Today, September 11, holds a special place in my heart. Yes, I knew a few people who perished during the tragedy, and yes, I have dear friends who were/are profoundly affected by the event. But neither of those two events is the reason why September 11, 2001 will live in infamy for me. The reason I will always remember the date is because I was supposed to be on AA Flight 11 that day. And believe me, nothing will ever shock you more than knowing that you were supposed to die but didn’t. Let me explain:
One of my friends had moved back to Los Angeles from Boston few months before and invited me to visit her. She was an OB/GYN resident at the time and had a lighter than normal schedule during two weeks in September. After going back and forth on the best time for me to visit, I booked my ticket for AA Flight 11 on 09/11. Three week before my departure, she called me and told me I needed to rearranged my trip because her schedule changed. After a round of protest (remember, I was a grad student back then and the $75 change fee was a significant chunk of my available cash), I grudgingly agreed to move my trip ahead two weeks. I left the last week of August and return the weekend before 09/11.
That was it! One simple change in my plan changed many things, including the course of many people’s lives. It changed my life, for one. I’ve since lived to see my nephew born and my brother married, meet and form new friendships, rekindle old ones, start this blog, etc. But more importantly, it changed my family’s lives. Instead of grieving for their loss every 09/11, they celebrate every Christmas and New Years with me.
Every time I think this far, I quietly weep for those who lost their lives that day because I realized I had been given a chance to live, and they weren’t. And deep within me, I feel a providential purpose even though I don’t necessarily believe in a higher being. It’s a feeling I can’t quite explain because it’s like nothing I have ever experienced before (prior to 09/11/01) or will probably experience again. The best way I can describe is the relief you feel when you take that first breath of fresh air after being submerged in water for almost too long.
Some people have asked me if that experience changed me, and the answer is absolutely yes! How can it not? But the transformation wasn’t immediately dramatic. It took me years to internalize everything before I found the meaning of what happened (or didn’t happen) to me. And the meaning then gives rise to my passion and purpose in life. I am not suggesting that everybody should experience something as melodramatic as what I went through, but sometimes it does take that one absolutely shocking moment to change one’s life.
And for those who perished and/or are affected by the event, my thoughts and prayers are with you. This post is dedicated to you. May you find peace wherever you are.