I saved the featured photo sometime around 9/11/01. I distinctly remember my former shrink, now a true friend, had shared it in an email to his friends and family in the wake of 9/11. It changed my life when he did that, just as my life was changed when I met him…
It’s September 11th again. Ever since 2001, September 11th has taken on a new significance to a lot of people, especially those of us who are from the United States. I remember all too well that day. It was a beautiful Tuesday morning. I was in my last year of graduate school at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, South Carolina. I had gone to my social work field placement location.
That morning, I had Bill on my mind, because over Labor Day weekend, we’d had the most magical visit in Natural Bridge, Virginia. He was working at the Pentagon, having just started there a month prior. We met at my grandmother’s house and had a gorgeous, fun, comfortable, unforgettable weekend. By the end of it, we were in love. It was the first and only time I’ve ever been “in love”. Yes, I had many crushes when I was younger, but I was never in love. And now, I was… I knew I loved Bill after that weekend, and I later found out that he loved me back. However, even after that weekend, we were still calling each other “friends”. Our relationship wasn’t official at that point.
On September 11, 2001, it was a lovely, perfectly ordinary day, just as it is today. I was buoyed by the fact that at age 29, I had finally met someone with whom I could have a romantic relationship. He made me feel so comfortable, and I had never experienced that with anyone before. We just fit together so perfectly. And if you know the story of exactly how and where we met, you might know how unlikely and incredible that is. Or maybe it’s not. Plenty of people who met in church or were high school sweethearts turn out to be completely wrong for each other.
When I heard about what happened at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, I did worry. I wasn’t hysterical or anything. I somehow knew, deep down, that he was okay. But I wasn’t sure, so of course I worried… and I wondered if my intuition was wrong, and he was dead. By age 29, life had already taught me that I should never be too optimistic about anything. Too often, I had gotten up my hopes only to see them dashed. In fact, even though I felt like I was in love, I wasn’t completely sure Bill loved me, too.
Many hours after the Pentagon was struck by a jet airliner, I got a message from Bill. He had tried to call me earlier, but somehow had the wrong phone number. Because he was in the Army, he’d had to work all day and well into the night. Once he finally got home to his apartment, he was able to send me an instant message on Yahoo! Messenger. I had just gotten off the phone with my mom, an experienced Air Force wife. I had just told her about Bill, and she immediately gave me advice. She’d been through somewhat similar things with my dad when he was on active duty, although of course my dad never had to deal with anything like 9/11.
Once Bill contacted me and told me he was okay, I suggested that we tell people we were dating. If something had happened to him, I wouldn’t have known until the casualty lists were made public. On the other hand, if he hadn’t concluded we were in love over Labor Day, he would have had the perfect excuse to ghost me… He wouldn’t have considered doing that, though. Bill isn’t like that, which is one reason why I love him so. My husband is one of the kindest, most considerate, most decent people I’ve ever met. He almost always gives people the benefit of the doubt. I probably don’t deserve him. But then, if I were more like him, we’d probably be divorced by now, because we’d constantly be fighting off exploitive people like Ex.
This morning, as we were having breakfast, I was noticing all of the 9/11 posts on Facebook. I looked back at my memories and realized that in September 2015, we were on a trip I dubbed The Beer and Fucking Tour. I called it that because we went to Austria and visited two beer spas and two areas that incorporated the word “fuck” in them. There was Fucking, Austria (since renamed Fugging after 1000 years), and Fuckersberg, which turned out to be a big field in a very picturesque area.
We had an amazing time on that long weekend, just as we did in 2001. We drove my Mini Cooper convertible, and the weather was lovely, just like it was in 2001, so we had the top down. It was fun to go to the beer spa and the beer pool, which we still talk about in reverent terms eight years later. We laugh about Fucking and Fuckersberg. But the most incredible event of that trip happened in a very ordinary place… a place we probably wouldn’t have visited at the right time if we hadn’t decided to visit Fuckersberg, which was out of the way of our onward travel plans.
Because we went to see the big field called Fuckersberg, we hit traffic in Munich. And because Bill doesn’t always want to stop when I really need to eat, we were running late for lunch. I got very HANGRY, especially as it got closer to the witching hour of 2:00 PM, which is when a lot of restaurants close after the lunch service. At the time of this trip, Bill was in an online graduate program. He had a paper due, so he was eager to get to our hotel and wanted to press onward. But I needed food, so we pulled off the Autobahn and went looking for a place that didn’t take a “pause” after lunch.
I remember that we were having a hard time finding a restaurant. I told Bill that he could just take me to McDonald’s or buy me some chocolate. I just needed to raise my blood sugar before I had a total meltdown. Bill was cussing a lot, which was also causing me stress. I don’t usually mind hearing him swear, but when I’m irritable and hungry, it really grates on my nerves. Just as we were about to give up our search and get back on the Autobahn to look for a proper rest stop, I saw a restaurant that might be suitable for lunch. We pulled into their parking lot.
