Pushing Through: Lessons on Love from 9/11

On this solemn day in the US, I think back to how I loved you. And how I lost you. That has permeated every relationship since then. The two events occurred years apart but, nonetheless, lessons from one helped me survive the other and have buoyed me in the years since.

As I read all these FB posts about being daring and embracing life and loving out loud those you love, my heart breaks a little. I remember where I was when the twin towers were hit. And I remember where I was when your sister called me to say you were gone.

That early morning in California, before I went to work at the hospital, I woke up as usual to Steve Harvey on morning radio. Before he got syndicated, when he was in Los Angeles. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and, like him, I assumed it was a misguided pilot of a small plane who had made a deadly mistake or error.

That day, I watched as first responders ran in as others ran out. That is a day I will never forget. I did not lose anyone I know but I watched a country that had become my home gradually change into one that I did not fully recognize. It had smatterings of paranoia and sown seeds of distrust, wrapped around a burka and a religion.

I wept that day. For the lives of all lost, for no reason that they themselves were responsible for or could even half fathom. And for this country that had become my home.

When I got the call at 10:00 pm at night as I walked home from my day job at the spa – working sagas of the graduate school experience in New Orleans – my knees buckled. I couldn’t understand your sister’s sobs and hysterical choking breath sounds. She hang up and I dialed your number right away. I had just left you a message at the start of my shift. And then I don’t recall if I ran home or if I floated home, but I found myself at the house, tears in my eyes and the worst pain I could ever have imagined stuck in my chest.

I wept that day like I had never cried before. I listened to your voicemail messages repeatedly and wondered out loud what I could have done differently for a different outcome. I pleaded with God. I just cried. I had never lost that kind of someone before. The kind of someone that you were to me.

When 9/11 happened, and when we remember it today, there is always that statement of hug your loved ones close every day, tell them you love them every day.

I don’t remember the last time I told you I loved you. I recall our last kiss and the last time I saw your face as I was running into the airport, late for my flight. I didn’t know it at the time and I have always regretted not coming back out to give you a last kiss goodbye.

Your loss did something to me. It broke me, yes. It killed my faith for some time and it took a long time for me to let God back in, as patient as He was with what I needed to go through to find a way to open that door to Him after all that heartbreak.

I have been in relationships since you passed. And what changed for me was my desire to now look for a more permanent setting. I was not content with ‘let’s go with the flow’ because that is what we did for some time and, as much fun as it was, I look back now and see how great it would have been to have had that time to focus on us. But everything for a reason. I learned from this loss that I have a lot of hangups about love and romantic relationships. I learned that I need to be selfish and choose myself first more often. I learned that I need to be open to what the universe and God Himself bring onto my path, and if that includes eventual heartbreak, the realization that I gave genuinely of myself and there are no scruples with how I handled someone’s trust, then I will be okay. It’s rough but I often say, when people let me down, that I survived your loss so there is nothing worse that they can put me through.

There are leftover effects from that loss, though. Just like there are leftover effects from 9/11. Trust issues. Check. Fear. Check. What if’s galore. Check. Intrusive security checks. Check. I mean, the last one is for travel but can also apply to me in relationships as well. No, I don’t ask to sniff or inspect a partner’s penis with the belief that he has been philandering.

These heartbreaking events really change your life’s trajectory. For those who lost someone, who lost their faith, who lost their humanity on 9/11, they understand this. For the many who responded with humanity, with bolstered faith and with much needed mercy and compassion for those that lost someone, they understand this too. And this lesson is what taught me the most about love; love for self, for country, for the freedom within these borders, and for love of fellow Americans. I saw love at it’s best after that event, sadly but brazenly hopeful. I see love now when I see all the posts now; Never Forget. Sadness at lives lost but we are all holding hands a little tighter on each anniversary. There are kids now who are adults who have no idea what 9/11 means. It is a sobering thought. The events on that day altered the trajectory of so many people’s lives, it is sobering.

So, please understand why when you died unexpectedly, my life’s trajectory completely changed. I made a decision to finish graduate school and not drop out in a misery-induced funk; I chose to walk away from a relationship that was leading to nowhere I wanted to be; I opted to go work in a deep rural area in Ethiopia, away from comfort. My heart was broken for so long, and then the lessons from 9/11 began to ring through.

Push through, Mkhana.

But one has to, indeed, push through. Take your lessons from the pain, paint your soul with whatever paints you choose and let no event or misguided notions alter your joy unto the negative. Live life out loud. Love with all your heart and might, and do not apologize for loving anyone, anything at any time because only you are in charge of your emotions. Only you can wear your heart on your sleeve. And only you can recognize when the break in your heart has healed and that you have pushed through. And survived.

Then love. Love with no apologies. Love as much as you can. Yourself and others. Be kind. Above all, love.

Never let fear chase this emotion, this feeling, this state of mind from you. If you surrender to that fear, then the ties that bind us, the ones that held us up after 9/11, will melt away. If I let fear of losing someone else fill in this space that love lives in, I will never ever be free.

Above all, love.


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