Last week we paused to reflect on the eighteenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. As I scrolled through the posts on social media that recounted where we were when we heard the news, how it affected our lives and perspectives, and how we honor those whose lives were lost, one message continued to bubble to the top: America on September 12.
The patriotism was strong, but what seemed to resonate the most was the sense of fellowship that had come over our country. We were united, regardless of the differences between us. But it didn’t take long for our old ways to come back, and now our country is more divided than it has been in my lifetime. The pendulum of human nature swings from one extreme to the next, from terrorists trying to kill us to us killing each other.
The events of our personal lives can have the same effect. In my work as a health coach, I often hear stories of the heart attack that was the wake-up call, or the cancer diagnosis that put things in perspective. Life on September 12, there are moments of clarity when complicated issues seem less important than the fundamental values of civility and unity.
For some, this shift is a permanent one, and they live life differently. A cardiac patient may adopt a plant-based diet low in cholesterol, begin walking every day, and learn how to manage stress to protect their heart. It requires work, determination, and a learning curve, but the reality check of the alternative is enough to make it worth the effort, and life is changed for good.
For others, lifestyle change is more tentative, contingent on other criteria being met. As long as things go well, then healthy choices are possible. But if schedules are interrupted, drama erupts in relationships, healthy habits become inconvenient, or the learning curve is too steep, then change is abandoned or considered to be impossible given the circumstances.
For a while after September 11, we were united in our humanity. But as our list of criteria for living in harmony with each other has grown, so has the distance between us and our potential. We have more demands now. We need things to be a certain way in order to play nice. We say, “no deal,” if an obstacle is thrown into our path.
I wonder if the same can be said about how we live our lives and manage our health. Are you one who changes for good, or as long as everything else works out?
Do you live life like September 12, setting aside the petty obstacles in life and striding forward towards the changes you desire for a more balanced life? Do you look for ways to make the lives of others easier, to smooth their path towards progress as a neighbor? Or do you agree to the plan for change as long as everything goes how you like it?
Reading the accounts of life on September 11, and then on September 12, I sensed a shared nostalgia for the day when we were united. I’m making a feeble attempt now to encourage you to search for ways that you can bring a September 12 mentality into your life today.
Set your work to the side and go for that walk. Life is fast; slow down.
Put on your swimsuit and jump into the pool. Life is fleeting; have fun.
Push that greasy food away and give your body the good stuff. You are surrounded by people who love you; stick around for a while.
For a brief moment in 2001, our complicated lives were put into perspective and we held hands in unity. Now we have written a long list of criteria that must be met before we will consider doing that again.
I argue today that if you have a list like that in your life, one wake-up call could render it irrelevant. I wonder - will you wait for that wake-up call, or start living like it is September 12 today?