“This must be a joke,” I muttered.
My alarm clock has gone off at 6:30 a.m. virtually every morning for years now. I follow my own clinical advice and do everything I can to keep my sleep schedules regular, including on weekends. The morning of September 11, 2001 was no exception.
The alarm provoked my arousal at its usual appointed time. As my waking cortex struggled to climb out of its sleepy haze, I listened lazily for a few moments to the muffled words on the NPR station to which I kept my clock radio dialed. I could tell immediately something was different this morning, even prior to my comprehension of the words. There was an urgency to the voices, staccato, quick and breathless, unscripted and frightened. Whatever was the topic at hand, this clearly was not a normal news day. Then the words started to register in my brain: “planes,” “World Trade Center,” “attacks,” “explosions.”
My first coherent thought was that what I was hearing was a hoax, a modern-day War of the Worlds. A couple minutes of listening and then the first images on television terminated any hopes I had that it was so. I jostled my wife awake and the two of us stared at the TV in mute, open-mouthed horror. At that moment, I knew our country would never be the same.
My brief drive to work–under beautiful cloudless blue Seattle skies eerily similar to those above Manhattan that same morning–was a blur. I walked into my clinic. Not a single person said a thing. We all just looked at each other in disbelief, our eyes all saying to each other, what is happening to our world?
Not surprisingly, few of my patients chose to show up to clinic that morning, so I had some extra time on my hands. I and my co-worker, Lamont, found our old little rabbit-eared lab TV, and we spent most of the morning staring at the fuzzy images, still trying to comprehend it all. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep very well that night and for several nights thereafter. Neither did my patients. In the months to follow, I was bombarded by insomniacs filling my clinic. The entire country suffered from collective insomnia as well as collective grief.
During my life there have been several events that I remember with clarity, defining moments in our country’s history. I remember lying on the front bench of our family’s big ol’ sedan, watching my father stare at the AM car radio as Nixon’s resignation was announced. I remember being in class hearing about John Lennon’s assassination and Ronald Reagan’s near-assassination. In college I stood in a crowd in our student lounge after morning classes, watching images of Challenger exploding on television. 9/11 was one such moment, of course, and probably the most notable single historical event of my working adult life. Twelve years later, it remains difficult for me to believe that such a thing even happened.
I must admit I grumble about some things from time to time: the miserable state of our country’s health care administration and reform; traffic; the interminable meanness and passive aggression of some people; all the hassles and noise of modern life. Each 9/11 brings me back to center, reminding me of how privileged I am to be alive now in this time and place, enjoying the family, friends, and prosperity with which I somehow, undeservingly, have been blessed.
As it is for millions of other Americans, 9/11 is and always will be a day of reflection for me. As horrific as 9/11 was, it did crystallize in my mind some of my life’s most basic philosophies: love fiercely, live boldly, and protect yourself and those you love from those who seek to harm you, whether they be silent or loud in their intent.