Bittersweet

I will never forget that Tuesday morning. I was pretending to work, but I’m sure I was sending off yet another email to my mom or a vendor about last-minute details.

I had one more day of work in Birmingham, and then Mike and I would load up his car and drive the three hours to my childhood home in a suburb of Atlanta.

And then, at 8:45 a.m., suddenly, none of those details mattered in the slightest.

The first plane hit, and then another, and when all was said and done, almost 3,000 people would lose their lives.

It was a communal shock and grief l had never experienced.

But I also had personal shock and grief to experience that day.

It took me a while to admit how angry I was that “my day” was so deeply marred by the events of 2001. It felt incredibly selfish. I feared others would think I was upset about seemingly trivial details like flowers and cake.

That wasn’t why I was angry though, although, I would argue that I had every right to be upset about those details, carefully chosen both because it was our special day and because our young-20s bank accounts left little room for frivolity.

My heart was broken because of all the people who were unable to be there to celebrate with us that day. I was mad because the week that should have been exciting and fun and happy was instead full of tears and anxiety and fear. We felt our wedding—and therefore our marriage—would always have this heaviness, this weight…

This September will be 19 years since that week. I can tell you that our marriage has had its share of heaviness and weight, but not because of how our wedding day was changed. We’ve had the same struggles that all couples have, but we’ve also had the joys and highs that come with choosing to love one person forever. People do associate our wedding with the events of that week, but not in the way that we feared. We still have friends and family tell us that our wedding was their favorite because it was a glimpse of light in the midst of such darkness. It was a sign that life would go on, and it reminded us all that in the end, love wins.

I’ve been heartbroken once again this week, but not for myself.

I know there are people getting married with only 10 or fewer friends and family when they envisioned everyone they loved in the same room.

I know there are high school seniors and college seniors who’ve worked so very hard anticipating the walk across a stage with proud parents and peers cheering at the sound of their name.

There are countless other celebrations and life events that have been years in the works, and there are likely more cancellations for all of us to come.

What I expected to be a sweet week 19 years ago turned out instead to be bittersweet. I would undo everything that happened that week if I had the power, but as I don’t, instead, I have with time, come to see the richness and depth in the bittersweet.

And while I would wave that same magic wand over the world right now and give everyone back their health, their small businesses, their regular school and work days, and their days of celebration, since I can’t, I pray instead for the richness and depth of bittersweet days.

That those who you can be near, would draw nearer still.

That the pride you feel at accomplishing something would be deeper.

That the excitement you feel about whatever is next would only be heightened in the face of your current reality.

And that the bitter pill of disappointment would blend with the sweet sip of celebration to create something deeper, richer and truly worth savoring.

leaving our wedding

Ponty and me

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If there’s one thing the professions Mike and I chose can guarantee, it’s that our kids will one day experience the joy of driving an old beat-up car around town. But I’m only being slightly sarcastic about the ‘joy’ part. I may not have thought it was funny at the time, but driving a clunker (“Ponty” the Pontiac) through high school, college and early married years has given me some hilarious stories to recount now, as I live in the less-joyful Land of Car Payments on the Minivan.

There was the time that I saw my car get towed away twice in one week at college. Then my sweet parents drove me their car to use while they got mine fixed, and while I was driving their car, IT broke down and had to get towed away.

Or how about when my car wouldn’t turn off one night when I got back to my dorm. The key wouldn’t turn or release, and it would. not. turn. off. The entire campus police arrived in full force, and eventually had to disconnect the battery. Another tow.

But I think my favorite (aka, most mortifying) car experience was after Mike and I got married. We were living in an apartment complex, and on Christmas Eve, we drove to my parents’ house in Mike’s car, leaving my car at the apartment. When we got back home in the evening on Christmas Day, our neighbors opened their door as we unlocked ours, balancing our Christmas loot at the top of the concrete stairs.

Them: “Umm, is that red Pontiac Sunbird your car?”

Us: (Nervously) “Yes…”

Them: “So, it went off all night last night. Like, the horn went off and wouldn’t stop.”

Us: “Are you serious? Did someone break into it to stop it?”

Them: “No. After a few hours, sometime after midnight, it stopped.”

Us: “Oh. My. Gosh. We are SOOOOO sorry!”

We slunk back into our apartment with our tower of gifts and tried to keep a low profile for a bit.

Until a few days later, when I discovered the problem again. As I backed out of a parking space, my horn started honking uncontrollably. It wasn’t like an alarm sound, but like a steady, horrendously loud sound. It was only when I turned the wheel a certain way, which I discovered as I pulled some Austin Powers maneuvers trying to get out of the lot without triggering the Horn That Could Wake the Dead.

 

At least this time, it didn’t require a tow.