My memories of 9/11 revolve around fear, but not fear for myself. At the time of the attacks, we were living in Seattle and Jen worked in the Columbia Tower, the tallest building on the West Coast. We were getting ready for work and had the news on, where we heard about the Twin Towers. We headed to work, and I remember wishing Jen worked in any other location that day. She arrived at the building to find it was closed to everyone. She returned home and watched the broadcasts, while I attempted to go about my work as if nothing had happened.
I also remember, selfishly, worrying about a trip we had planned. The year 2001 marked a turning point for us. Jen had finished her bachelor's degree in 2000, and we were becoming more financially stable. The year before, we took our first real vacation as a couple. It was a trip to Tucson, our old stomping grounds, for a writers' conference and to visit my family. I didn't really attend the conference events, but we did catch up with family and revisit our favorite spots in Tucson.
In September 2001, we were scheduled to take our second couple's vacation, this time to San Francisco. Our flight was scheduled to leave Seattle the morning of September 15th, and we wondered if our trip would be canceled, due to the grounding of all commercial U.S. flights. We had already paid for our tickets, hotel and other expenses, and none of our travel plans could be canceled for a refund. Given how tight money still was for us, canceling that trip would have been a huge financial hit.
Fortunately, domestic flights resumed in time for our trip. And, somehow, we managed to get on our scheduled flight without mishap. The flight from Sea-Tac to San Francisco scheduled just before ours was canceled, because planes and crews still hadn't arrived in Seattle for all the scheduled flights. And, the flight immediately after ours was also canceled. But, our flight left without incident, although far fewer people were aboard than the airline expected.
People couldn't believe we traveled by plane only a few days after the attacks. But, when I think back on it, that trip to San Francisco was the best vacation we've ever taken. Perhaps we were more aware of our surroundings because of the attacks. Or, maybe we were simply relishing being alive, which imprinted the memories of the things we did and saw more deeply. Whatever the reason, we absorbed the atmosphere of San Francisco more thoroughly than we have any other place we've visited.
We traveled fearlessly around an unfamiliar city, walking through neighborhoods that were less-than-tourist-friendly as if we belonged there. We trekked the city's transit system, navigating it remarkably well for two people who hadn't used it before. We tried new foods, even though neither of us is usually an adventurous eater. On that trip, we experienced a new city in a spirit of discovery and joy that I've never encountered before or since. I think everyone wants to have that kind of experience when they travel, but most of us return from our vacations slightly let down, as if the trip wasn't the sensory extravaganza we had dreamt about.
Perhaps that is the true lesson I've learned from the horrors of 9/11. Each day, each moment is one to be savored, to be experienced as fully as I can. That's easier said than done, of course. But as we start a new, post-9/11 decade, I vow to consciously engage all of my senses so I can more fully experience the world around me. Each day, I will tell those I love how much they mean to me. If 9/11 has taught us nothing else, at least I've learned that tomorrow may not come.