I went through a long period in my 20s when there was literally zero family/personal tragedy. The worst things that happened to me from around age 21-27 involved relationship breakups. The most stress I experienced was typically related to apartment moves. Nobody in my extended family died. Nobody got sick, had major surgery, lost a limb, lost a house, lost a baby, got divorced... nothing. Things were very quiet in the "major life change" department. I'd been at my job for more than 5 years. I took the calm for granted.
As I left my office building on September 10, 2001, I walked across the street and past the World Trade Center for what would be the last time, although I didn't know it. As usual, I recognized a lot of the same people walking near me. I was on the same schedule with these strangers and saw many of them daily. "My life is like Groundhog Day," I thought. "Every day is the same. Something needs to change."
I really did think that. Of course, you know where this is going.
Change came in relentless waves after 9/11. I never returned to that office. After six months of professional limbo working in New Jersey with my colleagues at an alternate "temporary" site, I resigned and headed to DC for grad school and a job at a university that offered an uncompetitive salary and free graduate classes.
The drama and change continued. My aunt and then my grandma died. Steve and I got married. My dad had hip surgery. I finished grad school and found a new job. My mom had surgery on her vertebra. Steve went to Iraq for six months. My uncle died. Steve and I started trying to have a baby and had two losses right off the bat. Steve's dad began descending deeper into chronic illness. In the last year, two of my real-life friends lost their babies, born too early to survive. I finally made it to the second trimester and ended up in the hospital with preterm labor for 9 weeks. Lexie was born 10 weeks early.
I've wanted to ask someone -- why does this shit happen? Why do babies die? Why did nearly 3,000 people die on the whim of some sick asshole on the other side of the world? But there is no "why." You can get into specific causes, but the big-picture "why" -- it doesn't exist.
What this has taught me is that nothing is a sure thing. I didn't truly understand this before having some real adversity. I think it's good in some ways that I know this now, instead of sailing through life thinking it's a big deal if someone dents my car in the garage or the movers break my mirror. This knowledge can also be bad, though -- as in my earlier aversion to buying Lexie's wardrobe too far ahead. It's irrational. Chances are, now, she'll be alright. But who knows -- the world could end tomorrow. As long as we go together, I think I'd be ok with that.
I really don't have any words of wisdom about this day. I'll be remembering the friends I spent that Tuesday morning with, remembering the ashes and singed papers floating down to the ground in Brooklyn, remembering the acrid smell, remembering how the gorgeous September weather seemed all wrong for that day, remembering the 13 worried messages I had on my machine when I got home after everything happened. Remembering waking up the next morning to a moment of peace before the memories flooded back like a punch in the stomach. Remembering the fat plume of smoke that rose from lower Manhattan for weeks afterward.
Remembering how we thought things would never be the same.