I wasn’t even going to even attempt a run. My hip was hurting and I’d been dealing with a low back issue. But the sunshine called me to at least walk. After my 1-mile warmup I decided to see what I could do. I was really slow on my 1st loop around the block (0.6 miles), but I managed to keep going. As I approached a mile, I was ready to quit.
And then the One Republic song Run came on.
Yeah, one day well the sky might fall
Yeah, one day I could lose it all
So I run until I hit that wall
If I learned one lesson, count your blessings
Look to the rising sun and run, run, run
The lyrics brought me back 20 years, to a morning with similar weather.
A clear blue sky. The sun is shining. It’s going to get warm by mid-day, but right now there’s a crisp bite to the air and a rustle in the wind that tells me fall is here.
It’s a 9/11 day.
The calendar says it is September 10.
But 9/11 isn’t just a date on the calendar or even being in a particular place.
In 2019 I was 3,000 miles away, in Southern California, surrounded by people who had no idea what the day’s significance was. I thought perhaps I’d have some distance from it, but 9/11 was still there. In every crashing wave I saw the smoke and debris that rose as the buildings crashed.
That was the year I learned that 9/11 lives inside me. I couldn’t forget if I tried. The body remembers. The nervous system remembers.
9/11 is a specific weather. It’s every time a plane that seems too low or I see smoke rising from a building. It’s in helicopters flying overhead and silent city streets pierced by wailing sirens. It’s in the lyrics to a song.
My legs are moving. My feet are hitting the pavement. I am running.
On the movie screen of my mind, I see flashes from the past. I am walking down 5th Avenue toward my office at the GM building. The image of the smoking tower on the television screen in the window of CBS studios, where they filmed the Early Show.
We thought it was an accident. A plane crash.
How does someone accidentally fly a plane into the twin towers?
Heading up to the office. Coming back down. The fear that our building would be next. Standing on the plaza outside the GM building with my colleagues, huddled around the TV as we watched the anchors of our skyline disintegrate within seconds. My dad and brother finding me there. Walking to my apartment on the Upper West Side. Reciting psalms.
Vivid details stick out for me. The blue sweater set I wore with my beige Theory capris. The purple fabric Herve Chapelier tote bag I carried that day, with the change of clothes I had brought for the Yankee game that evening.
I don’t remember what I wore yesterday, but I remember what I wore 20 years ago.
I come back to my body. My legs are striding. My feet are hitting the pavement. Only an hour earlier, I could hardly move. Now I was running.
Or perhaps something was carrying me.
With each stride I moved forward in space and back in time.
I ran for those who had to run that day.
I ran for those who couldn’t run that day.
I ran for those who ran out of the towers and I ran for those who ran into them.
I ran for those who took a leap that day — possibly a leap of faith, and also of desperation. The best option available.
I ran for those who heeded the call to serve and never made it out alive.
I ran for all whose lives were forever changed on that day, including my own, in those moments when the “evening shadows fell,” as Linda Eder so poetically describes it in her tribute, If I Had My Way.
I ran to strengthen my heart and fortify my resilience.
I ran to dislodge the grief that still resides deep within me.
I ran to leave the past behind and to step into a new future.
Even as I ran, I knew:
You can’t run from your memories. You can’t run from your experiences. You can’t run from the things that shaped you.
Those things are inside your body, not just your mind.
You can’t run from yourself.
The only path to healing is to run into yourself, to explore the depths of what is there, the grief and the sadness and the anger and the shame and the hopelessness and despair and all the emotions you’d rather keep buried.
To hold space for all of it as you excavate it and examine it and — most crucially — feel it.
This is not easy work, but it’s necessary work.
Today, a new glimmering tower stands as the anchor in the downtown skyline.
That didn’t happen overnight. It required a lot of healing work first.
It’s the work of healing that lays the new foundation for what will rise on the ashes of what was destroyed.
We don’t move on from tragedy and pain. We move through it.
The memory will always live inside me. I use it as a reminder to focus on how to make the most of this life in the time I have here, recognizing that I don’t know how much time I have.
beneath the rubble
lies firm ground for rebuilding
but first you must heal