The anniversary of September 11th has always started a countdown for me because the actual day in 2001 marked the final twenty-three days of my mother’s life. I spent the eight o’clock hour on the morning of September 11, 2001 watching The Today Show with my mother on the other end of the phone. All the horrible images in real time being watched together — the panic that ensued when one plane struck the Pentagon, and I, as a terrified college kid, ran through the streets of Georgetown trying to get as far away from the White House as I could. I can only imagine the visceral fear that that moment created for my Mom who could only listen on the other end of the phone.
I’ve often wondered if she knew on that day that the end of her own living was drawing near. I’ve thought about where she had gotten herself and her family to by that moment in time. When she was initially diagnosed, my siblings and I were 8, 10 and 12. Sitting where she did on September 10, 2001, she had two outgoing and happy seniors in high school, a sophomore settled in college, and she had been able to watch her eldest, my brother, graduate from college. She had steered us through childhood and was leaving us in a vunerable, but so much sturdier spot, than when her illness began. And then September 11th happened, which could have stunted everything that she knew to be true.
However, when we spoke on the phone on September 12, and for the rest of her twenty-three days of life, she seemed to have that incredible determination and hope that so many Americans had following the attacks. I could hear it in her voice when she asked if our dorm flew new flags, and when she was happy that I had attended a candlelight vigil at the Lincoln Memorial, and when we cried together on the phone watching the funeral services because there was so much strength on display alongside the pain. She recognized and brought attention to the wives and partners and children who spoke of “living every day” for their loved ones and for “making it all count.” I have often wondered if those final twenty-three days were a final lesson for both of us — a demonstration of how one could approach a loss.
Major events have a way of shaping us. When she passed away, we were determined to make her life count. What she had endured and the life that she had lived couldn’t be followed by our own self-pity, but instead had to reflect the years she had spent making our lives so special. It almost felt like a theme to her death, and I wonder, all of these years later, if that sense came from both her and the example the nation had just set for us.
Her favorite song in those final years were LeAnne Womack’s “I Hope You Dance,” and it is where the theme of Runway comes from. Heading into the 20th anniversary of her passing on October 4, 2021, I share this story with the hope that you’ll join me on October 22, 2021 to dance and hearing all the other stories of the last 15 years at Runway.