Thoughts on Life and Loss

[This article originally appeared on InsideTexas.com on Sept. 11, 2001.]
Almost three years ago, sitting in a cab in a traffic jam while on the way to the Downtown Athletic Club’s Heisman ceremony, I marveled through the car window at the enormity of the twin towers that comprised the centerpiece of the World Trade Center complex, buildings symbolic of the prosperity and strength of the United States just as the Statue of Liberty, standing majestically a short boat ride away off the tip of Lower Manhattan, is symbolic of this land’s opportunity and freedom.
Tuesday morning, from over a thousand miles away, I watched on television the horrifying images of those 110-story skyscrapers first attacked and then brought to the ground by barbaric acts of terrorism. The grounds where those monuments to the American way of life once stood, grounds that I passed by in ’98 and walked on in ’99 (as many Orangebloods did) while in the city for the Texas-Rutgers game, are now littered with rubble, all that remains of the structures and the lives of those in the buildings. A few short hours earlier, those souls whose lives would be extinguished awoke to go about the business of their daily lives. Just another ordinary day.Just over six months ago, Cole Pittman awoke, hopped in his truck, and headed to Austin from Shreveport. Just another ordinary day. Later that February Monday, while stuck in a traffic jam on I-35 in Austin, my cell phone rang. Fellow Longhorn writer and friend Jason Suchomel, on the other end of the line, told me of Cole’s death in a single car accident outside of Austin.Car wrecks, of course, happen every day. Terrorist acts in the United States do not. The result, though, ultimately can be the same. Unexpected death.Saturday at DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium, the University of Texas dedicated its football game vs. North Carolina to Pittman, who suffered an unexpected death. After the Horns’ 44-14 win, the UT team presented the Pittman family with the game ball. Texas head coach Mack Brown said yesterday that after the game, the Pittmans assured him that the response of the university community and the entire state of Texas helped the family cope with its loss.We are all now faced with an incalculable loss. Of life. Of security. Of faith in humanity.The community that we all must rely on to help us cope is not simply the Longhorn or the Texas community, but one much bigger. The American community.Oftentimes, we tend to focus on what divides us, be it geography, collegiate rivalries or any number of other things. Today, though, we aren’t Yankees or Southerners, Longhorns or Sooners. We are Americans.We hurt.We cry.We mourn.And we will heal.But like the Pittmans, we have been given a sharp reminder of the fragility of life. Life, and all of its components, is precious. It may be a cliché, but its lesson is a hard one to learn. And we all at times, I believe, take it for granted. Despite the awe-inspiring view I witnessed back in early December of 1998, I never envisioned the day that those buildings in New York City would not stand. And as often as I watched the Longhorns practice and play over the last several years, never did I envision one of those players being lost at such a young age.Tragedies like today’s and the one that took place on Highway 79 back in February galvanize our thoughts on life and death, but those thoughts are often lost over time. Marc Pittman, though, may set the example in that regard that we should all follow. In his post-game media conference Saturday night, Mack Brown said Cole’s dad never lets Brown get off the phone or walk away from a conversation without saying, “I love you.”Just as the Pittmans’ lives are forever changed since Cole’s car veered off the road, all of our lives are profoundly and forever changed since those planes slammed into the World Trade Center. One thing, though, will never change.Brick and mortar. Flesh and blood. Temporary all.