through an overwhelming sea of job postings and resume updates. We are not alone in the daily ponderings of hard questions about what the future holds. And I think it’s safe to say, that we’re certainly not alone in our enjoyment of a quick commute to the couch every morning.
One of the women appropriately named our group “The Breakfast Club,” and this morning, we got together again. I mean, we DO have time after all. We swapped more stories, had some more laughs and reported on our progress. Some of us are searching for new jobs and others are taking time to tend to family needs or personal business ventures, but no matter our unique circumstances in the aftermath of something unexpected and scary, two things are certain — I have five, amazingly-cool, new friends, and there is strength in numbers.
One week ago I was unceremoniously dismissed from my job. It was done without pageantry or fuss. I was asked to surrender my security badge and handed a white envelope with my name printed on it. The envelope was said to contain, quote: “All of the answers to any questions you might have with regard to what comes next.”
I was then escorted from the building (the same building, mind you) that I had entered hours before with the same security badge I’d just handed over. And as though on cue, like a scene from a movie, it literally started raining on me as I walked across the parking lot. Suffice it to say, that day is not likely to be ranked on the “Best Days of My Life” list.
I’ve been home now for seven days and have thus far stayed busy doing the things that one does when one has been shoved out to sea and set adrift on the churning waters of What Now. So far, I have not been clinging to inspirational quotes, or religiously reciting mantras to help me remain positive. No, instead I’ve been taking it as it comes. And here are a few of the things that I’ve observed.
- The middle of the afternoon on a Thursday is an excellent time to visit the grocery store.
- Answering the email you sent earlier this morning is not the only thing on the head hunter’s To Do list.
- The true horror of daytime television WILL force you to update that resume.
- Eventually you realize you’ve begun tailoring your job search around afternoon reruns of Roseanne and King of Queens.
- It is a scientific fact that going to the grocery store will, indeed, cause the head hunter to call you.
- The afternoon sun peeking through the leaves of the big tree out front is more beautiful than you knew.
- The afternoon sun peeking through the leaves of the big tree out front illuminates the thick layer of dust that has accumulated — on everything.
- Life doesn’t stop just because you lost your job.
- You realize that the thing you loved most about your job was that it was “secure.”
- Security is a relative term.
While I was sitting in the conference room, looking out the windows as they told me my position had been “eliminated due to restructuring,” I thought I’d be more upset than I am. In my mind I flashed forward to this time at home, this time right here and now as I type this — and I thought I’d be marinating in self-pity. But I’m not.
Maybe it’s because I’ve got a contract gig on the horizon. Maybe it’s because of the support of my husband. Maybe it’s my age. But I do seem to understand, on a deeper level than before, that there is no such thing as “permanent” or “secure” in a world where the only constant is change. All we have is the here and now.
And right now, that’s enough.
So here we are again. It is that special time of year to gather with those we hold dear. A time to look back—another year older and hopefully wiser—and take stock. Yes once again, Festivus is upon us and we pause to reflect on the people near us and inform them of all of the ways they have disappointed us in the past year.
That’s right. You read correctly. Let the annual Airing of Grievances commence. I realize that some may think ill of me for keeping track of all of the ways I’ve been wronged in the previous 365 days… but honestly it is thanks to a cool app on my phone that I was able to keep track. Thank you technology!
It is simply called Grievance and it is a thing of beauty for those who enjoy fostering and nurturing a healthy grudge. All year long I can open it and enter said wrong-doings and then, on THIS day, December 23, Grievance lets me see the year in review. So in the spirit of the season, I thought I’d share with you the Top 10 types of grievances I filed in 2013.
- Line Holder-Uppers. You know… People in line at the pharmacy, the post office, the retail checkout, Subway, or the grocery store… having scripts or postage or coupon codes explained to them in great detail by the store associate.
- The Media. For being SO obsessed with being the FIRST to break a story, that the information being disseminated is purely and entirely false.
- People who paint their ring fingers a different color… Because… why?
- Stick Figure Families. And the suburbanites who insist upon putting them in the lower left corner of the back window on their ginormous, consumptive SUV’s.
- Daylight Savings Time. For screwing with my sleep patterns and making me gruff, tired and totally intellectually annihilated for 2 whole weeks following the change.
- The Starbucks Barista. For screwing up my order. ANY Starbucks Barista for screwing up my order… Ever. Because anything equivalent to caffeinated gold should be flawless. Every. Single. Time.
- My Doctor. For insisting upon insisting that I arrive 15 minutes ahead of my scheduled appointment time for supposed “paperwork” even though it’s already been filled out — but who isn’t even there yet himself.
- The Aflac Lady. For being a pusher by coming to my office to sell me additional insurance coverage and attempting to put the fear of God into me by casually tossing about words and phrases like “accidental death” and “dismemberment” and “unforeseen illness” or “unexpected tragic events”.
- The insurance company. For trying to use my migraines as a “preexisting condition” so as not pay my claims simply because I MENTION that I take medication for migraine when asked by ANY doctor what type of medications I am currently on.
- Fashion. For elevating “skinny jeans” to the level of MUST WEAR apparel so much so that boot cut is nearly impossible to find.
Happy Festivus everyone! I hope you’ve had a great one and please feel free to air your own grievances in the comments section to keep this blessed tradition alive!