Often, I have wondered why our minds remember so many things. In a single day, from the time that my eyes open from a deep sleep, my brain starts reminding me of things that I may have forgotten. As I look at the time on the face of my iPhone, memories start pouring out like mini reminders. It may start with a mental reminder that only 45 minutes are left to make the bed, shower, get dressed, make a cup of coffee, and head to the home office to prepare for that Zoom conference call. Then the entire agenda is being played inside of my head with sample questions and ways that I should respond to them. Then the question of whether or not I sent a happy birthday email or post to all my friends and colleagues celebrating a birthday today. Usually, I have to yell stop or pause to get my memory to chill for a moment until I can take a sip of my coffee. Yep, it’s like living with a loud insane person inside of me. Our brains can be amazing.
One of the reasons that I strive to survive is because of fond memories. I hold on to the memories of spending time with friends on great travel adventures and explorations, even sitting around a table eating good food, laughing, and drinking great wines. Those are some of the memories that keep me smiling during sad times. Sometimes many of the memories are painful and fresh like it happened yesterday. I search for the good in them too.
What great memories do you have of your life? One of the practices that I enjoy several times per week is my savouring exercise that allows me to sit in a meditative state and review photos, conversations, encounters and experiences that brought me joy. Even when some memories may appear painful, like the death of a good friend or someone that I admired, it can be a great experience too when I can see them smiling, making me laugh, or sharing their wisdom that I may not have heard when they were alive. These memories make me smile, too. How does our brain hold on to so many memories when I can’t remember that my glasses are on top of my head, whether I locked the front door, my bank password, or the name of the person I chatted with yesterday at the local grocery store.
On September 11, 2001, at 8:45 a.m. on a clear Tuesday morning, an American Airlines Boeing 767 loaded with 20,000 gallons of jet fuel crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. The impact left a gaping, burning hole near the 80th floor of the 110-story skyscraper, instantly killing hundreds of people and trapping hundreds more in higher floors. At almost the same time, another plane was on route to crash into the Pentagon. This was a well mastered plan down to the last few seconds designed to knock a country off its feet and it worked. Sometimes this event feels like it was yesterday and other times I try to forget that it ever happened, but we all remember it, especially if you were alive and survived the devastation. Why do we vividly remember every detail of such a disaster? Do you remember what you were doing on September 11th when this attack occurred?
Whether I close my eyes or keep them open, it’s like a button has been pushed to replay everything back to me like an old movie. On September 8th, I traveled to Virginia and Washington D.C. to conduct financial literacy trainings and to meet with the program funder, Capital One Financial Institution. I can still feel the excitement. I love facilitating training sessions and working with community-based organisations and stakeholders. Each session was always two days of fun.
On the early morning of September 11th, I was placed in a limousine and sent to Washington, D.C. to brainstorm with other team members. Being a night hawk, I could barely keep my eyes open as Lorenzo, the driver, kept pumping me with coffee and feeding me blueberry muffins and donuts to raise my energy level. Like a miracle, I started to come to life with wide opened eyes as we ended up in gridlock traffic as a large plane was flying rather low towards the Pentagon. Eating my bagel and cream cheese now, I started to glance at the television screen with the volume on silence. I stopped eating to tell the driver about a cool looking new movie about airplanes flying into the Twin Towers. With no movement on the freeway, Lorenzo jumped in the back with me to increase the volume and both of our faces dropped as we started to cry. It wasn’t a movie or a television series, it was a real attack on American soil. Emotions ran high for us. There was confusion, anger, sadness, shock, fear and questions of why. I remember we were sitting in traffic for many hours, unable to move or do anything. Everyone was out of their cars and talking with each other about the news coming across on the radios. We were experiencing the same emotions and trying to console each other. I remember a feeling of hopelessness, not knowing what to do. It was also a time of anger at having a speechless leader of a nation.
As imagined, Washington, D.C. was in a crazed military state. I remember feeling fortunate that a hotel room had been booked in advance. Unfortunately, all flights were cancelled and hotels were trying to provide accommodations to most visitors trapped in the area. I remember much kindness from strangers all over the city. All of the workers were amazing. It took me 4 weeks, if not longer, to return to San Francisco because there were no flights and no rental cars to drive across country. There was no access for making phone calls and none of our mobile devices worked anymore. It was a feeling of isolation and friends didn’t know if I was alive or dead. My daily meals were at McDonalds or Taco Bell since nothing else was open. I can remember the feeling that I would never be able to return home. To make things worse, my partner had been diagnosed with throat cancer on the same day, September 11th and I couldn’t get home or have a conversation. Yet another reason why friends are really my family. Everyone jumped in to offer their help and lots of pampering.
In commemorating the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, I send loving thoughts to many of the friends and colleagues that lost family members and friends that were working in the World Trade Center and many of the people simply walking near the building. War never feels fair to me because innocent people always seem to be the political damage, and we can never bring them back. That’s why keeping memories alive are so important.