“How can we comprehend a morning on which thousands of people, unknowing, woke up…looked at themselves in the mirror for the last time…and got dressed to die.”
– Martha Teichner, CBS Sunday Morning
September 11, 2001.
A date that, for most of us, will live in far greater infamy than any other historic happening. Even now—12-and-a-half years later—it still seems much too soon to speak about the deplorable events of that fateful Tuesday morning. For most of us, our lives forever changed that day. For others, their lives ended.
They got dressed to die.
Since reading that Martha Teichner quote, I haven’t been able to get past those three words. And I’ve been consumed with visions of the deceased’s last hours. On Monday night, they lay down for one last night of sleep. Was it a sound sleep, or did they toss and turn? Were they alone? With their loves or apart? What dreams revolved inside their heads that night? Did they recall them on that Tuesday morning before showering, shaving and dressing for their grave? And who did they say goodbye to…roommates, pets, friends, family…and what did those goodbyes look like? Casual adieus, hurried hugs, prolonged embraces? Were they the kind of goodbyes intended to expire in eight or so hours when the parties would meet again?
I’ve been captivated by the brevity and uncertainty of life. Today even, I have people in my life who are walking around death from all angles. One elderly man I know has been pining to die for years, wishing he could leave earth and be reunited with his family. Another young mother hopes and prays each day that her son’s premature body will fight off death for another day. And others who approach each day as just another opportunity to sit idly and wait patiently for death to appear—fully convinced that, in their retirement, the days of contributing to society have long passed.
But what if we got dressed to die every morning? Or what if we saw others as dressed to die? How would dying affect the way we’re living?
If we lived each day like it’s our last. Like it’s all we’ve been given. Right now…this moment. How would it impact our relationships—the ones we love and the ones we hate. Might we find ways to forgive the flaws and frustrations in others? Maybe we’d hug longer. Kiss more intensely. Smile more. Yell less. Or how about those groups or movements we’ve been long despising. Time to break down those walls of hatred we’ve been constructing? And all that work we’ve been sweating and stressing over. Time to run after it differently or leave it altogether in pursuit of other aspirations?
But it’s not easy to carpe diem. There’s always the chance that we do meet tomorrow. And, if we do, we don’t like arriving unready. So we plan and prepare. And maybe living for today and ignoring tomorrow isn’t even practical.
And yet I still wonder as I wander through this life. How can I wake up, look in the mirror and get dressed to die so that my preparations for tomorrow no longer keep me from the aspirations of today.