Category Archives: September 11th

The Climb

I was supposed to run the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers 5K in Fort Lauderdale on Saturday morning. It would’ve been my third time running this race that honors the sacrifice made by first responders on September 11, 2001. I picked up my T-shirt and number on Friday morning, carefully laid out my running clothes on Friday night, and went to bed early in anticipation of the event.

I woke up at 5:08am to thunder, lightning, and pouring rain. The radar on my Weather Channel app painted a grim picture of what the race would be like. Because of the logistics of getting to the site and parking the car (and going to the bathroom a dozen or more times), I would’ve had to arrive at least an hour before the race started, which meant I would’ve been wet, cold, and miserable before I ever crossed the start line. I woke Mike up to help me decide, and he thought I should stay home. But how could I skip the race to avoid getting wet when all of those brave men and women ran straight into the towers despite the flames? I felt guilty (my specialty), but in the end, I didn’t go. Frustrated and upset, I eventually fell back asleep.

The Tunnel to Towers 5K is a special race for a lot of reasons. It’s an important reminder of the terror that occurred on that sunny September morning. When I emerge from the parking lot downtown and catch my first glimpse of the fire trucks, American flags, and first responders prepping to run the race, I’m engulfed by sadness, but it always feels good – it feels right – because if I feel sad, then I’m not forgetting.

I was at the Wall Street subway stop when the first plane struck. When the doors opened, people rushed onto the train crying, praying, and yelling about a bomb and people falling from the sky. I almost got off, but my gut (or fear or confusion or all of the above) kept me from moving. At 14th Street, my regular stop, I climbed the stairs to a crystal clear view of the North Tower on fire directly to the south. I hold on to so many memories and snapshots from that horrific day, but I’ll never forget the eerie stillness of that moment. I lost myself for an instant in the image of the gaping hole, uncontrollable flames, and plumes of smoke before the rest of the day and all of its awfulness unraveled.

The race is also a remarkable celebration of courage, unity, and resolve. Most, if not all, of the first responders who run the race, including fire fighters, EMTs, military personnel, and police officers, do it in full gear. It’s hard not to be inspired running alongside a firefighter with 75 pounds of gear strapped to his or her body. It’s a flawless physical expression of never forgetting, and it’s empowering to be in their proximity.

Then, there’s the tunnel. The 5K route takes runners through the New River Tunnel in downtown Fort Lauderdale. All runners know the satisfaction and relief of climbing to the top of a monster hill and then experiencing a glorious, effortless downhill slope. It’s the reprieve our bodies need after working so hard to reach the top. The thing about the New River Tunnel, though, is that the downhill part comes first and the uphill part comes second, which means there’s no rest at the top. There’s just more running and, eventually, more climbing. The tunnel is a beast, but running through it feels like a fitting tribute to all of the heroic men and women who climbed the stairs in the towers to save lives and perished.

I often think about the people for whom duty called. About the people who ran up instead of down the stairs. About all of the loved ones lost and all those left behind to climb a hill of grief for the rest of their lives. About the service men and women who’ve shouldered the endless climb and burden of war. About all of us who, after thirteen years and two wars and with a third conflict looming, seem to be climbing a hill with little chance of ever experiencing the relief of coming back down.

I woke up at 7:34am, right around the time the race was starting. It wasn’t raining anymore. In fact, it was perfect running weather because the sky was overcast and the rain had cooled the air. I was devastated. I should’ve gone. I should’ve gotten wet. I should’ve been there. I got up, drank a cup of coffee, and ate half of a banana. I put on the running clothes I so carefully prepared the night before and went for the run I was supposed to do. The streets in and around my neighborhood were flat, so I couldn’t replicate the grueling climb for my feet, but I sure as hell felt it in my heart.

Until next year…

443

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under running, September 11th

Finish Line

On September 11, 2001, the finish line was when Mike showed up at my office covered in dust.  Or so I thought.

Then we had to get home.  Under the ground, over a bridge, and underground again.  Then we had to convince ourselves that we were safe.  Then we had to peel ourselves away from the news.  Then we had to leave the house.  Then we had to return to work.  Then we had to go back to living our lives.  Then we had to learn how to be happy without feeling bad about it.

