Today is the 10 year anniversary of one of the most observed tragedies in American history.
Every single one of you reading this knows exactly what tragedy I'm talking about.
Everyone remembers where they were, everyone knows what happened.
There are numerous memorial services being held today to remember those who died, and to honor those who are serving our country.
People say "We will never forget."
And then comes tomorrow.
Sure, we don't forget, we still remember what day the event happened, but we go back to our regularly scheduled lives and "forget" all about it.
Except for those that lost someone that day. Life is never again going to be "normal". They live that tragedy every single day of their lives, without their loved ones, their colleagues, their friends.
But then isn't that the way it is for all of us? At some point in everyone's life, we lose people. They leave our lives, they die.
It's when they are taken from us "prematurely" that it leaves an even bigger mark on our psyche.
It's how we perceive the death or tragedy that makes all the difference.
There are many ways to leave this life, one of which is to grow old and die of "natural" causes. When someone dies this way, generally, the statement is made that they "lived a full life, it was time".
Take someone away much earlier in their years, and it's a completely different story. And why?
We perceive different kinds of deaths in different kinds of ways.
A baby is born, and then dies unexpectedly two months later. There is uncontrollable grief. This was a child that did not get a chance at life.
A seven year old girl dies when she chases her ball into the street and gets hit by a car. Same reaction, she did not have the chance at a full life.
What about a 30 year old that suddenly drops dead of a heart attack? The grief is different for adult "victims", but still, almost as strong as for children.
What if that same 30 year old dies in an unforeseen tragedy such as the one we remember today? An attack, seemingly unprovoked, and one that is seen as preventable as well. Here's where our perceptions change.
How we feel about death is largely decided by how much it affects us personally. If we lose a loved one to a disease, slowly, we have time to prepare for the end. When they are snatched away from us when we least expect it, it creates a much deeper impact on our minds. Especially when we see it as a death that should not have happened.
I'm thinking today about how I see the tragedy, my perceptions of it. I saw it on the news, just like millions of other Americans. But I was not directly involved. I could perhaps talk to someone that was, and ask them what it was like. But can I really perceive it like they did? That's like asking someone who recently broke their ankle what it feels like, when you yourself have never broken a bone. There's just no frame of reference.
Anyone who lost someone that day had a unique perception of the event. Those who did not die, and were able to escape in time, have a completely different perception, even if they also lost someone. Every single person present, whether they were filming it, working in the buildings, or were a member of the firefighting crews and rescue personnel, has their own perception of the event.
The processing of the emotions and thoughts of a day like that sometimes take years to work through, and sometimes are never fully processed. How we perceive a particular event, especially when it involves loss of life, is unique to every person individually. We can say that when multiple lives are at stake at any given moment, that there can be many similar perceptions, but each person still has their own unique view of the situation as a whole, according to what is happening in their own life at that moment, and it changes how we see things.
How can we say we know how someone else feels when something as traumatic as that happens, if we ourselves did not see it as they did? We can't. We have our own perceptions. How can we say that the mother of that two month old baby who died did not feel the same as the wife who lost her husband on that fateful day 10 years ago? How can we even begin to imagine what the mother of the 30 year old heart attack victim felt when her son died, as opposed to a mother who lost her son in the attack on the World Trade Center? Are they any different?
I say it's all about perception.
I lost a friend once. I was 16 years old, and he and I transferred from one school to another in the same year, and for a time, he and I were the only ones each of us knew in that school. He committed suicide late in that school year, and I felt a tremendous sense of guilt, because I perceived it differently than did the other kids. I felt I should have seen it coming, because I felt I knew him better than they did. Did I in fact? I don't know, but from my point of view, I did.
My point in all of this is that our perceptions have a tendency to cloud our judgement. I feel we need to be more compassionate with others, and remember that just because we may have knowledge of an event, and feel grief and pain, our perceptions are different, and we can't really know how someone else is affected by the same event.
Today is day when we look back on a tragic event, and honor those who left this life that day. There are 364 other days in a year, and on each one of those days there is someone that looks back on a day when someone close to them left this life as well. To me, those days are no less important than today. 2996 families were directly affected by the tragedy that befell the nation on that day, but all around the world, many other families lost loved ones as well. Every day, tragedies happen, every day, many people leave this life.
I think it is important to remember that even though this was a highly publicized and televised event, and the whole world saw it happen, we were not there, and we have no idea the affect it had on those involved. Tragedy takes many forms, and you alone perceive it in your own way. So have compassion with others who are still reeling after 10 years, 20 years, or a lifetime. You can't walk in their shoes, just as they cannot walk in yours.
All I can say is, my heart goes out to you all, in your time of grief, for whoever you lost, and however it happened. May you find peace and feel the love and compassion of those around you as you remember those who are no longer with you.