Healing the wounds of 9-11

The two-year anniversary of Sept. 11 happens to roughly coincide with my two-year anniversary of being in Durango. My boyfriend, Bryan, and I moved here in August of 2001 after a crazy year in Taiwan and the Philippines. We’d spent a lot of nights on the Internet in Taiwan, searching for the perfect place in America for us to live, and came across Durango. After a quick visit once we were back in the States, we decided to give it a go.

Durango seemed like the land of opportunity (we were new in town, OK?). I was all set to launch my career as a freelance travel writer, and Bryan was starting a web design company. “The future’s so bright, we gotta wear shades,” he kept telling me.

Then he woke me up one morning with a strange look on his face. “Airplanes flew into the World Trade Center towers,” he said. Still groggy, I followed him to the computer to read the news on the Internet. It seemed incomprehensible, and I called my parents to see if they’d heard the news and what they made of it. My dad answered, and I asked if they were watching the news. He started sobbing. “We think the Angells were on that plane!” he choked out. I dropped to the floor and started sobbing, too. He told me he needed to keep the phone line clear for the airline people and would call me when he knew more.

Lynn and Dave Angell were close family friends. I’d known Lynn since third grade, when I was a nerdy bookworm and she was the school librarian who gave me all kinds of great books. She and my mom grew closer as I grew up and formed a group of women who would go on ski trips together. Dave and my dad were friends as well as colleagues, television comedy writers trying to rise above the fray in Hollywood. Every time the four of them would get together, I’d always hear “there were a lot of laughs.”

So of course it was shocking later in the day when American Airlines confirmed that Lynn and Dave were on American Airlines Flight #11, the first airplane to crash into the World Trade Center. I felt sick. We didn’t have a TV, so we knocked on our neighbor’s door and sat with her to watch the video footage we’ve all seen too many times of the second airplane slamming into the second tower. I couldn’t help imagining what Lynn and Dave were going through, something I couldn’t stop doing for some time. I read that some of the passengers on their plane had been stabbed.

In the days and weeks that followed, I was very depressed. The drive to market myself as a travel writer screeched to a halt since I could barely get out of bed, which didn’t happen until evening some days. We were new in town and didn’t have friends yet. I felt detached and alone.

One of the only things that got me out of the house was volunteering at a local nonprofit. It was the only time I felt sane – the world was screwed up, but at least I was doing something to make a tiny part of it a little bit better.

Sept. 11 was on everyone’s lips, and I found myself constantly breaking down and crying in front of fellow volunteers, people I’d just met. But they didn’t get uncomfortable. Instead, they’d put a hand on my arm, let me blubber and sometimes even cry with me.

I started getting involved in other community groups and gatherings, and everyone treated me with the same compassion and concern. It got easier to get out of bed, and I didn’t spontaneously cry as often. Bryan and I started hiking and camping again to try to keep healing, and I felt waves of comfort wash over me on the top of Handies Peak, or on the banks of the Piedra River.

It’s been two years now, and I feel incredibly bonded to Durango. The community and the environment carried me through one of the worst experiences of my life. And I continue to draw strength and happiness from our new home.

Last weekend is a perfect example. Bryan and I went to Red Rocks to see the String Cheese Incident on Saturday night. As the show started, guitarist Michael Kang told the audience that with the anniversary of Sept. 11 looming, we’d all be hearing a lot about fear, but that instead we should focus on “concentrated bursts of joy,” which he hoped the band would provide that night. And as I danced with Bryan and other new Durango friends, the wisdom of his words moved me. Life is short – sometimes shorter than we think – and we should do everything in our power to celebrate it. That’s how Lynn and Dave Angell lived their lives, and that’s how I intend to keep living mine – and I’m grateful to be able to do it in a place as special as Durango.

-Jen Reeder



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