I nearly moved to New York City four years ago on September 11, 2011: the 10th anniversary of the most horrific day I’ve ever lived through. I had been looking at flights for mid-September during that summer after I graduated college, and not even registering the date, I almost booked my one-way flight on that day. I was wondering why flights were so much cheaper and then it dawned on me that no one wanted to be on a plane that day. I quickly booked my one-way flight for two days later, September 13, 2011 instead.
I have never been a very superstitious person. I’m not given to throwing salt over my shoulder or carrying garlic around. I have no Egyptian ankh necklace to ward off evil spirits. I don’t cross my fingers when I drive past cemeteries or avoid stepping on cracks in the sidewalk lest I “break my mother’s back.” While I believe in ghosts, I take a skeptical view of Ouija boards, which are more about the power of suggestion than the power of spirits. And while I’m a religious person, I don’t see images of Jesus or Mary in my toast. I’d consider myself an imaginative, open person, but a level-headed one; I’m more Scully than I am Mulder on most days.
But September 11 is not “most days,” and I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to set foot on a plane on that day. I haven’t in fourteen years, and I imagine I, like so many other people, will never be able to fly on any September 11 ever again. Rationally, I know the likelihood of another such event happening on the same date is statistically low, but fear isn’t rational. Anguish isn’t rational. I can never un-see the things I saw that day; they’ll be with me for the rest of my life, shaping me in ways that I do not always understand or even recognize. Everything and everyone changed, so I think I’m allowed one superstition; one belief in something born out of a fear.
Maybe there is a parallel universe out there somewhere where September 11 never happened and all of us had very different lives. Wars didn’t start. People didn’t lose loved ones. The Towers still stand. In that world, you don’t have to remove your shoes when you go through airport security. No one worries about receiving an envelope of a white powdery substance that could be Anthrax. There’s not a cloud of fear and paranoia hanging over everyone’s heads. I probably watch too many science fiction television shows and movies, but I’d like to believe that such a place exists even if we can’t see it. I don’t understand enough about advanced quantum theory to explain it, but maybe it’s possible. It sounds like something Mulder would say.
When we fly now, we all have to pay something called a “September 11th Fee,” which gives a couple extra dollars to the TSA for the numerous baggage and security screenings we all have to go through. Flying used to be glamourous once. Back in the 1960s, it was the height of sophistication; you know, the Jet Set and all that. People got dressed up, were excited to “pack up and fly away” like Sinatra’s song goes. Gone are those days. No longer can you see your loved ones all the way to their gate, watch their plane taxi down the runway while they wave at you from their round, plane window. Airport travel today means arriving early enough to wait in long lines to have a security guard search your shoes for bombs or pat your body down. There’s nothing glamourous about knowing security guards are looking for anything that could cause an entire plane of people to crash. Maybe there is an alternate reality where that doesn’t happen, but this is OUR reality, and we have to live in it.
When I arrived in New York on September 13, 2011, I was hopeful about the future, and I could feel that same hope hanging in the air of the City. I gratefully stepped off my plane into a New York that was very different from the one it had been ten years previously. Four years later, the City is still hopeful, growing and changing and adapting as it always has. People from back home in Missouri often ask me if I am ever scared to live here, and I know what they mean. The truth is we’re all a little scared, but the hope outweighs the fear. The perseverance outweighs the fear. The love outweighs the fear. If I walked around every day throwing salt over my shoulder, I’d never get anything else done. Am I afraid sometimes? Yes. But even though none of us got a choice in September 11, we all have a choice in how we live the rest of our lives, and I choose to live with hope. I choose that, and that choice is what gives me strength, even on days like today where it is harder to do that.
So no, I’m not going to start throwing salt over my shoulder. After all, when salt enters an open wound, it burns.