It’s September 11th. It’s 2016. 15 years after the events that have forever changed the meaning of the date and given it recognition and significance. To some it’s a day they celebrate the time they succeeded in an attack. To some it’s a day their parents talk about and remember and they vaguely understand what happened. To others it’s the last day their loved one was alive.
I’m sitting in an airport. It’s the second or third time I’ve ended up traveling on 9/11 after the events that beautiful September day. I’m watching the interactions. I’m watching the conversations – I’m a people watcher. As I do this, I found myself struck by two thoughts. Not really spectacular thoughts, but just thoughts I wanted to explore in a blog post.
Before a Tragedy…. Normal
Most of us don’t have the blessing or curse (depending on perspective) of knowing “Today is the day I’m going to die” or “In 3.72 weeks, I’ll be dead”. We don’t get the chance to plan, to close relationships. Most of our deaths will be a surprise to those around us. And to us, in a sense, though I don’t know how long the surprise is.
As I sat at a restaurant at the airport I watched the folks around me. I watched the folks at the gate adjacent to the restaurant. Each scene wonderful in its own way because it represented a life. It represented a human being. Created in God’s image. With unique circumstances and perspectives and burdens and expectations.
Next to me was a couple playing Gin Rummy. They were maybe in their late forties or early fifties. They were laughing. Giving each other a hard time. Being playfully competitive. You could say they were flirting while they played. Laughing. Having fun. Their conversation kept darting to “remember that time a kid did this?” or “remember that mother’s day?” I don’t know how old their kids are but they have some and they aren’t here with them.
Outside in the gate area was a young couple travelling with an older relative, perhaps a mother of one of them. Good looking couple. Smartly dressed. The wife was tall, blonde and had an addictive smile. She had a baby carrier on, and in it was the most precious little girl. I’d say she was about 2 months old, if not younger. She had an overfull head of hair. Reddish and curly. Reminded me a lot of one of our daughters when she was a baby. The baby was a little cranky, but the smiling mom was dancing to the pop music playing at the restaurant. Walking up and down, dancing with the baby. Holding her hands. Twirling. Trying to get the baby to dance. A few smiles and laughs broke out.
I was in a high seat at a counter. Sort of beneath me was a couple at a table. I think they had a fight earlier. She was giving him that look. He seemed a bit broken and sad. They talked to the waiter, but not to each other. He wouldn’t look at her but the look was palpable. Their phones were busy. I’m sure they love each other very much. I’m sure he deserved the look even. I imagine they both knew it would blow over, tomorrow. So they didn’t care about fighting the cloud of frustration.
Next to me on the left was a busy business man. On a Sunday night still making work calls. Still sort of rushing whoever he was talking to in some office somewhere. I couldn’t tell the business, something to do with energy or maybe energy commodities trading. He was quick with the waiter. The waiter was there to serve him and this man didn’t have the time for pleasant conversation. I’m sure he has a family. I’m sure he is sweet and nice in certain situations.
Near the entrance to the restaurant, a family on some trip. Tired kids, slightly cranky mom, sort of clueless dad meandering along (man that family looked familiar). They were deciding on eating there or going for snacks.
Behind them a woman with an adult in a wheel chair and the wheel chair attendant from the airport. Maybe the adult in the wheel chair had Cerebral Palsy, maybe advanced MS or something else that affected both the body and the mind. I don’t know if the woman travelling with him was a wife, a friend, a relative. But she cared a lot for that person. I can’t imagine their experience traveling. The extra screens. The wheel chair hassle. She was happy. And pleasant to the attendant and to the hostess.
Here in the Sky Club now that my meal is done. I see a lot of folks with nose in their phones like I am here in my laptop. I see a couple folks chatting. A black woman with a beautiful smile and really pleasant demeanor is in a conversation with an older greying man sitting in a chair she was walking by. They started talking about the Giants/Dallas football game on the screen. But now they are just talking about life and family and life experiences. Engaged. Hands flying. Laughs. Smiles. Loud talking. Makes me smile to just watch them smile and talk.
Between me and them is an older woman by herself. She’s smiled at me a couple times and I at her. She doesn’t seem like a chatter. Just a smile and nodder. So I smiled and nodded. In fact I just did again while typing this. I don’t know her story. She may have Parkinson’s – just a slight head shake. She’s just waiting for her flight.
I could keep going. All these people. Thousands of them at the airport, hundreds or more in my terminal alone. All with stories. All with lives outside of the airport. All of them, well at least almost all of them, if not all, have one thing in common. Well two. They are about to jump on airplanes. But they all have lived their lives today like they have another day tomorrow.
They are all assuming that there isn’t going to be a sudden heart attack. A plane crash. A terrorist event. A car crash leaving their next airport heading home or to their hotel.
Is that bad? I don’t think so. But watching them having normal days on 9/11 made me think of those who also had normal starts to their days 15 years ago today. The mother and baby. The playful couple. The angry couple. The friendly strangers. The flight attendants with great plans when they got to LA, maybe one who was about to be there for the first time. The parents eager to go home and give a stuffed animal to their kids. The tender and caring caregiver who is everything to a disable family member. The self important business person with a tender side. All of these types of people were on planes or in offices on that clear morning 15 years ago. Completely unaware that their day would change.
I’ve been to many car accidents or untimely deaths as a firefighter and EMT. Same thing with them all. They had stories and weren’t living knowing that “today was the day”.
I don’t know. Let me ask you. How are you living today? Are you living with a sense of your finite state? If that couple at the table in front of me down low knew today would be their last or one of their lasts – would they be doing the silent thing about whatever small thing it is? (And it is small. If they love each other and the thought of today being it would cause them any pause, it’s small. It may be big. It may be huge! But it is smaller than them being apart forever by death or dying together in a tragedy). I suspect that couple next to me playing Gin wouldn’t change a whole lot, but maybe they would have been home with their kids.
I could probably write an equally long post about the things I would have done differently today and yesterday and the day before if I knew that today would be my last. Or my wife’s last. Or my parents last. Or my kids. Or the person I bump shoulders with on this next flight.
Moses said in Psalm 90, verse 2 “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”
That’s a wise saying. I don’t think we should live our lives in this fragile “I could die today!!” anxiety riddled worrisome state. But we should live lives that are pleasing to God. To the humans we interact with. To the humans we are intermingled with.
So. What about you? What would you do differently? What would change if you knew?
We have a unique opportunity because we are still alive. We have a chance to think about these things. Even if the end for us would be in 3.5 days, because we are alive now to ponder and act on it.
I’m happy I’m Christ’s and I’ll enter His Kingdom. That I trust in Him for my salvation and have given my sin burden to Him. But there’s more than that. I mean that’s most important. But there is more than that. There are a few dozen things I could have and would have done differently just this weekend if I knew.
So let’s take advantage of the opportunity. Get right with God. Get right with our loved ones. Treat others with decency and kindness, even when we are different and disagree about things. We’re in this game of life together.
Alright. Time to board.