In youth we learn; in age we understand. ~Marie Ebner-Eschenbach
When I was very young, I used to hear the adults ask “Where were you when JFK was shot?” I assume that the same question was asked about Pearl Harbor. In every generation, there seem to be “where were you when” questions. As a kid, I used to think about how cool it would be to have a time machine, to be able to travel back in time and prevent certain things from ever happening. I could have been the hero that warned the US Navy about Pearl Harbor. I could have stopped Hitler before he ever wrote his book Mein Kampf. I could have told the captain of the Titanic to slow down and to be more careful. The list became endless; all of these opportunities for me to become a super hero, and save the world from needless tragedies.
When we are young, we observe but we do not yet understand. I just finished watching “The Reading of the Names” at ground zero. I have watched this ceremony every year, but for some reason this year was more emotional for me than in the past. While the names were being read, I had a flashback to my youth, and my fantasy of using a time machine to save the world. If only I could have traveled back in time, I could have prevented 9/11 from ever happening.
There is no such thing as a “time machine” and it is doubtful that any such invention will ever exist. But there is something that does exist today, and it has existed for hundreds of years. The clock on the wall and the watch on your wrist - these are indeed “time machines”. But these time machines are designed to have us focus on the present. These time machines identify the moment that is now – right now. With maturity, I now realize that traveling back in time would never solve the problems of the world. The list of events to alter would be never ending. My childhood idea of intercepting and preventing tragedies before they happen is flawed. There will always be some event, some issue that caused pain and suffering. It would be a never ending job, constantly traveling back in time.
But we can use the time machines that we all have today, for the same purpose. Our time on this planet is short. We must make every minute count. Today, I am remembering the events of 9/11 as if they were happening right now, today. The events of that tragic day are vivid and are still very real in my mind. I have indeed traveled back in time, not to prevent the tragedy, but to somehow make today – to make this very moment in time – better.
There are no H. G. Wells time machines, and I cannot physically go back in time to save anyone. But ironically, those who died, and the families who continue to suffer because of 9/11 are indeed using a time machine today, right now, right this very second. Today, I am being given the gift of “present time”. I am given the gift of this moment in time, to remember all the things that are precious, and to focus on all of the things that are important in my life. I am reminded right here and right now, to treasure every minute on this planet. I am being reminded that I should always strive to be a good husband, a good father and a good friend. I am being reminded that life is not fair, it is not predictable, and that we must never take anything for granted. Today is a beautiful day, and the weather is perfect. Just as it was on that fateful day several years ago. We must never forget the lessons that the past can teach us, if we are wise enough to pay attention.
The child in me still wishes for the time machine that does exist. I still would love to travel back in time, and prevent all of the pain and suffering of 9/11 from ever happening. The mature adult in me will have to settle for the time machine that does exist. The one that I look at several times a day, each and every day, to track my moments in time.
God Bless everyone who is reading this as we pray for those who have died, and pray for their families who continue to feel the pain of 9/11.
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