We ended up at this very run-of-the-mill Italian restaurant in a Munich suburb. My mood was decidedly dark as we went into the crowded dining room and took a seat among many large families with loud children. I excused myself to use the restroom, and by the time I returned, Bill had already ordered a half liter of Primitivo (mostly for me) and some San Pellegrino. I was still grumbling as I sat there nibbling on bread and drinking the wine.
I looked up and noticed some cows grazing in a field just outside of the far window. For some reason, I wanted to take a picture of the cows, so I pulled out my iPhone. At that point, I didn’t know how to zoom on an iPhone, so I got a picture that was mostly of the dining room. That’s when I had a very profound experience that I don’t think I’ll ever forget, at least not as long as my mind still works properly.
When I took that photo, I hadn’t immediately noticed the man in the top left corner. It wasn’t until my blood sugar was normal that I saw him sitting with a group of people. He was wearing interesting clothes and clearly wasn’t from Germany. I discreetly pointed him out to Bill, who told me he was a Buddhist monk. I noticed he was with a young German woman who seemed absolutely enthralled and delighted by his company. There were some other locals with him. I watched them give him a pair of what appeared to be hand knitted green socks.
As he accepted the socks, he bowed and smiled, and I noticed that he had this incredibly tranquil aura about him. He had the most serene and gentle countenance I had ever seen. Just looking at him from across the room put me at ease. I was awestruck, even though I never spoke to him, nor do I think he even noticed me. In a blog post I wrote in 2015, I explained it like this:
I mentioned it to Bill who explained what he knows about Buddhism. I still don’t know much about it, but I was really moved by his presence and how kind and decent he seemed to be. It’s not often you run into someone with such a peaceful and pleasant aura. He seemed like a very special person just by his manner. I didn’t even speak to him, but his body language said enough. I forgot my initial annoyance and relaxed, truly inspired by just watching the monk interact with his companions. He left before we did, with the German woman who seemed so enchanted by him.
Edited to add… My German friend, Susanne, says that the monk is Toyoshige Sekiguchi from Japan. He is rather famous and is currently a guest at a farm in Hohenschäftlarn, which is the town where the restaurant where we had lunch is located. It turns out the reason I thought the monk was so peaceful is because his life’s work is all about promoting peace and nuclear disarmament. Of all the places we could have eaten… How amazing.
Years later, I realize that if we’d been at that place at a different time, or if we’d gone to McDonald’s, I would have missed that experience. Maybe I would have had a different, equally incredible experience, but I would have missed that one. My life would have been different. It probably wouldn’t have been significantly different, but it would not be the same as it is today, because I would have missed that profound moment in time, when we happened to eat at a very ordinary Italian restaurant on a random exit near Munich.
I shared that incredible experience with a man I happened to meet at just the right time in a chat room on the Internet… a man who could have so easily exited my life on September 11, 2001. He was in the wedge of the Pentagon where the plane crashed, but deep enough into the building that he missed being obliterated by the fuselage when it collided. That day changed Bill’s life, just as it changed mine. It changed the trajectory of our lives.
The older I get, the more I think some things were just meant to happen. Even really evil things like September 11th can spawn things that turn out to be good in the long run, if you look at it from a very macro perspective. I think Bill and I still would have gotten married if 9/11 hadn’t happened, but it might have taken longer. We might have taken more time to be sure it was the right thing to do. After what he went through with his ex wife, I could understand Bill wanting to take his time. But that close call on 9/11 made him realize that tomorrow is never promised to anyone.
I think about what came after 9/11… wars in two countries, with countless people dying or maimed. On the other hand, a lot of people were born because of 9/11 and the wars that followed. That event put people in places they might not have ordinarily been. A lot of lessons were learned… some good, and some bad.
Sometimes seemingly innocuous decisions end up changing or even ending your life. It’s on days like September 11th, that I always remember that lesson. You could go to work one day and find out that your undeclared boyfriend has suddenly been killed by a plane crashing into his workplace. Or you could end up in an ordinary restaurant in a non-specific town, watching a Buddhist monk accepting green socks, feeling peace wash over you just noticing his gentle, peaceful aura. Or you could pass a playground, watching small children, just discovering life, running toward the fence, literally cheering when they see the garbage man coming to empty the trash cans (which I did recently witness in my little town). Life is just full of that stuff. You can see it for yourself if you look for it.
Anyway… I figure I’ve prattled on long enough about this topic. I’ve got a neglected guitar that needs a few minutes of attention, and a dog who would love to take a walk. I also want to order some stuff from Aran Sweater Market and Henri Willig. So I’m going to end this post and get on with the day. If anything, I hope anyone who cared enough to read this post will take a moment to think about the little miracles in every day… things that happened and somehow changed your life forever. Maybe it will change your perspective somehow… perhaps even in a profound, life altering way.