Thursday, September 11, 2008

11 September 2002

On the first anniversary of the 9-11 attacks, I hiked from Bemis Mountain to Sabbath Day Pond in Maine with my partners, Red and Gary. Not long after crossing Route 17 rain started to fall and then to fall even harder. We moved as fast as we could, hoping to reach the shelter at Sabbath Pond and get out from all this rain, pulling in around mid-day. The rain kept falling and it soon became obvious that we weren't going to walk any more that day. We pulled out our sleeping pads, bags and warm clothing and settled in for a leisurely afternoon in the dark Maine woods.

The events of the year before had been on my mind now and again during the preceding days. Most mornings around 9:00 I thought about the attacks and the dead. As I did so, I marveled that I was still alive to hike. After all, no good reason other than luck and circumstance separated me from the dead, or them from me. But here I was, alive and well, experiencing the adventure of a lifetime while the victims were dead and their families mourned their losses. Somehow that didn't seem right.

Not long after we'd hunkered down, another hiker, Rocky Top, came in from the rain. We'd met him in Virginia way back in May but mostly saw him in passing. Rocky Top was mostly a fleeting presence throughout the intervening miles, mostly through stories and comments in shelter register, but a presence nonetheless. As the only African-American on the trail and 6'3" he was hard to miss when he was in the vicinity. Today, though, it was just the four of us, sharing stories about the previous five months' adventure.

The day was dark and wet. Rain fell off and on throughout the afternoon as the wind blew fall leaves across the forest floor. But for this hiker, the afternoon was every reason to be alive and savor this world and the company of friends while I could. That was the lesson I brought from the attack--all those people left unfinished business: arguments not resolved, loved ones not kissed and so many other things that we always expect to do later. And then later never comes.

I guess the lessons from that day are legion, many profound and heartfelt, more so than my scattered thoughts. But in recognizing the importance of Now, I opened myself to infinite possibilities.


The following day we walked into Rangely, Maine to re-supply. I saw a front page photo of the previous day's memorial at Ground Zero. George W. and Laura walked in solitary solemnity across a vast space surrounded by a guard of honor. It looked like something out of a Leni Riefenstahl film.

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