Here we are some 21 years later and for those of you who were alive then and old enough to remember, images of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on our nation are, to say the least, forever burnished in our memories; a moment in time that forever impacted the world.
Although thousands of lives were lost at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania, the often-untold stories are those that survived that day. Which takes me to a recent church service.
To make a point during his sermon, the pastor rattled off reasons why some escaped with their lives during the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center that snuffed out the lives of 2750 others. “Divine delays” is how he rationalized what saved them that awful morning.
Now there’s a good chance that as you read down his list of “delays,” your inhales will be no different from those by others in the congregation that Sunday morning. Here’s his list, perhaps the most startling nine lines you’ll read in this entire narrative:
- A person missed his taxi
- A woman went into labor and delivered a baby
- A person got caught in a traffic jam
- A person’s alarm clock was set at the wrong time
- A person missed his bus
- A person returned home to make a phone call
- A person spilled food on her clothes and returned home for a change
- A person was late because he attended his son’s first day at the kindergarten
- A person walked to work in new shoes, developed a blister on his foot and stopped at a pharmacy to buy band aides
A short time later the towers collapsed into a nightmarish heap of concrete, steel, shattered glass, broken human bodies and acrid smoke that permeated much of that part of the city.
When he finished reading that list, I had an immediate recollection of an American Airlines flight attendant I knew in Boston who missed that ill-fated fight 93 that plowed in one of the towers because she took a sick day.
But let’s return to more recent history, specifically a frightening – “near miss” – moment in my life in year 2017.
You may recall that five years ago, on August 12, 2017, hundreds of far-right extremists descended on Charlottesville, Virginia to protest the planned removal of the Robert E. Lee statue from the city’s center and clashed with police and counter protesters. The “Unite the Right” protest, as it was called, was the largest and most violent public assembly of white supremacists in decades. Among the scores of those injured, young Heather Heyer, a paralegal, was mowed down and killed by one of the extremists.
You see, I arrived at the Charlottesville airport that afternoon, headed south on highway 29 and exited onto interstate 64 on my way to my hometown. Now had I headed to downtown Charlottesville for a bite at my favorite soul food restaurant, which I sometimes did on previous trips, I would have run smack into the violence happening just a few miles away. Fortunately, I had thrown down on a full course breakfast in Georgia before leaving for the airport. (The thought of “had I been hungry” haunts me to this day).
I thought about that Charlottesville experience after listening to the pastor’s list of “near misses.” Contextualizing his list, had I driven to downtown Charlottesville, the consequences could have been, to say the least, dire.
So was it really my “destiny” or my “fate” at play that day in Charlottesville? I grappled with those concepts and the difference between the two. Here’s what I learned after some quick research:
Destiny is derived from the Latin word “Destinare.” It refers to the idea that there are predetermined events in our lives, but our destiny is that we have the power to shape and change. Fate, on the other hand, comes from the Latin word “Fatum” which means, “That which has been spoken.” Fate suggests that from the moment we are born, we have a path that we were bound to follow and that our accomplishments and our highs and lows are all part of the natural order in our universe.
So, if you are still reeling from reading the pastor’s list shared at the outset, let me add more fuel to the proverbial fire, the consequences of possible “near misses” in your life:
- You missed a date with someone you would have regretted having a relationship with later.
- You took a pass on an investment “opportunity” that you later learned that you would have lost lots of money on.
- Because of a schedule conflict, you missed a large gathering that turned out to be the source of a large COVID spreader.
- You were well within the speed limit and, unlike others, did not get pulled over and ticketed for speeding.
- You found out that a restaurant you’d dinned at a while ago received recent complaints from customers who had been food poisoned.
In the end I leave you this; be thankful “for didn’t happen!”
© Terry Howard is an award-winning writer and storyteller. He is a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The American Diversity Report, The Douglas County Sentinel, Blackmarket.com, co-founder of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers’ guild, recipient of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Award, and third place winner of the 2022 Georgia Press Award.