Never Forget

By Laura Edwards

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I sat in a poetry writing class at the University of North Carolina as fiery, unspeakable events unfolded in New York City, Arlington, VA and rural Pennsylvania. None of us had smart phones in those days, so when our teacher dismissed us, I walked outside and headed for my next class just as I would have done on any normal Tuesday. At the time, I didn’t notice the deserted quad, normally bustling with students at that time of morning.

When I climbed the steps of the journalism school and walked inside, I found what appeared to be the entire student body, crammed into the building lobby but yet strangely silent. They all stood frozen, their eyes transfixed on the journalism school’s large projector TV screen, where two commercial jets crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, again…and again…and again.

I remember when our professor’s voice broke the silence to announce that class was cancelled. But I don’t remember the rest of those kids clearing out of the building. At some point, I did float out of that lobby alone, away from those terrible images and onto the steps of the journalism school, where I found the quad deserted for the second time in one day. My body, guided by some power other than my own, eased down into a sitting position, at which point my 19-year-old lungs breathed in the crisp, clean air of a late summer day on an American college campus, and my innocent eyes drank in the image of an unmarred blue sky dotted only by the soaring, leafy green treetops that watched over bright minds and moonlit strolls and games of Frisbee.

In those moments, on that impossibly beautiful day, I realized our world would never again be the same.

On the morning of July 24, 2006, I sat at my desk at a hospital in Charlotte, NC – eight months into my new job and one month into my marriage to my high school sweetheart. It was a hot but beautiful day, and everything, so far at least, had fallen into place for me. My world overflowed with happiness and possibility.

When my phone rang a few minutes after 10 a.m. – about the same time I learned of the 9/11 attacks – I heard the phrase “neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis” for the first time – and my world changed forever.

My parents live eight miles from the hospital. I climbed behind the wheel of my car shortly after taking that call, but I don’t remember a single moment of the drive. Somehow, a force from some deep, unknown place guided me home, where I was most needed.

I do, however, remember every single moment from the rest of that fateful day.

The tear-soaked embrace in the floor of my parents’ bedroom.

Seeing my little sister – and feeling alternately overjoyed and crushed knowing she was completely unaware of the deadly disease within her – when we picked her up for her therapy appointment.

Building matching teddy bears with Taylor at the Build-a-Bear Workshop, making a wish for her life, stuffing it deep into the bear before sewing it up tightly…and not feeling silly at all.

It’s amazing how, in a matter of seconds, our lives can transform from being buoyed by hope and joy to being warped by pain and the pure cruelty of fate. It’s amazing how quickly our concept of what’s most important can change.

Today and every day, I remember those who lost their lives on 9/11 and those whose lives have been impacted by the tragedy. I am grateful for all those who make it possible for us to feel safe. And though the news clippings may fade, the memorial crowds may shrink and the stories may become more few and far between, I will never forget.

Today and every day, I fight my own battle for my little sister, in hopes that one day, the worlds of children like her and families like mine will not be shattered in a single moment. And though my body may grow tired and – yes – I may lose her – I will NEVER FORGET.

Live Every Day

By Laura Edwards

Twin TowersTen years ago today, terrorists flew four planes into the towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the Pennsylvania woods a short time before I walked into my poetry writing class at the University of North Carolina. Afterward, I walked across an eerily calm quad, up the steps of the School of Journalism building and into a sea of students crowded around an enormous TV screen in the lobby. I watched with the others as the planes’ fiery connection with the Twin Towers played over and over again. I remained after our professor canceled class and all of the other students dissipated. I walked outside and sat, alone, on the stately building’s silent front steps under the deepest, most perfect blue sky I had ever seen. And, just weeks into my sophomore year of college, I realized that my life – indeed, the lives of all Americans – would never quite be the same – ever again.

I’ve often thought about the people who lost their lives on that fateful day – and all of the people they left behind. My husband is a native of Queens, NY and the product of families that immigrated from Ireland and Italy in search of  better opportunities in the Land of the Free. Thankfully, all of my husband’s relatives and friends still in the city were spared; his mother’s twin brother, an accountant for the NYPD who was closest to the tragedy that day, felt the ground shake under his desk at One Police Plaza but made it out without a scratch.

I’ve often thought about how very normal that morning must have felt for the majority of the people who lost their lives in the attacks. How likely none of them imagined the goodbye kiss they gave their spouse, or bear hug they gave their kids, or perfect bagel and cream cheese from the corner deli that they ate on the run, would be their last.

I remember how normal the morning of Taylor’s diagnosis felt to everyone who loves her – every minute leading up to the life-changing news.  And I struggle to recall how I spent the previous day – if I valued what I thought I had – a beautiful, smart, sweet, perfectly healthy little sister – as much as I should have.

There will never be another 9/11/01. I will never have another sibling diagnosed with Batten disease. Nonetheless, we have to cherish what we have and never, ever take the people we love for granted. No matter what, we have to live every day.