“what was the happiest day of your life?” this question comes up, sometimes. until seven years ago, it was “september 11, 1973.”
that was the day my oldest child was born. it was the least pleasant of my three births, what with me an unwed teenage mother in a hopelessly old-fashioned veteran’s hospital in munich, an arch-catholic part of germany, and my poor little infant immediately snatched away in the belief that sterile hospital cradles were the best thing that could happen to a newborn.
never mind any of that.
i was insanely happy.
despite the exhaustion of labour, i couldn’t sleep the whole night. the miracle of the experience kept looping around in my mind and heart. one moment, excruciating pain, the other, a new person emerging into the world, healthy, with a loud voice, 10 fingers, 10 toes, eyes, everything! absolutely mind-boggling.
my other two births were even easier than the first and quite a bit more pleasant, especially the last one, complete with bob marley, miles davis and glenn gould providing accompaniment, and a bunch of friends and family present. but september 11, 1973 – well, it was that special first time.
when the day after i found out that there had been a military coup in chile, which made it prohibitive for us to move there, i was shocked, but somehow it couldn’t wipe out the overwhelming happiness i felt at having become a mother.
and then september 11, 2001 happened. a day that, in my mind, was dedicated to my son. like so many of us, i remember much of that day – how, for example, i was so shaken by the events that i spilled a big bag full of sushi on the street that i had bought for lunch for a friend and myself.
it’s such a little thing. much bigger things have happened and are still happening that have their roots in september 11, for example people experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, as predicted here and then later confirmed in a study here.
and yet, we almost always come back to what is personally most significant for us, don’t we? for me, it’s the irresolvable clash between the memory of the happiest moment of my life and the horror of the most violent moment on U.S. soil.
as i am writing this, i realize that i want to find a way to elevate the beauty of my son’s birth over the horror of 9/11 and the disconnect i feel over holding both in my awareness. not that i want to, in any way, diminish or forget the terrible suffering of those who died and their families, friends and loved ones.
but peace will always be this: holding life up higher than destruction.
image by coast guard BM