One Post-9/11 Outlook

On the morning of 9/11/2001, I was on mile three of a walk along a winding wooded trail near my first home. I walked with ease — unassisted and in a perfectly straight line unlike my current drunk-like gait. I moved fluidly back then with strength and purpose for five miles every other day.  

Two days earlier we had returned home from a trip to San Francisco where we explored every neighborhood of that vibrant and diverse city on foot while hopping on and off cable cars until late each night. It was before I concentrated on steps and balance. Walkers, wheelchairs and scooters had yet to enter my world.

The sun was shining that morning in random spots along the path through heavily leaf-scattered trees. It was early in the day so the temperature was refreshingly void of the stifling heat and humidity that had been blanketing the area for many months prior to that picturesque day. 

I made this familiar trek a few times each week but this day seemed especially bright. It felt good to get back in the groove after vacation. I saw a middle aged man approaching. I smiled and nodded at him when he immediately burst into conversation. He said he was a retired police officer and he had just heard from a friend about an airplane violently crashing into the New York City Twin Towers. It seemed like a rather random comment to throw out there while passing an exercising stranger. It sounded like an unfortunate accident but I wasn’t sure how that information affected me. I thanked him for the news flash and continued my morning routine. 

When I eventually returned home, I turned on the TV and was sucked into the shock, horror and disbelief we all felt that day. All of our lives were forever changed. I still feel sadness about the unimaginable but now I also reflect on how different my own life has transitioned since then. 

Since that day 18 years ago, I’ve been through denial, frustration, needles, pills and infusions, loss of balance and strength, two homes, the adoption of a new baby, some gray hair and wrinkles, the loss of both loving parents and the resistance and eventual acceptance of mobility devices. Yes my reality has completely shifted since September 11th of 2001. But more than anything, the 9/11 anniversary brings an undeniable gratitude. I’m here on this earth which is unlike some 3000 innocent folks and their countless family members and friends whose lives were irreversibly shaken that day. Along with my own changing abilities, I have experienced life full of its ups and downs. The sadness, happiness and joy have made me into who I am today! I rather like this new person more than the immature, superficial girl I used to be.

Keeping the memory of this tragedy alive, in part, means that we must move forward with both gratitude and compassion. Every year as September 11th comes and goes, I reflect not only on what I’ve lost but on how unbelievably fortunate I am. I also remember that everyone around me is struggling with some type of grief due to change or loss. In fact, the only ones immune to grief are those who are no longer on this earth with us. I suppose that means we ought to embrace our twists and turns, losses and changes. Such is life and fortunately we are here to feel all of it.

As each anniversary of this tragedy comes and goes, I vow to make sure my outlook remains grateful to honor those lost and those who responded, dealt with and fought to pick up the shattered lives and pieces. No matter how many more moments I’m gifted, I’ll continue to give appreciation to those for whom I’m most grateful. 

The way I end many of my talks seems extra fitting on September 13th. Lucille Ball and many others said it first. The past is history — and we shall never forget — the future is a mystery but the present — now that’s a gift. 

(Coincidentally, I wrote these words on September 12th while getting my second four-hour infusion of a new Disease Modifying Treatment (DMT) that will likely stop my disease progression. When I heard a bell ring and the staff began cheering and snapping pics, I knew immediately what was happening. Someone had successfully completed her last round of chemotherapy treatment. Being a witness to that celebration, puts a unique twist on this journey we call life.)

About Gina Whitlock Fletcher

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