September 11, 2001 and the small silver linings.

It was, like today, one of those early fall days that’s so beautiful you almost can’t believe it’s real.

Rob and I had had Poppy’s for just over 7 years on that day. I had been in the valley getting my car serviced when I heard, and got back just after we opened. I stopped at home and grabbed a tiny old black and white TV that we set up in the lobby. The rabbit-ears reception was unclear and fuzzy, but it matched our mood, and our slow comprehension, perfectly.

We huddled around it as the second tower succumbed.

The patio filled up with subdued tourists, and the server out there sweetly cared for them in spite of the fact that her favorite uncle worked in those towers. (She didn’t hear his fate for days, and he was ok.)

Slowly, stunned locals started wandering in, joining our lobby huddle. We sat a couple after they hugged the breath out of each of us, and we learned their names. We brought in another couple, who recognized the first. They sat together, meeting for the first time. As the day went on, that happened over and over again. Diners saw people they had seen somewhere and invited them to join. People came in small groups and were absorbed into widening circles. Humanity warmly embraced itself.

That was the day we realized what community meant. People wanted somewhere communal to go, and some of them came to us. We learned that a restaurant in a small town doesn’t just serve food.

There is a certain thought process as a young entrepreneur that you may have succeeded on your own, that you’ve actually earned what you have, that you are worthy somehow of this lucky break you’ve enjoyed. That day we understood we hadn’t done any of it alone, that without family and community, without THIS community, we wouldn’t have made it at all. It made us better, more thoughtful citizens.

I think, if we look past the hate and partisanship the news insists on showing us, we will find a lot of stories like ours. People who never smelled the smoke, felt the heat, faced down the sheer horror, lost nothing tangible, but were still moved to some small, fundamental change. Moved to embrace their neighbors. There must be millions of small silver linings.

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