Trigger warning, for the obvious.
I walked out of the house this morning to a blue sky so perfect that it was awe-inducing. There was the tiniest hint of chill in the air, and I spent all day yesterday with football on the TV near me. It was a nearly flawless moment; it felt like fall for the first time, and fall is the one season of the year where I want to be outside. It’s my favorite time of year, by such a wide margin that the rest of the year barely even counts.
I basked in it for a moment, and then felt really bad for one of my co-workers, for whom a perfect clear brisk blue sky on September 11 after weeks of garbage and humidity and rain and the air being fifty percent mosquito probably felt like a slap in the face.
I have a 9/11 story. Everyone who was alive and conscious that day does. My story’s not important anymore; it was fifteen years ago, and nothing happened to me. There are pictures in my high school yearbook of me with someone who died on that day. That gives me more of a claim to the day than most people have, and it gives me no claim to it at all. I knew her, and she’s gone. I don’t get to crow about it. Lots of other people seem to feel differently.
I work with a New Yorker. I’m going to call him Frank, which is a name that I associate with New York for some reason. Frank was a Wall Street trader in a former life. On the morning of September 11, 2001, he was having brunch with some co-workers in a restaurant on the hundredandsomethingth floor of the north tower. The towers each had 110 floors, so he was near the very top. A co-worker wanted a cigarette, and convinced Frank to make the long elevator ride with him to the ground floor so that he could have a smoke before they headed to work.
As his co-worker was having that cigarette, the first plane hit. The rest of the people they were eating with never made it out. When Frank tells this story (and he’s a storyteller, so I’ve heard it a few times) he makes a joke out of it; he says that he’s the only person on Earth who can honestly say that smoking saved his life, and he isn’t even a smoker.
Frank wasn’t at work today. He doesn’t work on September 11th any longer. He was at work yesterday, but he cut out early, and it was immediately obvious when I saw him in the morning that he’d taken some sort of tranquilizer or an antidepressant to make it easier to get through the day. A few minutes after he left, I got this text message from him:
I dunno. I’m not completely certain what the point is of me telling this story. Like I said, it’s not mine. I’ve led a life remarkably free from tragedy, when it comes right down to it; I have nothing that would remotely compare to what Frank went through on that day or the days after. Life’s not a contest, of course, but it does those of us who have been fortunate quite well to be reminded once in a while of just how fortunate we have been. And today, right now, I feel like I am among the fortunate ones.
And I hope Frank made it through the day okay, and that he’s hugging his grandson right now.