September 11, 2001 represents a lot of emotions for me. Like most old enough to remember, I know where I was, what I was doing and who I was with. I can remember vividly watching the TV screen, but unable to process what was happening. I remember a rush of emotion – fear, uncertainty, anger, frustration and sadness.
What I didn’t know at the time was that I was 2 months away from a first date with the woman who would soon become my wife – and how one this date and one simple statement would play a role in our lives forever.
Fast forward to the Fall of 2003 as my newly engaged fiance and I were blissfully in love and starting our wedding planning. We were both excited about it, and had grand visions of the dream day we both had waited for our entire lives. We had our first date and got engaged in the Napa Valley so we hoped to find a way to get married there, too.
Completely naïve to the costs involved (which even then were insane), we quickly learned that due to certain county laws there were a very limited number of venues allowed to host weddings in the valley. Compound that with the fact that we hoped for a September wedding as Fall was our favorite time of year (and when we met), as well as several of our close friends already had similar dates booked for their weddings, and well, you have the definition of a supply and demand problem.
Determined to find a way, we kept looking, and realized there was one date open – everywhere. September 11, 2004.
Keep in mind at the time we’re only 2 years removed from that fateful day. It was still hard to think about let alone talk about. And it became clear it had become taboo in terms of a day to start your life together.
Somehow we found ourselves at the Silverado Country Club in Napa, CA. A historical, magical property famous for its location, golf course and neighboring wine region. I honestly have no idea why we thought we could pull this off but the wedding planner was so kind, so patient and sincerely interested in helping us. After the tour she asked what we thought – well, that was kind of a dumb question. Of course, it was perfect!
We shared the dates we had in mind – all were taken. Well, what about August or October then? Taken. A year later? Yep, taken. Then she said, as if she had just overlooked it the entire time, “Well, we do have September 11th”.
My wife and I looked at each other not really sure what to think. The planner stepped away to let us talk. I immediately started telling her that there’s likely a spot we can find for the dates we want and I can be patient, and –
That’s when my wife said one of the most memorable, thoughtful and impactful things (and she’s done this a lot, trust me).
“What if we did something positive that day? What if we threw the best party of our lives? There are going to be babies born on that day, right? Why can’t we get married and make it a happy day? Not just for us, but for everyone.”
And that’s what we did. They gave us the sweetheart deal of the century and somehow we squeezed enough out of our budget to have our dream wedding there on September 11, 2004. And oh by the way, it was a heck of a party!
I share this story as a reminder to myself and I hope others of a few important lessons:
- We can choose happiness – there are a lot of things to be sad about, to layer on our anxiety or justify the next bad thing that will happen. But there are often opportunities to choose happiness. To say or do something that changes the entire context and outcome. I completely missed that opportunity, but thankfully my wife did not.
2. You can remember and make memories – choosing happiness doesn’t mean we have to forget the hard stuff or the bad things. That’s equally part of who we are, but it also does not preclude us from making new memories. Every year on our anniversary I start by thinking and/or writing about the events of 9/11 because I will never forget it and do not want to. However, most of my day is focused on my bride, our wedding day and celebrating together.
3. Decisions drive values – those few words my wife spoke that day as we stood on the massive green lawn in front of their historic mansion changed more than our wedding day. It embedded a philosophy into how we live and love. We don’t shy away from the hard stuff and we are always seeking happiness. Not always the easy path, but after you do it once, it becomes doable again – and always.
To this day, we go back to that very spot – which is also a great excuse to visit our favorite area and go wine tasting. We smile and laugh as we each recall the fun and wild stories from our wedding weekend, but there’s always one story we really stop to appreciate and it’s how it all came about – choosing happiness on a hard day.
Today is a hard day for many. Tomorrow may be for others. But don’t forget there are also babies being born, couples getting engaged, people volunteering in their communities, kids learning to ride a bike for the first time, people starting new jobs and careers, and random acts of kindness happening all around us. Big or small, it can be easy to miss, but it is there.
May we all give ourselves permission to see, choose and experience happiness on those hard days ahead.