Nearly twelve years later, it seems like life is a never-ending series of finish lines.

This morning, at the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers 5K, an annual race in honor of all those sacrificed in the line of duty on 9/11, this was what I saw when I ran across the finish line:

5k

On that horrific day under a warm sun and flawless blue sky, I never in my wildest dreams would have predicted this life and these beautiful people in it.

Life is still sweet, hills are still no big deal, and, as it turns out, every finish line leads to the beginning of a new race.

Grateful Proud Fortunate Happy Strong Exhausted Runaway Mama.

3 Comments

Filed under fortunate mama, Grateful Mama, Happy Mama, running, September 11th, Strong Mama

Saved

You know you’re in trouble when only one cup of coffee into the morning, your six-year-old kid asks, “Mommy, when the twin towers crumbled in New York City, did babies die?”

I don’t know if it’s because I’m older and wiser or if Dylan is older and wiser, but although I had no idea where the question came from, I felt comfortable – confident, even – answering it.

I’m actually not sure if any babies died on 9-11, but I’d like to believe none did, so I said, “No, sweetie.  The buildings that fell were full of grown ups.  The twin towers were a place where grown ups went to work.  Babies were at home and kids were at school.”

“Were people on fire?” he asked.

“The buildings were on fire,” I said, “so yes, I believe some people were probably on fire.”

Then, “How did the buildings catch fire?”

This is where I lost my footing.  Dylan loves super hero movies that are filled with action, destruction, and good guys and bad guys.  He understands the concept of good and evil in movies.  But in real life, I really, truly, didn’t want to tell him that the reason the twin towers were on fire was because airplanes flew into them.  Airplanes flown by bad guys who purposely hit the buildings filled with innocent people to cause fear, harm, death and destruction.

I was afraid if I answered his question, he’d fear tall buildings or airplanes or both or worse.  But, if I didn’t answer his question, it would’ve been awkward, like he time he asked me how babies were made and I froze because I had no idea how to answer without lying or explaining sex, neither of which seemed like a good option.  In that situation, I was saved by Dylan himself when he interrupted my panicked silence with, “I know, Mommy, babies are made by a baby machine inside women’s bellies.”  Who was I to argue with him?

This kid is chock full of curiosity and difficult questions, especially about death.  The evening before, while watching “Bedtime Stories” with Adam Sandler, Dylan asked me, “Who are your uncles?  Are they dead?”  (In the movie, Adam Sandler’s character is an uncle.)  And then, “What are your grandparents names?  Are they dead?”  (Adam Sandler’s character’s father dies in the beginning of the movie.)  I answered openly and honestly as I had many times before.  “I have an Uncle Richie and an Uncle David.  Richie is alive, but David is dead, so he’s in my heart.”  And then the grandparents.  “Their names are Dorothy and Leo, and Arnold and Ruth.  Yes, they are dead.  They’ve been gone for a long time, but I carry them with me inside my heart.”

“How did they die?” He asked.

“Dorothy, Leo, and Ruth died because they were old and very sick,” I said.

And then I veered into new territory because I had never before told him how Arnold died.  “Arnold died in a car accident.  He was old, too, but he was healthy.  His car was hit by a truck, and that’s how he died.  That’s why it’s so important that we wear seatbelts in the car.”

Dylan asked, “Why didn’t he just stay home?”

I said, “Well, he must’ve had somewhere to go.  He didn’t know he was going to get hit by a car.”

He said, “Mommy, I don’t want you to ever die?”

I said, “I don’t ever want to die either.  Let’s keep each other in our hearts always.  Okay?”

He said, “Okay.”

Then, we finished the movie (while I obsessed about just how freaking much I loved my children).

Back to the next morning.  Back to the twin towers.  Back to, “How did the buildings catch fire?”  Before I had a chance to say anything (or nothing), Riley called from the other room, “Mommy, come quick!  I peed in my pants!”  This time I was saved by Riley, who did, indeed, pee in his pants.  On the floor.  In the bathroom.  Next to the toilet.

Perhaps I should thank Riley for his perfectly timed accident…but I won’t.

2 Comments

Filed under death, movie, September 11th, tough conversations