Eight years ago today. Like many, I feel compelled to tell the story of where I was.
Eight years ago this morning, it was a gorgeous day in Washington DC, kind of like this one in Minneapolis now—sunny, not too hot, a lovely day to take the brand new UUA President, Bill Sinkford, onto Capitol Hill for the first time.
The occasion was historic. Finally, poor women had created time at the House of Representatives to talk about the impact of the so-called Welfare Reform bill that had gone into effect. I was excited.
But then, just as the first woman got up to speak, a man in a uniform came in, took the mic and said, “You need to evacuate the building now.” I grumbled, “Finally the poor women are going to speak so of course you evacuate the building.” I grumbled all the way out the door.
When we got outside, though, it was clear that something weird was going on. Senators, Aides, miscellaneous visitors like us, cafeteria staff all mingled with panicked looks in their eyes. Bill Sinkford, Rob Keithan, and I stood bewildered on a corner watching everyone run smack dab into gridlock.
Lutheran friends came huffing by about then. They had been in Senator Paul Wellstone’s office to talk about an agriculture bill, when they saw on TV that four planes had been hijacked, three had hit targets (including the Pentagon, from which we could see flames shooting up behind the building where we stood). The fourth was thought to be heading towards the White House, right down the mall from us, or else the Capitol, about 300 yards away.
We were stunned. We stood blankly for a while. I looked again at the flames. “Is the White House burning?” I asked stupidly. “Calm down,” Rob replied. I thought I was calm. Finally, numbly, Bill and Rob and I got into a taxi that was stuck at our corner. We sat in gridlock and listened to the radio. I remember the three of us repeating in unison after the radio announcer, the words, “…where the World Trade Center used to be.” And then repeating it to each other, a question, “Where the World Trade Center used to be?”
Eight years later, above all, I am struck with that sense of impermanence. We never know when something will end. This morning, at the garden, I suddenly realized that my slicing tomatoes are done for the year. I didn’t know that earlier in the week when I picked an enormous bag of them and handed them to a friend as I left town. Today, they’re done. Another year’s harvest is over.
I don’t remember the last time I rocked my young daughter to sleep—one day she must simply have said she didn’t want to do it anymore, but I don’t remember when. I only know now that, since she’s almost thirteen, it’s unlikely to happen again. We never know when something will cease to exist. And so, as I age, it becomes increasingly evident that I don’t know when I will see someone for the last time, and hence must treat them with tenderness. Every moment must be savored.
One of the most heartbreaking aspects of September 11 was that a young UU family—husband, wife, three year old, seven year old—died in the plane that left Washington DC. I brought greetings from the UUA to their memorial service. My daughter was young then, too; I did not know this family but I sobbed in preparation for their memorial. Eight years later, this family I never met remains vividly alive to me. The stories told about them, the love shared by their friends and families, the jokes, the songs…all of it is vivid to me. So, besides the impermanence of all things, there remains in my heart a steadiness about the power of connection. Once the heart is touched, something remains.
May this day be a day of love of impermanent things.