My feelings about my life after 9/11
The pale morning sun struggles to rise above the trees standing nude and gray behind our old stone wall. Fallen leaves dot our back yard with rusty reminders of autumnís reds, yellows and oranges, now crumpled and faded. Two chipmunks race between their borrowed gopher hole and the acorns on the far edge of the yard. Weak streams of sunlight create faded green slashes across my dark green carpet. Summer has lingered longer than usual this year, masquerading in its Indian summer costume. Though it is November, I still hunger for summerís warmth. I drag my white leather footstool in front of the glass sliders and sit down to read, turning my back to the sun and placing my steaming cup of tea on a small table between my two bonsai plants. They too enjoy the sun and reflect its soft light in the diamond droplets of water from their morning misting. What a joy to be here, this moment, today.
Iím wearing an over-sized pair of red and gray Air France pajamas with sweat socks and athletic shoes. The call to exercise must be answered and I hate changing clothes. When I dressed this morning, I pulled on my Supplex shorts and my old grad school T-shirt over which I slipped the pajamas for comfort. Now I can stay toasty until such time as I give in to my daily obligation to go downstairs and work out. I hate exercising too.
I can do these things today because I retired last summer. I realized there was more to life than killing myself trying to keep a small software consulting firm afloat after the 1999 profit bubble, or should I say, the 1999 rape of 2000 profits. Late October 1999, my doctors diagnosed my extreme fatigue and muscular pain to be a recurrence of a rare lung disease with the new complication of unexplained heart failure. I kept going. I had a business to grow and promises to keep. By mid 2000, June 19th to be exact, I was called as a key witness for a murder trial involving a close family friend. When the trial ended on June 23, I took a day for myself, all day, doing nothing but sitting on my patio sketching plans for a dream home I hoped to build someday. And guess what!
A new idea actually penetrated my mental fortress. A heretical thought sneaked in and challenged my lifeís mandate to work and be productive! The idea that I didnít have to live this way dared enter my exhausted brain. The possibility that I could stop working seven days a week, fourteen hours a day, unveiled itself. The fight to appear competent while struggling with short-term memory loss caused by medication could be ended. I could stop. I could quit! I could sell my company! So, I did!
Yes, I did! And the sky didnít fall!
Twelve happy months later, mid-summer 2001 found me basking in the sunshine on my patio or sitting in my air-conditioned study, tackling a writing project that had no deadline. I had finished reading Tolstoyís ďWar and PeaceĒ and was sporting the first tan in my adult life! After months of adjusting to retirement, I found myself feeling euphoric with each lovely summer day. Sure, things happened like our central air conditioning system failed during one of Julyís hottest days. Of course that came on the heels of last winterís megabuck connection to the town sewer system. But my health was greatly improved. I was off prednisone. I could walk three miles on my treadmill without breathing hard. I had mastered the art of relaxing and reading an L.L.Bean catalog if I felt like it. And my husband was happier than he had ever been during our thirty-one years together. My ex-employees didnít even hate me. In fact, they all loved to come over for an occasional evening of food and movies and keep me up on the world of business I had left behind.
Last year, as I was closing my business a few anxieties nagged at me. How would I spend my time? What do workaholics do when there is no work? Will I regret this sudden decision? Will I miss my role as entrepreneur? Will I wilt without a challenge? So I took some protective measures. I joined the Audubon Society and signed up for some courses with the Arnold Arboretum in Boston. To make sure I didnít fall into a dark unsociable hole, I made a list of a few business acquaintances that I thought might convert to nice friends, they were such lovely and accomplished businesswomen. Thus I girded myself against the terror of idleness. But I neednít have worried. Before I could reorganize my attic to store the unsold company furniture and office miscellany, I had more companionship and a wider circle of friends than I had ever dreamed possible. Iím never lonely and the love I rarely took time to share beyond my immediate family circle now spreads daily in the form of emails, phone calls and visits. Even my classmates from forty years ago have re-entered my life bringing unprecedented meaning to a youth that had seemed better forgotten.
My work-worn heart was improving and beat with newfound joy. My happiness was overflowing. I sat out on the patio every morning with my breakfast of Shredded Wheat Squares and fresh raspberries (Iím trying to shed some of my prednisone pounds), followed by leisurely reading while I savored my morning cup of black currant tea. Eventually I returned inside for a day of writing, some household chores, visits with friends, or playtime with my husband. Finally, at fifty-seven years old, I had a life worth living. I felt rewarded for all the years of hard work and commitment. I was happy.
