I still remember December 21, 1988, with amazing clarity. Dad had picked me up from college and we'd had a nice chat on the drive home. It was a cold, crisp day, so we were surprised to see Mom standing in the driveway without her coat when we pulled up. As we got closer, we realized she was sobbing. A month earlier, she'd had a mastectomy, and she was in the beginning of many rounds of chemotherapy for her breast cancer, so I assumed she'd gotten horrible news about a biopsy or something. I raced to her to hug her, and through her sobs, all she could utter was, "Miriam's plane went down."
Miriam was a friend of mine who had just finished a semester in London under the auspices of Syracuse University. I'd been out to visit her for a week over Thanksgiving, and we'd had an awesome time touring museums, seeing shows and exploring the city together. I hadn't realized she was flying home that day, and I was surprised to find out Mom knew not only her flying schedule but the plane she was on.
We went inside and turned on CNN—which was in its infancy—to watch the first grainy images of the wreckage of Pan Am flight 103, which had just hours earlier come crashing down in fiery pieces over Lockerbie, Scotland. And over the next few weeks and months as the evidence pointing to a terrorist bomb emerged in the media, I numbly started experiencing the bizarre dichotomy of a personal tragedy playing itself out on the world stage.
In the years since, I've befriended Miriam's parents and friends, and I've written many pieces about my perspective on the bombing that were published in newspapers and scholarly journals and read on NPR. And I've found myself at times emotionally hardened against horrible tragedies and at other times bursting into tears over Kodak commercials.
It continues to be an emotional ride, but I've gradually stopped treating the anniversary of Miriam's murder with solemn reverence. In fact, I spent six hours today unpacking and organizing my new office in our cool new downtown building. Then I spent the evening folding, stuffing and stamping 200 Christmas letters. And for the first time since the bombing, I didn't call or email Miriam's family on the anniversary. I didn't even watch the news for any special 15-years-ago-today coverage.
Am I forgetting her? Am I "moving on"? Am I growing callous? There still isn't a week that goes by where I don't think about her repeatedly, so I'm pretty sure I'm not letting her memory fade -- but I've grown comfortable enough with the loss that I'm clearly not overcome by it every year on the winter solstice. And I guess I'm OK with that.