15 years ago today, as I type this, Mike and I were awakened sometime after 3 AM Hawaii time by a phone call. In those days it was still landlines, so Mike groggily stumbled into the living room to answer it, and came back and woke me, handing me the phone, and saying, it’s your mom, I think there was a hurricane or something.
The house where I grew up, where my parents still live, is only a few miles from the Pentagon. So mom was calling to let us know she and dad were ok. I sat up in bed. Why, what’s wrong? I asked. Oh don’t you know, oh my gosh turn on your television right now.
So Mike and I sat there in numbed silence watching the horrors of that day back East, as our own day slowly dawned, so many thousands of miles away. We watched the replays over and over again on the news, shocked, along with the rest of the nation, and the world, trying to fathom what had happened…and what would happen next.
We had only moved to Kona the month before. Our friends in Los Angeles thought we were a little crazy, leaving our careers so abruptly for a quieter, more beautiful life. But after that Tuesday in September 2001, we were never questioned on our motives ever again. One friend even said we were like rats leaving a sinking ship.
Mike was always suspicious of the government and the untold goings-on behind the scenes, and waited for the other shoe to drop all the years he lived after that. But the only other shoe that ever really dropped, at least for me, was his own death. His death shocked me so deeply because I naively believed that my strong and wise husband would always be here with me, together witnessing and surviving whatever was going to be thrown at us by the evil-doers in this world. At least for many, many more years. But he’s not.
This week many people are remembering and mourning the loss of their loves, their husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sisters, brothers and friends on that terrible day. There have been numerous other attacks with excruciating loss of life in various places around the world since then, but that day in September resonates with a pure kind of inexplicable horror none of us will ever forget.
Do you remember what the days, weeks and months were like after 9/11? We all watched and waited, glued to our cable news channels, terrified that World War III was about to break out. That another horrific attack was about to happen. Those anthrax scares. The shoe bomber. It was a terrifying, confusing time. And it was a time that changed everything in our lives forever. A watershed event, if there ever was one. Our entire reality was shifted by those attacks like no other in our generation. The very nature of the security of our nation, and indeed much of the world, was changed. And we are still living in that shifted reality. What we now have to go through to travel by plane is one of those changes. But there are many. As we as a nation, as a world, processed our collective grief over the loss of those nearly 3000 lives, we also grieved the loss of the world as we’d known it.
There is before 9/11, and after 9/11. We all know what I’m talking about here, unless you were too young to remember.
I was glad Mike was by my side when that happened. With him, I found a kind of serenity when it came to the state of the world, no matter what. Because he was older, and wiser (at least he seemed to me) and confident. Confident on a personal level of self defense and confident that he would keep me safe, spiritually, and emotionally, through whatever happened.
His death created a terror so deep in my soul, because I had lost not only my love, my soul mate and best friend and confidant, but my protector. The one I always went to when scary things loomed. The person I believed would be there, somehow, forever, to see that I stayed safe.
So now I also have another, personal watershed moment. I now refer to my life as either when Mike was alive, or after Mike died. You all know what I’m talking about here too. Nothing will ever be the same again in my world. My reality was shifted, and for a long time I stayed frozen in grief, unable to move, unable to grasp my own life without him. I have grieved the loss that very special man, and I have also grieved the loss of the world as I’d known it before he died.
Looking back over the past 15 years, I believe we have learned to live with the horror of that act of terrorism. It has become part of our collective culture, our collective memory, our collective grief. We all know that that grief, that horror, will never leave us, but somehow we have moved forward with the changes within that shifted reality. We will carry the memory, the sorrow, with us forever, but we are not frozen any longer. Planes are flying again, people are going to work and living their lives. And many young people have grown up during that time, not even knowing any other world. But we who do will always remember that day and how everything changed.
So it is with grief. It has taken me this long, over three and a half years, to begin to feel safe enough to make decisions about going out there in the world without Mike. That I don’t need to stay curled up in a ball, frozen, here in my remote outpost on this remote island on this mountain to stay safe. That I would be content to have lived my life wherever and however I felt led, without fear. Without the fear of what might happen, and without the fear that he isn't here to protect me. Mostly, anyway…and that is indeed a huge shift for me in itself.
I will always remember the day that Mike left me. For the rest of my life, his death day will be difficult. And I will always remember that other death day, 15 years ago, along with the rest of the world. I will always remember the shock and sorrow and mourning of so many thousands of families.
I will also always remember the feeling of peace and security Mike brought into my personal world, even as peace and security fled the outside world. I will always remember how his presence somehow kept the monsters at arm’s length. And I will always miss that feeling, to the very bottom embers of my burning soul.