In the June of 2000, I found myself in New York City at the base of one the World Trade Center towers. Instinctively, I looked straight up. I’ll never forget the dizzying combination of the summer sun and what felt like sheer vertical mile of steel and glass.
At the time I was an 18-year-old on vacation from Fort Worth, Texas, and I wasn’t accustomed to that kind of spectacle. My skyscrapers didn’t look like that, nor did my city teem and smell and sweat like NYC.
I was out of my depth, nearly overcome by the crowds and concrete. We’d done so much walking around already — we’d already spent hours waiting and trudging to the tops of the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. And so when we reached the World Trade Center, I just looked up.
“Want to go to the top?” my uncle asked.
“I don’t think so,” I said. After all, what was another big building at that point?
Fifteen months later, I watched with my college roommates as the towers smoked and fell, I thought back to my vacation.
Amid the terror and tragedy of September 11th, I couldn’t escape the thought that I’d stood at the base of those same towers and declined to climb them. I had an opportunity, and I didn’t take it.
I don’t mean to say that I suffered a significant personal loss on 9/11 — I didn’t, and my heart goes out to those who did. What I do mean to say is that one of the things 9/11 taught us is how quickly our structures and constructs can be toppled. That which stands tall today might give way tomorrow to age or progress or the wicked schemes of angry men. Even as we remember the departed, we who remain ought to see the present and its invitations for what they are, and respond accordingly.