September 11, 2013 has been a beautiful day here in Nashville. Tim and I woke up early to grind popcorn kernels and make skillet cornbread. The cornbread was a dud, but Tim made a berry smoothie that wasn’t. Then, we drove through blue skies and bright sun to our car dealership, twenty minutes south, where a serviceman checked us in to get our air-conditioning fixed and asked the time: It was 9:11 AM on the nose.
Twelve years ago this morning, I was standing in a Wisconsin hotel, curling my hair, when my mom shouted from the TV in the main room, “Come look at this!” and I didn’t say anything, and we called my dad in Illinois, and he was crying. Today, I walked away from a serviceman and into a Tennessee car dealership lounge, where Tim and I would listen to someone making popcorn and watch a 10-month-old baby boy named John crawl around the room.
My mom and I were at that Port Washington hotel because I was scheduled for traffic court on September 11, for driving 24 miles over the speed limit a few months before. I remember telling the judge that day that I was sorry. “I don’t want to ever speed again,” I said to her when it was my turn. Everyone was talking about the planes and the towers, and there I was apologizing for something that was no one’s fault but my own. After court, we tried shopping, but our hearts weren’t in it. I wanted to drive back to school before dark. So my mom drove back to Naperville, and I drove back to college, and, when I got there, I returned to TVs all over campus, broadcasting live coverage of what was going on.
Today, Tim and I drove away from the car dealership and to the grocery store to pick up chicken; I had a dinner idea I told him I wanted to try. In the broad, bright Tennessee daylight, we cruised back up I-65 and then over to our house. We roasted spaghetti squash and tomatoes and chicken, and we boiled potatoes to combine with squash in a puree. We ate dinner by candlelight, the days shorter and the sun gone by before seven o’clock these days. And I exclaimed, over and over again out loud to Tim and Nathan, two men I’d never even met twelve years ago, about how much I liked the dinner tonight and how special it felt.
It occurs to me as I sit down on my bed tonight, fresh from this dinner, trying to write this post, how many people aren’t alive to be able to read it today. There are the ones killed by tragedy on this day twelve years ago, and there are the ones killed on other days by other things since then, from a Boston bombing to a Middle Eastern bombing to cancer to depression to kidney failure to old age. Even as I’ve been writing these thoughts, a mosquito has been bothering me, and I just, almost mindlessly, killed it between my hands and took it to the bathroom trashcan. Death is all around us. Life ends. We all know this, but there are a million ways to pretend it away—and in the pretending away, we miss something true. We are not promised tomorrow. Who of us knows when his or her life will end? Days like today, remembering and reflecting, it’s easy to see. We are finite. Our lives are short. And then, it’s easy to give thanks for the sheer blessing of living, of driving to the car dealership, of eating roast chicken in your dining room, of coming here to write about it in a blog post.