Two Little Numbers
It may not yet be possible for anyone to blog about anything on this date other than the obvious. So despite the fact that others are sure to be far more eloquent, I must try. I occupied space on the planet that day, so I was part of the world as it changed forever. Where were you?
I was at work that perfect Fall Tuesday morning. Someone came in for an appointment and said something about a plane and the WTC. For some bizarre reason, the image in my head was of a small private plane inadvertently crashing into the building, damaging mainly itself and threatening only its pilot. One of my employees' husband called with more information.
There was an old black and white TV upstairs. Someone dragged it down and set it up in the front office while I went on seeing patients. I didn't see either tower fall. The rest of the surreal events of the day continued to trickle in. Patients cancelled. By afternoon the planes were grounded, and although no one was at all certain of what had actually happened, it was clear enough -- even to me in my far-off sequestered corner of the world -- that life had been divided into two distinct parts: all of time up to this day, and all of time yet to come.
I've been playing with this idea for a couple of years now: thinking about things that permanently divide life into before and after.
Some things seem like it at the time we are living with them: exams; boards; proms; holiday parties; championships. But in the grand scheme of things they really aren't; within a few years, how much difference does a big organic chem exam really make (whatever grade you got on it, if you even remember.)
Some other things that feel like it (graduations; weddings; babies) actually are. But because these things are usually planned and thought about and endlessly contemplated a thousand times before they occur, when looked back on later feel more like a process than an event.
The things that really divide our lives in two are the things that catch us by surprise: auto accidents; broken bones; sudden deaths; an ultrasound showing twins (our first pregnancy); and 9/11, a simple pair of numbers that when put together like that have come to mean "the day the world changed forever."
As that day went on I found myself in shock, not even fully sure why. In fact, I felt almost guilty: I didn't know anyone who had perished; I didn't have any direct connection with anyone who was directly affected. I don't live anywhere near New York. But I still felt it.
I had a date that night. We had dinner at home and spent the night together. I remember feeling strange having sex when it felt like the world as I knew it was coming to an end and what might replace it was far from certain. But in the end we agreed it was a validation of life, and symbolic of life going on. We've been married over four years now, so life certainly went on. Funny how it almost always does.
I've already written some benzo prescriptions for patients who were in NYC that day, who saw the planes hit and whose PTSD will be acting up on the anniversary. For myself, though, I don't plan to watch any of the TV shows or participate in any of the memorials. But I will think about it every time I write the date on a script or a note or a lab slip. Who would ever have thought of two little numbers having such power?