18 Years Ago
My first Labor Day, after officially being in the workforce post-college, was just another event in a Manhattan lifestyle that would span almost 16 years. It was 1 week and a day before September 11, 2001, and it’s a weekend that still seems like the last bit of innocence before the world changed forever.
We were oblivious to the future, simply living out the last rays of summer. That included swimming in a comfortable but refreshing ocean, exercising sun-kissed debauchery, and cheers-ing over vodka sodas and pink champagne- safely cushioned in Long Island’s ‘The Hamptons’.
We weren’t thinking about other laborers and the struggle of humanity on this Labor Day, but were wrapped up in our own First World drama. With the sun still shining, we poured the last drops of leftover champagne, hoping to delay reality that summer was now over.
The bright sun magnified the fact that we would soon be sitting under fluorescent lights, surrounded by high stress. It would be back to honking taxis and yelling people, and it meant orchestrating new plans to make money for the upcoming fall, the past successes being, well- in the past.
Eventually, we were on a 4-hour journey out of Eden and back into hell: a bus ride with cushy seats that reclined and a steward that passed around muffins, newspapers, and bottles of water (thank you, Hamptons Jitney)… all while sweating out the weekend’s festivities and relentlessly mulling over its drama in the slow roll back to Manhattan.
Little did we know, this frivolous anxiety we were stewing in would be erased just 1 week later. We would soon be focused on surviving and searching for coworkers, friends, and fellow humans, our eyes and ears desperate for news and information- answers to 9/11. The previous worries would slink into the background like a fading movie: the boy from Saturday night who didn’t call, the insult that came out of my mouth after a 3rd drink on Sunday, or the TPS reports that were never filed at work. Soon, our sole purpose would go from fretting about ourselves to praying over the state of the world. Life would eventually go on, the memory of that Labor Day erased, but with the impact of 9/11 forever branded on our souls.
This Labor Day, 18 years later, I’m back on Bonanza Road, visiting my parents’ ranch. Instead of boozing away the morning in the Hamptons, I spent it driving into the mountains with my 84-year-old dad, thankful we can still go mushroom hunting like we used to in my childhood. The National Forest roads are filled with ruts and giant rocks, vertical climbs and steep downhill drops. He’s behind the wheel, focusing on the treacherous road ahead as we narrowly clear trees that are downed from lightening but that hover over the road: “Widow Makers” my brother John in the passenger seat helpfully points out. I continue to bounce like popcorn in the back seat. We stop to inspect patches of wild strawberries and purple wildflowers and stare in awe at the pointy mountain peaks surrounding us.
Instead of an ocean to dip into, at the ranch, we have a cold but refreshing creek. And instead of boarding a bus back to New York City, hungover and filled with anxiety, I sit down to dinner with my close-knit family and a neighbor: sober, content and happy. Although impossible to forecast an event like 9/11, I’m no longer filled with anxiety about a looming reality- I embrace it with no need to escape. The ambition is still there, but it’s refocused on life experiences and learning instead of accumulating wealth and possessions, getting a raise or promotion, or hearing back from some guy. The anxiety I used to dwell on during holidays or Sundays before work have been replaced with hope and excitement for a new adventure, for interesting stories to capture and share.
Labor Day marks the end of summer, or the begging of fall. It’s a change of season and mindset, but most of all, it’s a time to regroup and be appreciative for what we have- like an 84-year-old dad who still climbs gamely over barbed wire fencing or calmly shifts into 4WD Low before driving (safely, thank goodness) down a sheer and uneven road at 13,000ft. It’s a time to be grateful, but also to accept inevitable change. The holiday is in the same spot it’s always been (the first Monday of September), but blissfully, I’m in a different place. This year, as a dedicated writer, traveler and photographer, I don’t rotate between escaping life or stewing in its menial drama. Instead, I choose to spend my time capturing the world’s beauty, for myself and others.