The Leaving

My friend Ken is reading the 9/11 Commission Report. He and I watched Tower Two fall from the window of our office at 8th Street. I distinctly recall the look on his face as we parted company that morning into the unknown State Of Manhattan. We’ve discussed the resulting ramifications, war(s), and our thoughts, hopes, and fears many times since.

I was sitting on the AC unit behind Ken’s desk yesterday, looking down on Time’s Square and thumbing through the book, as we discussed the subject some more. Seems the 900+ page report is written like a screenplay or novel: it begins on the hijacked planes in the minutes before impact, then backtracks from there.

So I’m reading a few pages myself as we talk, and I’m reading these very detailed, very footnoted accounts of cell phone calls, radio dispatches, and the like. And I was struck by one fella’ who managed to get through to his father from his seat aboard one of the doomed flights. “Don’t worry about me, Dad,” he said. “I’ll be fine.”

So I read this part aloud to Ken and he goes, “Can you imagine knowing you were about to die? What must that feel like?” And I’m looking down at Time’s Square and it doesn’t take me much to imagine (I’m afraid I’m going to die every time I fly, but I don’t know I’m going to die), and suddenly I’m completely dizzy and nausius.

Can you imagine knowing you were about to die? What must that feel like?

In the instant I feigned to imagine it, I thought to myself, ‘No, wait! I have too much left to do!’

I had breakfast with my mother Saturday morning. She asked how work was, whether I was dating, yada yada yada. The usual mom questions. Fine, yes, blah blah blah. I ran through my plans for the next six months in one breath — Iowa, Miami, Nantcuket, L.A., Costa Rica, Malibu Triathlon, NYC Marathon, my band, country band, new band, new album, new tour — then got back to my eggs.

“Will you sitting still at any point before the end of the year, dear?”

I got my new watch today. It’s significantly fancier. It’s got a bunch of faces for seconds, milliseconds, and God knows what else. I prefer my old watch: simple, elegant. But the new one makes sense now that I know that every second counts.

In nine hours (47 minutes and twelve seconds) or so, I’ll be some 30,000 feet above Manhattan, staring back at the shrinking city. I will have withstood another takeoff. I don’t fear the Terrorists. I fear The Leaving.

I have a lot left to do with my remaining years: more races, more records, more work, more love, more loss. I expect to give my watch to my son or daughter someday. And I don’t expect to have to stare my mortality in the face, and count it down with my chronograph. If I am, though, forced to know that I am about to die, I hope I have the grace to say, “Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.”

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