Then it happened. September 11, 2001 dropped out of the sky and wrecked my pleasant life. It brought pain and loss to thousands and thousands of people, in New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and eighty foreign countries. It rocked our fragile economy. It cast a black shadow over the lives and dreams of every freedom-loving person. It jarred our souls.
My euphoric sense of happiness and well-being was so young that it fled instantly. My newly inspired muse, weak from years of non-use, was too fragile to withstand the shock of that Tuesday morning. It too, disappeared. So, I, like every other American and who knows how many millions around the globe, stopped living life as weíd come to know it.
The first two weeks, after 9/11, I sat mesmerized by CNN, leaving the TV only to eat and sleep. I watched TV while I exercised. I frequently invited a close friend to sit on the patio with me and ignore the glorious fall days as we followed the aftermath on my portable TV. My husbandís vacation had begun on September 8 and extended until September 30. We abandoned our plans to visit our son in Beijing, deciding to limit our trip to Europe. Not until September 19, did we finally leave to visit close friends in Holland. What did we talk about most of the time? September 11. We drove to the Normandy region of France to visit the WWII Museum and the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach. We found our love of country further renewed and our gratitude to our American soldiers deepened. After three days in Paris, we boarded an Air France flight for Boston, glad to be coming home once again.
We returned to catch up on news in America, watch a tape of President Bushís speech to Congress and resume our lives. My husband flew his scheduled October trips between Atlanta and London and I tried to continue my writing project. But I couldnít. I tapered off my addiction to CNN and replaced it with reading long newspaper articles on terrorism, religious wars, Islam, extremism, heroic efforts by our rescue workers, and heart-rending stories of the individuals and families affected by the 9/11 attack. I watched as Gore lovers became Bush admirers. I marveled at the efforts in congress to leave bipartisanship behind and care for a nation in crisis. I was grateful every day that our government had not been harmed. I watched in awe to see the effectiveness of a democracy in motion.
On October 7th, America struck back. We had extended all the patience and consideration that was morally required and humanly reasonable. My attention was velcroed to the news every day and my heart was filled with relief that we were taking action and fear that Americans would run out of patience before we had achieved the goals. Iím still apprehensive about that. But weíre fighting for survival, not just of a nation, not just of a people who love freedom, but also weíre fighting for civilization itself. As President Bush continues to say, ďWe must prevail and we will prevail.Ē
So I have begun coming back, begun to wean myself from my daily dose of war and crisis news, begun to read my beloved books on essays and writing techniques and have returned to my writing project. I listened to Verdiís Requiem this morning as I washed up the breakfast dishes and tidied up the odds and ends that clutter a living space. Iím a neat-nick and like to have everything in its place. My husband is on a six-day Paris trip so Iíve had some days to myself to concentrate and to focus in on my own thoughts. I keep the TV off. The gloom has lifted from my spirits and like our President and First Lady have begged us to do, Iíve returned to a relatively normal way of life and the happiness that is now mine.
I stand up from my stool and turn to gaze out the windows as I finish my cooled cup of tea. Against a cloudless blue sky, the autumn winds whip the dry crackling leaves into a devilís dance on my empty stone patio. The morning sun has climbed about as high as it can today and seems to be caught in the top branches of the trees on the wooded slope. In my heart, I bless the beautiful day. My sense of euphoric happiness returns and cheerfulness floods through my veins. I should get a lot of writing done today Ė
Oh no―― I feel so wrong. How can I allow myself to feel happy when so many are so sad, so many lives destroyed, so many livelihoods cut-off, so many hearts broken with no bodies to kiss Ďgood-byeí? A wave of guilt washes over me as I walk slowly back to the kitchen sink and pour the last drops of cold tea down the drain. I carefully set my empty cup in the sink, place my hands on the edge of the sink and bow my head and cry. I cry for all the hurt people I donít know. I cry for the loss of innocence to our nation. I cry for the sense of freedom that will never quite return. I cry for a wounded economy that darkens our future. I cry for myself and the sudden loss of my new-found happiness and I cry because Iím selfish and want to be happy but I feel so guilty for wanting that for myself.