Twelve years ago life in America changed forever when the terrorist attacks killed nearly 2,977 victims. As a New Yorker, the events and aftermath of September 11, 2001 still affect me in a deeply personal way. I knew three people who died on that day. I knew all three in varying degrees. One of the lost was a friend of mine, Michelle, who could not flee when one of the hijacked planes hit the building only a few floors below her office. Michelle's life had the greatest impact on me because of the legacy she left behind.
Michelle left this world at the age of 28. I attended her last birthday celebration in December 2000. I made sure to attend so I could enjoy some good company and some karaoke singing. In those moments of joy, there was no way any of us could possibly know this would be Michelle's last birthday.
When I received the news that she was missing, I dropped the phone on the kitchen floor. I'm still not sure what I said or did after that. Other friends were posting photos of her throughout Lower Manhattan and checking hospitals. It became clear that she was not coming home. Several days later on a beautiful Sunday afternoon I sat on the stairs to her home and cried.
Weeks later at her memorial service, a young woman from the New York Culinary Institute spoke about Michelle's big dream. Michelle wanted to attend the Institute. She was very passionate about using her creativity in the kitchen. Michelle decided not to attend the fall 2001 semester at the Institute because of the high cost of tuition so she chose to remain at her job. The young woman expressed to hundreds of attendees that maybe Michelle would not have died on 9-11 if she had more financial assistance to attend the school and leave her job.
My friend put her dream on hold because of financial concerns hoping that time and the right circumstances would eventually work in her favor. Her life and untimely departure from this world left an indelible impression on me to pursue my aspirations. When I decided to take a break from practicing law to pursue writing, I thought about Michelle often. Sometimes I wonder what she could have accomplished if she lived. But the greatest thing I learned from her is to embrace the desires of my heart. She left a lesson for all of us that our hopes and dreams could have the power to save us while transforming our lives.
At one time or another, all of us have let apprehension and fear govern how we conduct our lives. Adulthood dictates that we are not supposed to handle our lives nonchalantly. We may hear from friends, family, and colleagues that a concrete, stable job is always better than chasing a dream as if we were a carefree teenager. Bills have to be paid. People need food, clothing, and shelter. None of these things are free.
Even dreams come with a price tag. Unfortunately, the most costly price tag comes from unfulfilled dreams.Having faith in a power higher than ourselves can give us the power to release fear so we can claim the gift of fulfilling our dreams -- our purpose. The true gift of having dreams is that we have the choice of working for the dream or letting the dream work for us. The former can cause us to lose focus on our passion because it's just another job. The latter can liberate us because the passion of living the dream permeates all aspects of our life.
I shed several tears and looked at her last birthday invitation as I have done for the past twelve years on 9-11 for a friend who is gone. But I will spend the rest of my days thankful that her brief time on earth taught me an everlasting lesson: always remember to live my dreams. To honor my friend, I'll never forget.