A Lesson from the War…

…I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

—T.S. Eliot

I learned about what was happening on September 11 when I got a telephone call from my brother-in-law who was stuck in a hotel room in New Orleans. He knew that my daughter Elizabeth had spent the summer in Washington and was concerned that she might still be there. I didn’t understand what he was talking about.

“There are planes crashing into buildings–the Pentagon, the World Trade Center!” he said, “Every airport in the country is closed and every plane is grounded! For God’s sake, don’t you ever turn on the TV?”

Well, no. As a matter of fact, I hardly ever turn on the TV. I’ve just never thought of TV as a serious source of news. The events of 9/11, however, turned out to be an exception. I watched until I couldn’t bear to see the towers fall even once more.

In the days that followed I learned that an acquaintance of mine had been on Flight 175 when it crashed into the south tower. He wasn’t my dearest or oldest friend, but I knew him and I liked him. He was on his way to California to open what would have been a national law practice specializing in so-called toxic torts—”sick building” cases and such. We had even talked about my joining in the endeavor to build and run a database website that would have organized court documents, medical and insurance records and science and engineering reports. Had those talks gone any further than they did, I might well have been on the plane with him. I don’t like to think about that.

His death personalized the terrorist attacks for me and made me acutely aware that everyone who died in those attacks had hopes and dreams and plans for a wonderful “someday” that never came.

“Someday” is probably like that too often. That’s why the following spring Marge and I took the Caribbean cruise we had always talked about. “Someday” for us, we decided, had to become today right now, and we were right. A few bills from the trip lingered longer than they might have, but there are always bills.

Since that time, I have tried hard to remember not to enthrone caution and prudence above all else. Life is too sweet, too fragile, too brief.

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