As we go through life most of us are rarely present in the moment. Our minds are elsewhere. What shade of green was the tree you passed a month ago on the way to work? What were you thinking about? What did you feel? Were you sad, happy, or anxious? Did you see anyone? What did they look like? Was it cloudy, humid, cool or hot?
Do you remember?
What does it mean to be present in the moment? Just take a look at a dog. It lives present in the moment. A wag of the tail or a growl or yelp says exactly what it experiences in real time; the pleasure of satiation or the pain of hunger, fear, aggression, or submissiveness. Dogs have no pretenses, are not encumbered by embarrassment, nor feel the need to avoid their true feelings. What you see is what is happening in present time inside and out. A human, on the other hand, can be smiling, laughing, crying, or completely idle, but his or her mind can be off in the distant past or far into the future. For us the present is all too often a brief transit point on the way to the past or future.
Maybe that explains why we observe anniversaries; trivial and significant, happy and tragic. Marking the moment brings us back to something worthy of re-experience like a birth, death, graduation, marriage, divorce or even just a chance meeting that lead to a close relationship. However insignificant, we all mark those moments in our lives in which we were present. And we do so through solemnity, respect, and celebration.
On 9/11, all Americans were present in the moment. From New York to Los Angeles, from Miami to Fairbanks, from Bangor to Honolulu, we were all mindful of what was going on inside and outside us. Each one of us remembers with clarity where he or she was as we focused on the most horrific attack ever on American soil. We can all recall what we were doing, who we were with, and even what the weather was like. Each one of us can recount — in slow motion detail — how our hearts broke as the Twin Towers fell, killing thousands of innocent people and shattering America’s innocence. We all remember, as if it were yesterday, the feelings of sadness, anger, fear, and anxiety that rose from the core of our souls as we saw the smoke rise from Ground Zero, the Pentagon in flames, and the smoking airplane wreckage in Shanksville, Pa. Each one of us knows exactly where we were, what room we were in, where we were sitting, what we just ate, and what we had planned to do the day America, and our lives, changed forever.
Every year on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, we take time to reflect on what happened that day, how it changed us as a people, as a nation, and as a culture. We continue to struggle to make sense of it all. We grope to understand the loss of innocent life, what America experienced in the decade-plus since, and what lies in store for us in the future. We remember the horror, mourn the loss of life, honor our fallen heroes, and remain in awe of the bravery of those still with us who responded in the moment and saved precious lives.
For most of us, 9/11 was the defining moment of our generation, and, perhaps, of our lives. As we consider that day, the tumultuous decade that followed, and the opportunities that lay ahead let us each take a moment to tell our loved ones how much we love them, be thankful for the scent of the chilled fall air, feel gratitude for the sunshine, rain, snow, and wind, and give thanks for the miracle of the moment.