I am not religious. But I do believe in a divine presence. You might, perhaps, call that presence an angel on your shoulder, or even God.
Or you may believe in fate, destiny, karma.
An email from a childhood friend and fellow journalist reminded me of how I spent my 52nd birthday.
But first a long-winded preamble to explain why I'm posting this at all.
I was in the newsroom of The Straits Times that night ten years ago. We were about three hours from putting the newspaper to bed when we suddenly found ourselves riveted to the TV sets by what we were seeing on CNN.
Minutes later, we began ripping up the pages we had put together, even as we continued to stare in disbelief at the images we were seeing on TV.
After we put the final edition to bed at 4.30am on Sept 12, two colleagues remembered the birthday cake they had stored in the fridge and came up to me with the cake and presents, singing Happy Birthday. It was surreal.
For the next few days, I was on the phone a lot trying to get through to friends in New York to find out if they were safe.
It wasn't till weeks later that I was reminded that much earlier in the year I had planned to be in New York to watch the US Open. (Tennis note: Lleyton Hewitt won the men's final; Venus Williams took the women's title).
It would have been the perfect holiday. The men's final was scheduled for Sept 9 and I would spend Sept 11 celebrating my birthday in the city.
We even got as far as planning all the meals for the day. Dinner was to have been at Le Bernardin; lunch at Carnegie's Deli. The day was to have started at my favourite breakfast place in New York - Windows on the World at the top of the north tower of the World Trade Center.
My travel plans went awry long before midyear. So it wasn't like I had a near miss. But at the time, I was really disappointed that my perfect holiday had fallen through. And that's how I came to be in the office and working for nearly 14 hours straight, on Sept 11, 2001.
Now, here are a few thoughts on the people who did not die on that terrible day 10 years ago. This first time a version of this email surfaced in my inbox was in 2002 or so:
As you may remember, the head of a company survived 9/11 because his son started kindergarten.
Another fellow was alive because it was
his turn to bring donuts.
One woman was late because her
alarm clock didn't go off on time.
Another person who was late to work had been stuck on the NJ Turnpike because of an auto accident.
Another man missed his bus.
One spilled food on her clothes and had to take time to change.
One's car wouldn't start.
One couldn't get a taxi.
The one that struck me was the man who put on a new pair of shoes that morning,
took various means to get to work. But before he got there, he developed
a blister on his foot.
He stopped at a drugstore to buy a Band-Aid. That is why he is alive today..
Now when I am:
Stuck in traffic,
Miss an elevator,
Turn back to answer a ringing telephone ...
All the little things that annoy me.
I think to myself,
This is exactly where I am meant to be.
Or if you prefer,
Where God wants me to be
At this very moment..
So, next time your morning seems to be going wrong . . .
You can't seem to find the car keys,
You hit every traffic light,
Don't get mad or frustrated;
It may be just that
God is at work watching over you.
May God continue to bless you
With all those annoying little things
And may you remember their possible purpose.
Pass this on to someone else, if you'd like. There is NO LUCK attached.
If you delete this, it's okay. God's love (or your fate) is not dependent on e-mail!!
(that's the cool part)