Editor’s note: After the September 11th attacks, I sent out a request in our eNewsletter. Here’s what it said:
"I haven’t been able to get away from the news for the past week, and I’m sure most of you feel the same way. Wherever you were, whatever you were doing, you’ll probably remember the specifics for a long time. But memories deteriorate.
While I often find myself begging (almost) for more contributions, this request is of a different nature. Please take a few minutes to reflect on the past week and write down your experiences. I want to know where you were, how you reacted, what you saw, what you didn’t see.
I want to know how this has affected people. I will try to find a way to share it with everyone; or no one, if you prefer."
What I received soon thereafter surprised me. I not only received more contributions than I expected, but I found myself coming to terms with things through the reactions of those who wrote back.
I encourage you to read each and every response, for they represent a fraction of what I received. Please remember that these are uncensored responses that might offend you. Read and digest. Perhaps it will help you too.
– Michael Browne, October 2001
By Jan Sprague Chaffin
Santa Margarita, CA
I was struck by your comment "memories fade." My experience with death is that they do not fade, but become a piece of the fabric that makes up who you are.
Almost a year ago, my oldest son, a remarkable mountain biker and general all-around outdoor enthusiast, fell 70 feet from a popular rock climbing area, and was killed instantly. Having the first anniversary of his death so close to the attacks of the WTC has stirred many emotions in me, his mother.
I have a pretty good idea of what all the families who suddenly had to come to grips with losing a loved one are going through. I know how their hearts feel broken beyond repair, but I also know how a heart can be mended. I have heard the President and many others say "We must get back to life as usual," but my experience with grief is it is an emotion not to be ignored. If you experience losing someone, whether in the attacks or otherwise, seek the many sources of comfort and compassion out there and do not be afraid of grieving! (Hospice was a wonderful resource for me).
It is amazing the sense of calm one can experience by facing your worst fears and pain, letting it flow through your body, and come out the other side. Besides all the grief work I did this past year in saying goodbye to my son, I continued to ride my beloved mountain bike with my younger son. We would ride the trails we had with Sean, and our memories brought us so much joy of the good times we had.
My remaining son Danny dreams of being a professional downhill mountain bike racer someday. Can you imagine the internal struggle I’ve had to face, losing first, one son who loved "extreme" sports, and now having my last one want to race mountain bikes? Downhill, no less! I have had to face the fact that we take risks everyday. The people who got on the airplanes, the people who did not, the people who went to work that day at the WTC, the people who ride their bikes on the road, those who ride down the most difficult mountains. Everything’s a risk, isn’t it?
I found my peace in meditating, and realizing the most important thing in life is to use it to fulfill your mission. My oldest son was 20 years old when he died, but he lived everyday as if his last. My youngest son is also following his dreams – he had a pretty successful racing year this summer, taking a gold medal in Park City and a silver and bronze in other NORBA competitions. That’s because I decided to back him 100% in his dream.
We drove about 3,000 miles this summer, from California to Colorado, hitting NORBA races, camping and riding Slickrock. It was the most fun I’ve had in a long time. I am at peace with death, and so I feel I can enjoy life fully now. There are no reasons why some die and others do not. It just is.
We may not have a choice in how we die, but we do have a choice in how we live. Go out and ride your bike! And enjoy it!