Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Love is not hypothetical.


A fifth grader is somewhere wishing she'd had a chance to know her dad. Wondering whether or not Dad would have allowed her to have an iPhone or to stay up past 9:30 p.m. on a weeknight. What might he have said about just a little bit of slightly tinted lip balm--okay, okay gloss--and going to see a PG-13 movie with a big group of girls but, okay, with a few boys, too?

A mother is thumbing through old photo albums and feeling that all too familiar strangling sensation in her chest. Why did she have to take that earlier flight? It was that mother's suggestion that she take it and they both agreed that getting back and taking care of the things she needed to take care of would be a good idea. So Mom dropped her off and the hug around her neck was quick because they were running late. She boarded the flight before the one she was scheduled for as a stand by and felt elated when they let her on. And that was the last time her mother heard from her.

A man has been unable to sleep for the last few days. The nightmares have returned as they always do this time of year. He has remarried and even has two more children but even as life has gone on the pain of that day still lingers like a sore that won't fully heal. Both of them were on that plane. A quick "turn-and-burn" visit to see her sister before the boy turned two. "He can still ride on my lap until he's two," she'd explained, "so we have to take advantage." It made sense to him.

So off they went. That little son was right at that age where every single thing at every single moment of every single day warrants a question. Like "What is this, Daddy? What is that, Mama? Where you going, Daddy? Why is that, Mama?" His wife always answered every single question with the patience of Job himself. Calm, cool, and without the least bit of irritation. And this just made that boy even more inquisitive. He loved that about them both.

Despite that, the nightmares always involve questions. He hears his son asking and asking and his wife's voice answering and answering in a wobbly and terrified whisper. The questions escalate and then, at some point, Mama has no answers. The last thing he sees is fear in their eyes and despite all of the mayhem there's a deafening silence.

Then he wakes up. He asks himself for the umpteenth time, "Did this really happen?"

A few seconds later his heart sinks. That deafening silence returns. It really did.

A college kid is reflecting on the first time he joined his father at The Pentagon. He was only six or seven then but he still remembers the convoluted and layered process of getting through the National security. No cameras. No cell phones. They even made Mom open her pocketbook while they dug around inside. But finally, when they got into The Pentagon, there was Dad in his "BDUs" or battle dress uniform, the term he always used to refer to what civilians all called "fatigues." And Dad picked him right up and held him even though he was in first grade and that safe feeling of being in those strong arms was one he will never forget. There were a few more times after that he got to go to see his father at the workplace but something about that very first time always stood out.

He still has the faded Crayola marker picture he drew after going there. The building with its carefully drawn five sides. "Because 'penta' means five," his dad had told him.

Penta means five.

He walked out of his dorm room this morning and saw the mirage that appears before him on the hard days. A man. In BDUs. Standing with shoulders squared and jaw strong waiting for him at the end of the sidewalk. Body stiff and at the attention ingrained into career military types.


He takes a step. Then one more. The mirage doesn't fade. Those steps erupt into the jagged, arm-waving run of a first grader; his heart pounds and he anticipates that feeling and those arms safely embracing him. His imagination goes wildly into feeling those manly kisses planted repeatedly on top of shiny, sun-bleached curls and, like always, that soldier stance melting into a daddy one instead.

Aaaaah. At ease.

It isn't real, though. And he knows in the darkest place in his heart that it isn't. Across the quad he sees a flag at half mast. Faces of those who know or think they know his story are somber. Someone has tied a yellow ribbon around an old oak tree.

This happened. It did.

Sometimes the hand-holding on days like September 11 feels so. . . . hypothetical to me. I didn't personally lose a loved one in that horrific attack. I was also not physically in the places that were coated both in ashen reminders and weeping family members carrying tattered Xerox copies. In fact, these scenes described were all imagined by me. All of them. But today I know that, for somebody somewhere, they are 100% real.


So seeing it this way makes it less hypothetical. I imagined five people whose lives were lost that day. Five hearts no longer beating and the people that were left behind to love and miss them. Conjuring up mental snapshots of the real lives of real people who are muddling through the emotional rubble. The piles that remained long after the sidewalks were swept and the monuments were erected. Yes. There are still ashes. There is still pain. There are still what-ifs and what-abouts. There is still a void and there is still longing. And anyone who loves someone or who has ever loved someone can get their mind around that. Because love isn't hypothetical.

At least, I don't think it is.

Today is Tuesday, September 11. And we remember.

Now playing on my mental iPod. . . . 


  1. "The piles that remained long after the sidewalks were swept..."

    and we move these piles from the closet... to the attic... to the basement..., but wherever we move them, they there are; they never go away. This bears remembering.

    Thanks for another great message.

  2. Thank you for this. I read a long newspaper article this morning and took a moment to feel, but it was nothing to compare to these images you have created to help us remember. Each scenario led my heart to a deeper, more compassionate place. Your empathy seems to know no bounds and you are a terrific writer!

  3. 9/11 is one of those landmark days where everyone remembers exactly what they were doing when they first heard the news. There have been countless acts of terrorism across the world - senseless acts of violence separated by distance and time, but creating the same ripple effects across different communities.We all move on, we all heal..but there's always that part which wonders "what if..".

    In memorium. Lest we forget.

    Thank you Dr M, for capturing the sentiment so beautifully. A touching tribute to love and life.

    -- Tara

  4. You always know the "right" things to say and you say them in the right manner. You have a such an amazing gift. You are a true teacher. I am grateful that we live during a time in which you can share your gift with the world. Thank you.

  5. I know you're not a Facebooker, so I'll share what I put up the other day:
    Never Forget?
    Eleven years ago we were stunned and in disbelief at the events we witnessed. In the time that has passed, I’ve earned a degree, become a firefighter, and am now serving my country in a different role – as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa. Throughout all of this, I’ve worked to build my global cultural perspective. This morning I read a few chapters of a book on Islamic women, and this afternoon had a casual but extremely interesting conversation about peace, politics, and democracy with some men in village. Today, as we commemorate this tragedy, I have another sentiment to put forth: We will likely always remember the details of that day (where we were, how we found out, how we felt) but we all too often forget the capacity of human goodness. I urge everyone to remind themselves of the power each of us has to do/feel/love - and pursue endeavors that convey this. As we say in Cameroon, “We are together."

  6. This is a beautiful tribute to the good people whose lives were forever changed on that day. Thank you.


"Tell me something good. . . tell me that you like it, yeah." ~ Chaka Khan

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