By Naomi Friedman, Opinion Editor

It is in the wake of such tragic and shocking occurrences that the concept of Life partakes another meaning. It is when we must face the facts, once we get slapped in the face that our thoughts finally reorder themselves. The fear, the enigma of death, a question that through hard work and dedication we were finally able to suppress, suddenly comes back to the surface and to every headline.

And it is then that the shock becomes real. Are we so compassionate that we mourn the death of others? Or are we honest enough to admit that it is of our own future that we worry about? We finally realize how much life really does hang only by a thread. We realize that we master neither the day nor the hour when that thread will give way.

2,977 is the official number of those whose lives were lost that day. 2,977 human beings whose thread gave way without warning. What if it had been me? What if it had been a loved one?

The separation and the emptiness, which may come with death, haunted the United States and with them the whole world. It felt as if all of a sudden the invincible had been defeated; as if the heroes had fallen; as if the myth of the American Superpower had, in the course of a few hours, shattered.

I was six years old and was living in Paris, France, when the towers fell. It is said that my mother was on a business trip to Sweden that week, but I do not remember the day of September 11, 2001, as terrible as it was. However, I will never forget the thick glossy book in memory of this event in a language I didn’t know how to read yet that remained on my American grandmother’s coffee table for months. At every visit, I would spend hours by that table observing history in photographs, fascinated. The sight of the flames and the black dots of men in the open air, falling, haunted me and made me ponder about my own actions if I had been in their situation.

I remember always asking my grandmother to tell me the story behind these images. And in spite of my young age, all seemed so real and tangible. I wondered what it was like to know you were about to die. I wondered if I would miss my family. And many times I woke up in the middle of the night with tears in my eyes because in my dreams my mother had died, my father disappeared, and my siblings and I were going to be sent off to foreign homes, and I hadn’t yet said Je t’aime to those I would never see again.

Je t’aime. Do you know it? Do you say it? Do you write it? If 76 and 81 are the ages an average U.S. citizen, men and women respectively, is expected to live, according to the Social Security website, how many of those 2,977 individuals reached that statistic? Few had the chance to say a last goodbye when too many just left without a word.

Among the millions of those who passed customs in the airport and boarded thousands of planes on that Tuesday, how many had thought about the possible end of their sojourn in the next hours? How many of them left their homes forgiving their past? Had they told a last joke to their daughter? Had they told their son how proud they were? Had they expressed their feelings explicitly enough to their spouse? What had been their last argument like? Did they realize that they would never land alive? 

Traveling – by plane, by train or by car – has become such common activity. But life, life that begins as a seed, is nothing but common. Life is unique, short, and hangs only by a thread – so may every instant be lived as the last one; may each moment be valuable; may each second count. Disasters will keep accumulating, but maybe we can allow ourselves to see hope in these tragedies and perceive all of the 9/11s of the worldas reminders of what we all – Americans, Europeans, Arabs, Asians, Africans, Latinos – know to be true: life is a fragile, fragile gift.