The Eve

What were you doing 17 years ago tonight?

For many of us, it’s hard to remember what we were doing 17 days ago or even 17 minutes ago,  much less 17 years. Who can keep up with the details of daily life that long ago? What does it even matter?

17 years ago tonight I was home fixing dinner for my husband and father in law. I had been to the Atlanta zoo that day with my friend and her children. 17 years ago tonight was completely uneventful.

17 years ago tomorrow, it was a beautiful September day. I got up to go to work and listened to the radio on the way to my first patient. I heard about an airplane hitting the twin towers and was sad to think about such an accident. When I arrived at my patient’s apartment, in her memory care room, I watched, with her, the second plane hit the tower and we knew that this was no accident. Despite her dementia and loss of speech, this beautiful lady held my hand with the understanding of someone who had watched Pearl Harbor and knew this was an infamous day.

17 years ago tomorrow was September 11, 2001. The day that marks the worst attacks on American soil in history. 17 years is not enough time to wrap our heads around the evil that penetrated that day nor is it ever going to be able to provide reason or excuse for the thousands of innocents murdered.

At the 9/11 museum, in NYC, there is a beautiful wall of blue tiles that stands in front of the vault of yet to be identified body parts from that day. Each tile is from a slightly different dye lot, honoring each individual victim of that day. The wall has a quote that states, “No day shall erase you from the memory of time”. The blue on the wall is reminiscent of the beautiful blue sky on the morning of September 11th.

17 years ago tomorrow, the sky was so blue that no one could possibly imagine the horror that we were about to experience. The terror that would haunt us today.

17 years ago tomorrow changed each of us.  As a nation, we experienced unimaginable horror. At the same time, we enjoyed unprecedented unity. There are images from those days that we will never forget and there are some details that have been lost in trauma.

Did they really fly airplanes into our office buildings?

Did thousands of innocents die from box cutters?

Were we really that hated?

How can we possibly recover?

17 years ago tomorrow was an awful day. It was also a day that bears hideous similarity to what so many families facing advanced disease experience.

For many, there is a blue sky day. A doctor’s appointment. Just a check up.

There is no recollection of the night before because there was nothing that seemed noteworthy about it. And yet the not noteworthy night before will be the last time anything seemed normal- and one will wonder why that night didn’t seem more special in light of what the next day would bring..

“I’m sorry, we have to run more tests…”. “The results appear to be malignant…” “Treatment doesn’t appear to be having the success we hoped..”

Planes hitting buildings. Unimaginable outcomes with devastating consequences.

In my history of meeting patients  and families dealing with devastating circumstances, I can’t recall ONE who said, “I saw it coming”. Each and every one woke up to a blue sky before they received news that was catastrophic. None of them, not a single one, knew the night before, that the next day would be the day of no turning back. Even for those who might have suspected, the reality is shocking.

Cancer is a terrorist.

17 years ago tonight, I was naive to terrorism. 17 years ago tomorrow my whole world permanently shifted.

Tomorrow I will honor those that died 17 years ago. And I will give thanks for safety and perspective.

And then I will say a special prayer for those, who might be experiencing their “night before”and don’t even know it.