This past September 11, like many Americans I reflected – more than I have in recent years – on the horrible events of that day ten years ago. One of the ways I did this was to read a column in my local newspaper, The Post Standard, entitled, “Why I Retain Hope After 9/11” by Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, who was just blocks away from the World Trade Center when the planes hit. As the north tower collapsed, she grabbed the hand of a stranger and ran to the Staten Island ferry, eyes shut from flying debris. The article then talks about how Baskerville-Burrows became both fearless in her pursuit to fully LIVE life in the days after 9/11 and hopeful in our individual and collective power to strive for peace in the world.
It was a beautiful article about not having survivor’s guilt, but a survivor’s responsibility to LIVE and make the world a better place. I capitalize LIVE to distinguish it from merely breathing and moving through life. When I use the word LIVE (and I use it often as it is part of my company’s tagline….Embrace. Integrate. Radiate. LIVE.), I refer to the ability LIVE your life as fully and with as much meaning as one can. No regrets and no playing small. Take advantage of this beautiful life. Make the most of what you can with what you have. Always, always follow your dreams and passion. Make a difference by offering your love and light into this sometimes dark world.
In reading, “Why I Retain Hope After 9/11,” I gained another piece of my personal puzzle and why LIVING is such a passionate pursuit of mine. At times in my life, I have felt survivor’s guilt for not having a more severe disability, having so many educational and career opportunities, being able to drive, walk, care for myself. It may sound silly, but having met so many others with disabilities who face such greater challenges, I would at times feel guilty that life often felt easy for me and that I was able to do so much. I think when one acquires a disability, even if it is at birth, it becomes one’s personal 9/11. Life is suddenly not what one expected and there is a lot of rebuilding to do. Some of us seem more unscathed than others.
I hated having survivor’s guilt. First, because I felt it was condescending to assume if another had a “more severe” disability, it meant that life was harder and less joyful. It frustrated me when people would presume this of me and now I was doing it to others. Second, survivor’s guilt was a way of dimming my own light and ability to LIVE fully. Fortunately, it has been years since I was able to work through my survivor’s guilt to realize I could make a far better difference in the world without it.
Reading “Why I Retain Hope After 9/11,” made me realize that underneath the survivor’s guilt was a sense of responsibility to make the most of my life, to follow my dreams, to meet the challenges that were unique to me, to try to bridge the gap of further understanding disabilities, to be happy with the body and abilities I have, to LIVE life as joyfully and radiantly as possible. I believe that’s the responsibility we all come into this world with. Sometimes it takes a tragedy to remind us of that. The good news is every single ordinary day we can be reminded of this if we just pause to remember what a treasure it is to LIVE life, no matter what the challenges.