Forgetting What is Truly Important

Is It Worth ItMy husband and I went to a local barbecue joint this evening. As we talked and laughed about the day we’d just spent with our nine-month-old granddaughter, my phone beeped. The PM was from a neighbor. The news was incomprehensible: A young woman who, with her husband, had just relocated to our beautiful Maine island from the Boston suburbs to raise their five-year-old daughter, had died on Sunday.

We had closed on our homes on the same day, one hour apart, just a week-and-a-half ago. Their home is at the end of our cul-de-sac, two doors down. We had both been through hell dealing with the general contractor we had chosen. The four of us — Pam and Fred, Tim and I — had struck up a friendship during the incredibly trying process of getting our homes completed, and were really looking forward to spending some relaxing time together “after we’re all settled in.”

A few minutes before receiving this devastating news, a group of about six had been seated in the booth next to us. They were bitching about the president, how Trump was probably thrilled about the hurricanes (!) because they gave him cover by keeping “the Russia thing” off the front pages … about his tweeting … about how much more money the president should have donated to the victims of Hurricane Harvey (“A million dollars is nothing to him!”)  …

I felt like screaming, “REALLY??? THAT’S YOUR BIGGEST CONCERN TODAY? DO YOU HAVE NO LIFE OF YOUR OWN, NO PRESSING PROBLEMS OR JOYS TO TALK ABOUT? WHO GIVES A FUCK WHAT’S HAPPENING WITH POLITICS AND ALL THE REST OF THE BULLSHIT THAT PASSES FOR NEWS THESE DAYS? REAL PEOPLE ARE DYING. REAL PEOPLE ARE HURTING RIGHT NOW. A LITTLE GIRL WHO JUST STARTED KINDERGARTEN IN A COMPLETELY NEW PLACE IS NOW FACED WITH GOING THROUGH LIFE WITHOUT HER MOTHER. WTF IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE???”

And then it hit me: We are all “those people.” Every. Single. Day. We get caught up in whatever the hell the media, the political parties, or the people in our communities are buzzing about, sometimes to the point of forgetting what is truly important.

My appetite had left the building and it seemed a good idea for me to do the same. Tim called our waitress over and asked to have our food packed to go. I noticed that “Always Something There to Remind Me” was playing on the radio. I could just barely keep it together long enough to get into the car and out of the parking lot.

Back at home, we picked at our food in silence in front of the TV. I couldn’t even tell you what was on the screen. But I snapped to attention when a commercial came on — again, for what product, who the hell knows? — shocked to hear the same song playing.

I may not have known you long, Pam, but I will always remember you. Rest in Peace, friend.

 

9/11 — When Time Stood Still

9/119/11.

I lived in New Jersey then, had lived there my entire life up to that point. New York City was the big brother my part of New Jersey looked up to, idolized. We cheered their baseball, football, and hockey teams and viewed them as our own. An hour on the train put the bright lights of Broadway and world-class restaurants, museums, and attractions at our feet. Secure in the protective shadow it cast, we enjoyed the bragging rights Manhattan’s proximity provided.

The news came over the radio as I eased my car into a parking space on that crystal blue September morning. A plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. In my mind’s eye, I pictured a private business jet. A Cessna; perhaps a Gulfstream. I wondered how many people they held. I don’t remember thinking about the building itself or what such a crash could mean to those inside. It was Manhattan, the World Trade Center, after all. Invincible.

Disturbed but not yet grasping the full impact of the situation, I entered my office building and asked the receptionist if she’d heard. She nodded and indicated that some of our co-workers were watching the news on the television in the kitchen. I joined them and watched in horror as the second full-sized commercial jetliner hit. Frozen into shocked silence, a female manager in a male-dominated home-building company, I struggled to contain my emotions, failing only when I noticed the tears streaming down the bearded face of my friend and Construction Department counterpart, a tough and stalwart veteran of an industry full of tough and stalwart men.

That moment was a portent of the changes to come in the ensuing days. Every wall between us, male/female, rich/poor, black/white, left/right, shattered on that day, at least for a short while, and we were all simply Americans.

I pray one day we will once again experience the unity, without the pain and grief, of September 12th.

 

You Can Go Home Again

Garden State ParkwayMy lobster-plated Subaru crawls through a sea of butter-colored license plates, bumper-to-bumper on the northern reaches of the Garden State Parkway. Even were there no other outward signs (there are), the traffic alone screams, “You’re a long way from Maine.” (more…)