The air in these parts is heavy with sadness today; all around me, people are feeling and revisiting the losses they suffered twelve years ago. The ubiquitous photos of the World Trade Center and the waving American flags don't help; one friend told me it's like being shown, over and over, year after year, the wreckage of an accident in which a loved one died.
On my way home from the blood bank this morning, where I donated platelets (just as I did on this same day in 2001), I stopped in an unfamiliar church and lit a candle for all those who are not at peace. The people who died are no longer in pain, but those they left behind still are. Sometimes, they are in a great deal of pain. The blood bank had the television on, and I spent an hour and a half watching and listening to the bereaved read off the names of the lost. I belong to neither of those categories, and still, it was painful.
The summer was a busy one around here. We had two young people come to visit: a young woman from Belgium who wanted to see a little bit of the United States and work on her English, and a preteen from Ohio who had always wanted to see New York. As a result, I spent a lot of time doing touristy things in my native city. We sailed around the island of Manhattan, ascended the Empire State Building to take in the view, hiked the Palisades cliffs, shopped on Fifth Avenue, and complained to anyone who would listen about the heat. The weather in New York in July and August is usually far from pleasant; it is normally humid and uncomfortably hot, and this year was no exception.
September, though, is different. I have always loved this month. Not just because it is the month in which I was born (my mother suffered through an unbearable New York City summer with a toddler and a late-term pregnancy in a fifth-floor walk-up apartment in the Village, but I was born in the most beautiful month of the year). Not just because its warm days and cool nights make for good food, good sleep, and good exercise. It is the month of new beginnings. School starts, recent graduates begin working, and people return from their holidays and settle down into real life.
My oldest daughter is settled in at college now and reportedly having a great time. Her high school friends have scattered, but I still sometimes hear from them on Facebook or Snapchat or in the occasional text message. My second daughter and my son are acclimating to a new year of high school, getting to know their teachers, memorizing new schedules, trying out for plays and teams, and remembering how much they missed that favorite chair in the library. The dogs like to sleep on the back porch during the day, and I have been serving dinner outside as well, as much as possible. I will continue to do so until our sweaters aren't sufficient against the evening chill.
I've been working (which usually means doing research and writing - again, on the back porch as much as possible), cooking, attending to the kids, and keeping the house in order. I quit my job at a big Manhattan law firm twelve years ago, struck by the fragility of life as we know it and feeling a strong but largely inexplicable need to stay home with my children, who were small at the time. My career and my lifestyle took a big hit as a result of that choice. I have never again been able to find satisfying work in the legal field, and the change from two incomes to one has forced me to rein in my spending much more tightly than I ever did before. It hasn't always been easy.
But I wouldn't have done it differently. I'm grateful to have been home most of the past twelve years with my children and to have seen and helped them grow up. I'm glad I had an option that many women don't have. I'm thankful that my family is alive and intact after the September 11 attacks, unlike so many that I know.
So as I lit that candle this morning, I thought about the things that happen to us, and the things that don't happen to us, many of which are random and unforeseeable, but all of which shape our lives and our choices and the very flavor of the air we breathe. I thought of my friends, mourning husbands, cousins, in-laws, and friends, and of how I have always been more of a candle-lighter than a flag-waver. That's a choice I'm comfortable with for the time being.