This has almost nothing to do with copywriting, but if you don’t mind — and even if you do — I’m going to continue anyway, yes?
See, these days, you’ll already seen and heard some heartbreaking tributes to the Twin Towers and, well, all that. I’d like to kick in for a second with a slightly alternate point of view.
First, let me say that… 9/11 happened.
When it did, I was just as deep in the moment as anybody We were in Paris at the time. With the time difference, it was already afternoon when the news crackled in over an office radio.
My French wasn’t good enough yet to understand what my French colleagues were wide-eyed and crying about. But knew it was something big.
“Excuse me for asking, John” said Luc, sounding a little more than panicked, “but where is your wife?”
My wife had been singing New York on the night of September 9. Her flight out was in the early afternoon the next day. So by the time the time that last “normal” morning dawned on Europe, she was already sleeping off jet lag in our apartment.
A plane, he explained, has hit one of the World Trade Towers. And then, “I’m sorry to say, but another plane has hit again.” I don’t know if Luc even knew anybody in Manhattan, but he looked close to tears as the newscasts came pouring in.
Just two months earlier, we’d moved to Paris, from a rented apartment in the Manhattan’s West Village. We had friends worked in or near the Towers.
All escaped injury except for one, a childhood friend of my youngest sister, who worked in a financial firm on a high floor. I hadn’t seen her since she was a little girl, maybe five or six years old. But at 25, apparently she ran marathons, always smiled, and was considered an “angel” by her friends.
She never made it out of the building.
Over the next few days, we stayed glued to CNN. Less than two weeks later, we were back in New York and in our apartment — we shared it with a part-time sublet — cleaning caked-up ash from the air-conditioner filter.
My mother sent an email message. “We’ve crossed a bridge,” she said. And there was no way to go back to the way it was just one day earlier. Of course, I had no idea then how right she would prove to be.
Over the next few years, anniversaries of 9/11 came and went. So did the news coverage, replete with montages and music, the amateur videos, and the purple prose. Fear and anger rose and fell, but never quite faded, eventually lapsing into a dull ache that would not go away.
And now, I too am tempted to sift through my pictures from that time. I had some shots I’d taken while we were visiting — of “Still Missing” posters, of piles of flowers, and of the withering wreck at Ground Zero.
I found some.
But I found something else too. Other photos from that same year, and a growing sense that there was a lot else subsumed by the shadows of that event. Other things well worth remembering. And it seemed only right that the best tribute to getting on with life, as one should after any tragedy, was to draw those memories back up to the surface too.
For instance, it happens that 2001 was the same year I started the e-letter behind this website. And 2001 is the year my wife and I got married, too. We had a great wedding and a gorgeous Italian honeymoon. Months later, when we moved to Paris, armed with less than 10 words of French. But we made do.
On the more painful side, 2001 is the same year my wife lost her father. This was also not long after 9/11. We flew over in an almost empty airliner and went from the airport to his hospital bed, where he had gone into a coma after heart surgery. He died less than two hours later, surrounded by the family.
That same year, my father had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. It was too late for conventional surgery, the doctor told him. But my mother found a breakthrough new procedure online. With radioactive iodine seeds and computer-mapped blasts of radiation. Only one center in Atlanta performed it and he would have to move their for eight weeks. They did and it managed to buy him another 10 years.
In that time, he met all three of his grandchildren, took over a scholarship fund for fatherless boys in Philadelphia, and went on more than a few adventurous trips with my mother, including two visits to Paris. He stayed in touch with other patients in the center. Some didn’t survive as long. Others did. And today the procedure is a standard treatment.
It was spring of 2004 when our son was born. Our daughter followed two years later. We also added two more nieces and a nephew. Family members got married. And we took multiple great trips to London, Lisbon, Vienna, San Francisco, Barcelona and other places.
We made progress in French and made several friends in those same years. Tragically, we also said goodbye to two. (Cancer.) We learned enough of the language to get dangerous, but not enough that our bilingual don’t fail to correct us. Yet, somehow they still remain adorable.
In those ten years, I also wrote a few good promos, some books, and gave a lot of pretty good seminars. My income tripled and my savings grew tenfold. And we have, knock wood, stayed healthy.
But then, more terrible things happened too. From a heatwave that killed 40,000 in the EU… to the Boxing Day tsunami that killed over 200,000 in Asia… to earthquakes, Katrina, and two endless wars, the world took a beating. And we passed milestones of every shape and tenor.
One thing, though, you could not miss. That, while all tragedies remain tragedies, it was quickly clear that none exist in a vacuum, least of all 9/11. For awhile, it was the thing that sucked the life out of us. But now it seems different, like it’s life that’s overdue to absorb the event.
I say all this not to forget what happened. No doubt there’s pain that remains immediate to the 9/11 families. No doubt it’s altered the course of everything, in an infinitely more complex exercise of the butterfly effect.
But as we look back and dig into the photos and stories, as we re-open the old wounds, the question seems to present: at long last, is it time to place this one big memory in it’s space, relative to all those other things, rather than isolate it the way we have these year’s since?
Perhaps, I’m saying, it’s time to finish crossing that bridge; to step boldly, if greatly changed and more complicated, onto the other bank. Not to forget, but not to stop exploring whatever else there is.