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How Will They Observe the Other Events of Sept. 11?

Some change celebration dates; others accept sadness as part of birthday or anniversary

September 04, 2002|BETTIJANE LEVINE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

On the morning of Sept. 11 last year, her 19th wedding anniversary, Chris Spencer arose in San Diego, kissed her husband, made breakfast for their four children and turned on the news. At first she thought she'd tuned in to a movie by mistake. When all channels showed the same thing, she understood.

She knew right then that there could be no celebration that night. And not on that date ever again.

"What happened on 9/11 was too horrible. We didn't want that date as our anniversary anymore," she says. "We decided to change it by marrying each other again. We'd send the same invitations to the same people but arrange it for a different date."

Of course, there have been infamous days throughout history. The day the Titanic sank, the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. assassinations, to name a few. Each have been strangely horrible and wonderful for people whose happiest occasions occurred on those dates. The question for them: Is it wise--or even possible--to rewrite personal history in order to snub fate?

In this age when wrinkles can be erased, hair can be replaced and anxiety removed with a pill, what could be wrong with simply revising the anniversary of a joyous occasion? Especially if the original date, such as Sept. 11, has become shorthand for tragedy. Many find nothing wrong with that at all.

Others might argue that reality rules, that imperfection is inherent in every person, thing and plan--that when it pops up to mar the physical or spiritual it must be embraced and acknowledged. What is, is. There is no way to un-write history.

The Spencers say they discussed such things in the months after Sept. 11. "As time passed, we just kept thinking that our 20th anniversary was coming up, that it would be such a joyous landmark for our family. Yet we were both so deeply saddened and affected by what happened at the twin towers that we knew it would diminish the joy of any celebration," Spencer says.

Spencer, 46, describes herself as "a romantic and a CPA." She works from an office at home so she can keep an eye on the children, an 11-year-old, a 7-year-old and 2-year-old twins. Her husband, Dan, 50, is a sales executive. The decision to renew their vows on a different date was not superficial or frivolous, Chris says. It was a reflection of how deeply committed they are to each other, and how sincerely sorrowful they are about the tragedy. They felt it would be impossible for them to express both those emotions on a single day. And, unlike a birthday, it was an event whose date could be changed--just by doing it over.

They consulted their pastor, Kathleen Richter, of Tierrasanta Lutheran church in San Diego. "She thought it was a wonderful idea," Spencer says.

She found the names of the 99 original wedding guests and reprinted an original invitation, which included Shakespeare's Sonnet 116 in its entirety.

It begins: "Let us not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments/Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds

The Spencers' big problem was finding a time when all the family and friends could attend. "We tried four successive dates; none worked until we hit on Aug. 10," one month and one day earlier than their ceremony 20 years before.

The replay took place on a Saturday, and "it was the most wonderful event," Spencer recalls in a phone conversation. "When we first said our vows years ago, we sailed through them beautifully. This time, all the emotion that came from 20 years of being together, from having our four children there with us, from the experience of Sept. 11, and from seeing our relatives gathered after so many years--it turned out to be much more emotional than the first time. We both stumbled through our words. We both started to laugh. We acted like newlyweds."

And with a second wedding comes, of course, a second honeymoon. Their four days at Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Mexico, was so memorable that Spencer couldn't find the right descriptive words: "Wonderful, tremendous .... " Her voice trailed off in awe.

The day after their return, Dan's brother, Jeffrey, who was 45 and had never been sick, died suddenly and unexpectedly of heart failure. "We went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows," Dan says. He left a wife, and two children, ages 10 and 2.

Now, just a few weeks later, Chris says she and her husband realize they have another reason to feel "happy and thankful" they renewed their vows when they did. Had they waited for their original anniversary date, Dan's brother would not have been with them. "At least he saw the whole family together one more time, and they got to see him. We all had such a happy time before this awful thing."

Among the Spencers' good friends is a Lemon Grove couple who also married Sept. 11, one year after they did, in 1983.

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