We recently visited the new 9-11 Memorial in NYC, which commemorates the lives of those lost in the terrorist attacks.
One word: sad.
Visitors streamed through the museum in silence; many with tears running down their cheeks.
There were some parts of the museum that were so moving, I stifled outright sobbing.
People lingered over the exhibits, especially the ones with recorded voices of passengers on the hijacked planes calling their loved ones to tell them goodbye.
It struck me that in those final, horrific moments of their lives when they knew they were going to die, they called home and said, “I love you. Tell my family I love them.”
That was all they had to say.
That simple but common message summed up what mattered to every one of those victims; and in the end, their messages reminded every museum visitor what really matters to all of us.
A friend of ours, Walter, recently died from cancer and when his daughter spoke at his funeral, she said that as he was in his last days of his life, going in and out of consciousness, each time he awoke, he just wanted to repeat the words, “I love you” to his surrounding family.
He needed to make sure they knew.
I read an interesting quote that said boyfriend, girlfriend, best friend — everything has an “end” except family.
I didn’t hear any 9-11 tapes of people saying, “Tell my boss that report he needs is on my desk!” Or even “Throw out my incriminating personal journals and delete all my emails.”
A 33-year-old equity trader left a message for his mother as he saw people began falling from the windows above him in the Twin Towers.
“Mom, my building’s been hit by a plane. And right now… I think I’m OK, I’m safe now but it’s smoky.
“I just want to say how much I love you (voice breaks a little) and I will call you when I’m safe. OK mom? Bye.”
According to the above Mirror.co.uk story link, “more than 1,000 phone calls were made in just 10 minutes after the first plane, American Airlines Flight 11, struck. And thousands more kept calling as the horror unfolded. Some reached loved ones, others left heart-rending messages.”
A real estate broker who had just accepted a promotion at another firm was clearing his desk for his move when the towers were hit.
He left a frantic message for his wife and daughter, Nicole, as he became trapped. He said: “There’s a fire. I love you, tell Nicole ‘I love you’. I don’t know if I’m going to be OK. I love you so much.”
One phone call, one urgent message.
In the last moments of their lives, they only wanted to call home and tell their families they loved them.
Isn’t that what we would all do?
It made me ask myself a series of questions:
Does my family know how much I love them?
Do they know how hard it would be for me to leave or lose them?
Have I loved them all individually and fully enough that they would always remember my love for them?
Is there such a thing as enough love for a family?
Does my life reflect that my family is my absolute top priority?
One thing I know for sure is that if I were on my deathbed, like my friend, Walter, or going down in a plane or into a pile of rubble like the 9-11 victims, my only thought would be just like theirs — tell my family I love them.
I’d pray a desperate, crucial prayer that somehow my family could grasp the infinite, boundless depth of that love.
The obvious, looming question here is Why wait?
For me, having my life show that my family is what I value most means small things like moving away from my computer when one of my family members calls and focusing completely on our conversations.
It means remembering to add our new son-in-law to our silly group text conversations, and even trying to consider what he might like to do other than shop when he is with us. (I’m not used to boys.)
It means scheduling time to be together as often as possible, and never forgetting to verbally say, “I love you!” I also think it means being specific about what I love because we can all go a long way with a genuine, specific compliment.
Going to the 9-11 museum didn’t teach me the importance of family. It just reinforced it. And it reminded me that in all the horror of 9-11, and all the other bad things that can happen in life, we have to circle the wagons around what matters most to us and then live like it really does.