A common yet unfortunate phenomenon in human nature is when we don’t truly appreciate what we have until it’s gone. It often takes decisive events for us realize how fortunate we are. We realize how much we rely on our possessions after our house gets robbed. We recognize the gift of a secure paycheck after we lose our job. And when we tragically lose a friend or family member, we wish we had told them every day how much we loved them.
We are fortunate for many things that often slip from our conscious: to have a bed to sleep in every night, a job (no matter how boring it is), a bank account with at least a few dollars in it, a university that makes us think, parents who love us, and friends who keep us sane. Of course, we often take all of those for granted. These parts of our existence become so routine and familiar that we have no concept of what a day would be like without them. We never imagine not having them because we just assume they will always be there. Our families, friends, homes, schools, jobs and hometowns are so engrained in our lives that we forget that these fortunes are in no way permanent.
It wasn’t until I temporarily lost a home that I realized how thankful I should be for one. That place had been such a regular, and seemingly permanent, part of my life that I never once fathomed a day without it. But on September 11th, 2001, I learned that it is possible for such a thing to disappear. Although my family and I were only out of our apartment for a week or so — and we were extraordinarily lucky for that — the experience made me realize two things: 1, that a home is a gift that I should be grateful for every single day; and 2, my family and I were, in fact, actually pretty lucky — some homes were permanently destroyed. We were able to return to a place that had stayed intact, while other families did not have that same option. It took almost losing a home for me to really see how wonderful it is to have one.
Likewise, facing the heavy possibility that I could have lost someone in the attack really made me appreciate my family and friends. I was enormously lucky that I didn’t know any of the victims. I can only imagine how terribly painful that day was for so many people who lost loved ones. Seeing such a catastrophic number of casualties, and realizing that I could have easily known one of the deceased, was enough for me to remind myself every single day after how fortunate I was for all the people that were still in my life.
Sometimes we end up missing things we never imagined we would.
Before that Tuesday, I never thought that I would long to be in school. If anything, school seemed like an annoyance that we were all forced to take part in until we became adults. However, when my school closed for a week after the attack, I surprisingly felt an enormous aches of loss. I missed everything about school — my friends, my teachers, lunchtime, recess, all the things we learned, and all the activities that kept our short attention spans focused. We were only out for a week, but it felt much longer. Our school building was so close to the towers that we actually couldn’t return for six months, but luckily, another school had some extra classrooms that they let us use for the time being. I was so grateful for that school — otherwise, I’m not sure how long we would have been out for.
It’s still strange to think about how much I felt the absence of a place that I would never in a million years predict missing, and that same feeling was true for the Twin Towers. I never considered their structural brilliance, their importance to the city and to countless people, or their symbol of strength and freedom — nor did I ever imagine how empty the city would feel without them — until they were gone. I had seen them every single day for ten years, and had assumed they would always be there. I only realized when they collapsed that they had embodied security and stability for all of us. I hadn’t recognized their significance when they stood, but I missed them dearly when they were no longer there.
The shining light that came through the dark clouds on that Tuesday was the newfound sense of appreciation and patriotism we felt for our country. New Yorkers united to power through the chaos and to overcome the wound. We all were reminded of how much we loved our city and we found strength within the tragedy. We felt enormous thanks for the people that sacrificed their lives to save others. We always knew how honorable they were, but seeing their dedication and selflessness so close to home was greatly moving.
Having a part of our city disappear and witnessing lives unfairly lost made many of us thankful for all the things we still had. We realized on that day how quickly people and places can cease to exist and we felt lucky in a sense to still have certain fortunes. And the truth is, most of us are lucky, in one way or another, when we really think about it. The people, possessions, and places in our lives that make it pleasant — or at least tolerable, for that matter — are gifts that we should cherish. We should always be thankful for them, because sadly, it doesn’t take long for something, or someone, to vanish. Worse still, it can happen without any warning. It would be a good idea to appreciate all the wonderful things we have now, before they’re gone.