In the end, there is only you.
I am sure that doesn’t seem like much of a lesson. In fact, it seems sort of self-centered. But let me explain.
In 2001, I was opening a Sears store in North Bay. I was one of four managers (along with our store manager) whisked along in the stress and mess of staffing and merchandising a brand new store. September 20th was the Grand Opening date. We were 9 days away from the Grand Opening when 9/11 happened. If you’ve ever worked retail and opened a store, you can just imagine the state of that building. There were no phone lines, no TV’s, heck in places there were no floors or walls! It was utter chaos (it always seems to come together in the last 24 hours) but we were in no condition to open at that point. And we were in our own little bubble of concerns.
Someone from our store, probably out grabbing some food on their coffee break, happened to walk by the Sony store down the mall (thank you Sony for having TV’s). They saw the news reports and came back to the store to let us know what happened. We all had to go and watch the news together to overcome our disbelief.
North Bay, Ontario is a little town but it has a military presence with NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) and a military base nearby. Many of my staff were wives of soldiers and in those first few days after 9/11 there was a lot of concern that they would be required to go to war. We continued to open the store, but I had to set up emergency phone lines to allow these wives quick access to their spouses, should the situation change. That sentiment of fear, anticipation of their men leaving them, and a sense of innocence lost and along with it trust in humanity, rubbed off on everyone.
I can remember very clearly sitting in my living room staring out the window wondering if my husband would be called to serve too. Now we don’t have conscription in Canada so the chances of him being enlisted were slim. But when your world gets rocked as heavily as all of ours had during 9/11 you are never quite sure of anything anymore. I had a 6 year old at that time too. So there I sat wondering what might happen and fearing the world my little boy would be brought up in. Would he even have a chance to grow up? And then I looked at the sky and trees and listened to the birds sing.
You know the birds didn’t even stop to ponder the plight of the humans! They were busy getting on with their lives, digging worms, singing for their territories, and flitting from tree to tree. The trees and sky didn’t seem to care either. The trees swayed gently in the breeze and the sky stretched out in the morning light to welcome the day. And I sat in thought. I had the largest emptiest spot in my gut where my confidence should have been. What if I was going to have to raise my son alone? What if I had to endure loss after loss in life during a war? What if I wasn’t able to provide a safe world for my son to grow up in? What then? And the sun kept shining, and the birds kept singing. And then the peace came.
The peace was the knowledge that I had everything I needed right now, right here, exactly as things were. I had me. Even if I suffered unspeakable pain, even if things were terrible for the world and my family, I had a constant companion through it all. I looked up at the sky and the tops of the trees and imagined that if I were to die right there, I would still have had everything because I had me.
I didn’t die - obviously - but I imagined that as you are dying that it will not matter who is sitting at your bedside. It will not matter if someone is holding your hand or not. In those last moments on earth you will be reflecting deeply with yourself.
You will be asking yourself what it was like to live and if you lived a good life. You won’t be answering questions other people ask you. You won’t be worrying about whether you made them happy in your actions. You will be wrestling with your own expectations. Did you do everything you wanted to? Were you true to yourself? Did you live up to your purpose? Did you learn and love and listen to your heart? In the end, when you are dying, you are alone with you. Only you.
It took the tragedy of 9/11 and the shift in my world from certainty to uncertainty for me to come face to face with myself. I realized I had better get really good at being with me throughout the rest of my life, because in the end there is only you.