My 9/11 started out checking on my dear friend’s husband, who often often flew out of Boston. He was safely at home. But her brother had boarded one of two early American Airlines flights out of Wasington, DC.
I confidently told her he just couldn’t be on the flight that was crashed into the Pentagon because I just couldn’t imagine something that awful. I was wrong.
In looking for images to use for this 9/11 post and our social media, I passed by the waving flags and clever use of carefully designed images displaying the numbers 9-1-1 and the flag in artistic ways. I chose this image because it shows so much about what I experienced on this day, 20 years ago. I don’t remember feeling patriotic, I didn’t rush to put out my flag (though maybe I did a week later). I remember seeking ways to process my sorrow in a world I didn’t realize I lived in.
Buildings collapsed, phones stopped working, travel shut down, we were frozen in time. But somehow, as humans, we HAD to find ways to communicate our individual and collective sorrow and pain, even as the veneer of safety through which we had viewed the world was shredded and tossed into a pile of burning, twisted metal.
Some of us wrote on walls, some hugged strangers, some went to church, some held signs with loved ones’ pictures and walked the streets.
As many of you reading this are all too keenly aware, losing someone suddenly and in tragedy, with no warning or chance for goodbyes, leaves a hole in your heart that you learn to accommodate over time, but it never goes away.
I lost my dear friend’s brother Chris Newton that day; we had just spent a perfect day with him and their entire family in Martha’s Vineyard. Life seemed full of love, joy, dear friends, and kindness.
I later learned I also lost my favorite graduate school professor and her husband and child that day. They were on the same flight 77 out of Washington, DC that Chris was on that morning. I wonder if they met Chris. Did they chat in the line while boarding the plane? Did they comfort each other in the chaos and fear?
My memories of 9/11 and the week that followed — the week of not knowing, the week of holding onto hope for survivors, the week of trying to help but not being able to do more than drop off diapers and leave phone messages — are crisper than I care to remember.
Like so many others, my sense of the world and mankind changed completely that morning. Yes, I was living with a false sense of security before 9/11. But knowing that did not help me soften my sorrow — or the rage that came later — in any way.
I had two very small children at the time when this new world was violently revealed to me. And as I’m writing this, I realize my husband must have taken care of them that week. I certainly was in no shape to. I’ll have to thank him for that.
But I do remember being with him holding our 1-1/2-year-old daughter and watching our 4-year-old son play “planes crashing into buildings” with his preschool classmates We parents stared on almost comatose in horror. One of the preschool parents was a therapist. He told us it was important to let the children process what happened on 9/11 the way children do these things . . . through play. But as he said it, all I could think of was that I couldn’t imagine being able to raise my sweet children in this conflicted and dangerous world.
And, yet my husband and I have done that (to some degree of success), just as Chris’s sister and his wife have, just like millions of others. Not to suggest we are super parents. We all HAD to do it. We couldn’t collapse into despair and leave the kids to raise themselves. The challenge of our daily lives became to teach them (and learn for ourselves) to see the pain of the world while still finding joy and love in each day. Most of all, our challenge is to work toward a better world, even if we feel like our contribution is small compared to its problems.
My life’s work has been to help change our food system so it truly nourishes our planet and each person, from farm to table. You see, I believe people must have proper nourishment and a clean environment to be their best selves. And, that’s really what it’s all about, every day, isn’t it? We have to keep trying to be our best, or at least to keep getting better.
My father long ago told me that in a marriage, you can’t put in 50% and meet the person in the middle. You have aim to put in 100% because in reality, you’re putting in far less than that. Maybe due to ignorance. Maybe due to exhaustion. Maybe because you just can’t always be 100%.
When my kids (hardly kids anymore) tell me their long shower doesn’t matter because industry wastes so much water, I remind them of what my dad said. We all have to strive to be our best selves, not in comparison to others, but in comparison to the amount the world needs from us. The presence of bad actors shouldn’t serve as an excuse to aim for less than 100%. It should serve as motivation to try even harder.
And so here I sit at my computer on a beautiful Saturday morning, trying my best to provide food that truly nourishes people and our planet. And equally important, I’m working to find the best messaging to help consumers realize their power. You see, I firmly believe if people can bring about this improvement in our food system quickly if they demand the best in food purity from other brands they use–the power of the consumer to change how brands operate through a DM or email is real.
So, after some tears and pains of memory, I’ll be working for best, hoping that at least I’ll achieve better.