Do you remember where you were 11 years ago tonight? If I asked you 3 days from now if you remember where you 11 years ago, I’m sure you would know. But three days before 9/11? Do you remember?
Next Wednesday is my birthday. 11 years ago I was about to turn 40 and Jan held a surprise birthday party for me. It was Saturday and things were a little interesting around the Anthony house. Jan was cleaning the bathrooms. Don’t get me wrong, she always cleaned the bathrooms. But that day she was REALLY cleaning the bathrooms. I couldn’t understand what the big deal was.
Then I tried to call my parents. I couldn’t get them. They didn’t answer their home phone. This may not seem like a big deal, but they were supposed to be retired and I hadn’t been able to reach them for the past three days. So I called my sister. She answered her home phone right away. I asked about my parents and if she knew where they were. No, came her reply. “You know them, they’re just out running around somewhere. Know where they are? Heck no, I don’t know where they are! They’re retired! And they don’t tell me where they go.” So there. Seemed logical to me. Not 15 minutes later, my phone rang. It was my parents.
It appears that they were in the car, just enjoying a ride. They were running errands. But they seemed a little too happy and a little too interested in what I was doing at the time to simply be out running around in retired bliss. My perceptive powers kicked in and I knew something was up. Bathrooms cleaned? Happy parents in the car? What did all this mean?
That particular Saturday night we were to have dinner with our good friends the Harts, to celebrate my birthday. We were going to meet them at their house and go out to dinner. Two other couple friends were going to join us. We got there a few minutes passed 6:30 PM, fashionably late, as the Anthony’s are accustomed to doing. The gated community was locked up and we had to sit while Rick opened the gate for us. As usual, he was messing with me. We pulled around the corner, into the driveway and rang the doorbell. Betty opened the door and in we walked. Everyone seemed to have these funny expressions on their faces, the kind that says they’re all up to something and you’re about to get a pie in the face. I’m looking at Rick, ever the jokester, and he makes some comment about me having a good birthday. I looked at him like he was crazy, and then he simply looked up into the ceiling. They have a two-story home with an open living room to the second floor. He then pointed up. I turned around, looked up, and there, standing before me, leaning over the railing, were about 50 of my dearest friends in the world. I stood aghast. Not something that happens too often, me being aghast, but there I was.
Standing around the railing were friends that I hadn’t seen in 4-5 years, some even longer. They were college friends. And church friends. And friends from other jobs. They were the dearest people to me and all had made a profound impact on my life. Then the elevator door opened. Yes, they have an elevator. And out stepped my parents. Aha! I had a feeling they would be coming to Texas. Then my sister and her youngest daughter stepped out from behind them as well. Once more, I was aghast. Did I mention that it doesn’t happen often? I looked at my sister and managed to blurt out, “what are you doing here? How did you get here? I talked to on your home phone just this morning.” “Do you know anything about these things they call airplanes? You can hop on one and get across the country in just a matter of hours,” she said.
That night I will remember the rest of my life. I can still close my eyes and see those friends standing above me. We had quite the party. Lots of food, lots of laughter. Much of the laughter was at my expense, but it was worth it. What a great night.
My sister, Sherri, and her daughter, Jenna, spent the weekend with us. They left Monday and flew back to Atlanta, GA. My parents were going to spend a couple of days with us, then head home. We took Sherri and Jenna to the airport Monday afternoon, kissed them goodbye, and drove home. They were home a few hours later.
Tuesday morning, as we were getting ready for work and school, Jan called out to turn the TV on. There was a major catastrophe unfolding in New York City. We sat aghast as the first pictures began appearing that morning. Then we saw the second plane. That morning changed our lives forever. The next day I turned 40.
Sherri and Jenna had flown home less than 18 hours before that Tuesday morning. What took them a few hours that afternoon would take them twice as long today. It would also cost more today as well. In money and time and stress. Not just because of rising costs of inflation, but because our world has changed. We will never go back to the way it was. Never. It’s changed forever.
As I look back on turning 40, I will remember a Saturday night that was filled with lots of fun and laughter. And I will remember my almost naive attitude. I was 40 and really no longer naive. But there was a carelessness about the evening that changed on that Tuesday morning. Now we look at our neighbor with different color skin and wonder what’s he up to? We see our political landscape changing daily. Global fear is growing at a pace in which we can’t keep up. Trust is almost nonexistent.
Why am I writing this tonight? I’m just remembering a great evening 11 years ago and how everything changed in an instant. It has caused me to live my life a little more intentionally every day. It changed in an instance once, it can do so again. Happy birthday to me.