I spent more than four hours in a military hospital today, the 13th anniversary of 9/11.
Oh, it’s not what you think. I had a normal appointment. When they scheduled it way-back-when I did notice it was on THAT day, but it was my doctor’s first opening in a month and I couldn’t be picky about it. I mean, everyone is still at work and it’s business as usual, right?
After listening to several minutes of radio coverage marking today’s anniversary, I felt the weight and remembered the moment and registered the gravity of so much destruction. It was sobering and reminded me of where I was going. A military hospital during a time of war can be a sobering place regardless of the day. But on 9/11? Would there be somber music? Would they be airing remembrances on all the TVs? Would it be a ghost town? Maybe I’m the only one who actually accepted a 9/11 appointment!
I clicked the radio off and slowed to show my ID to the security guard at the front gate. He smiled and said, “Welcome to Ft. Belvoir!” Well, that just felt super friendly and I couldn’t help but smile right back at him and say, “Thanks! Glad to be here.”
In the hospital, I parked my car and noticed a man in my rear view mirror, just standing there behind me, with a big smile on his face. I sat in the car a minute waiting for the lunatic to leave, but when that didn’t work, got out and greeted him. He smiled and gestured toward my car, “I noticed your license plates! We came from Nebraska, too!” Not an ax murderer, and actually quite nice. It made me happy to think of our last base and reminded me of friends we had made there.
I entered the hospital and heard the usual clap of boots on the tile and the squeak of wheelchairs and the click of canes here and there. Moms, kids, retirees, giant uniformed men carrying brand new babies. It was all there, pain and happiness mixed together, just like any other day.
And then, after passing about five or six people, I noticed it. Just like the others I had run into on the way here…
We were all making eye contact.
We were all smiling and saying good morning.
We were all greeting each other like we weren’t from a creepy alien race.
We were one, united by this date in time, but determined not to let it define us.
We were one, united by tragedy, but healing each other by our unity.
There’s no doubt many of those men and women had been directly affected by 9/11 and its subsequent war, but were assigned a 9/11 appointment anyway, just like me. And there they were, right next to me, shuffling from one department to the next, only to be sent back to the first one again, and then on to another. Business as usual.
But all along, we smiled and we chatted.
We commiserated over the long wait times and we recommended books to each other. I discovered there’s a train to Pittsburgh that leaves at 1pm from Union Station and if the pharmacy moves fast enough, a guy could just make it. I learned there’s a Starbucks on the 3rd floor and there’s a smiley little girl with purple glasses who wants to be sure I hang on tight when we ride the elevator. I found out I’m not the only one with a deep appreciation of Omaha’s grid system and if Virginia hides one more coffee shop in a grove of trees, there could be a crisis.
But more than all that, I determined there is more than one way to spend the 13th anniversary of one the deadliest days on American soil.
It may not be how everyone is doing it, but I did it and it made me feel better.