September 11th – Make it Matter

It’s hard to believe a dozen years have passed since a series of four coordinated terrorists attacks scarred this country’s landscape and took the lives of nearly 3,000 people.

Twelve years ago I was employed as a flight attendant for U.S. Airways.  September 11, 2001, was supposed to be the final day of a four-day trip for our crew.  We spent the night of September 10th in Boston and had an early morning flight that departed Boston’s Logan Airport, the same airport from which American Airlines Flight 11 departed at 7:59 a.m. en route to Los Angeles.  (Forty-seven minutes later, at 8:46 a.m., the hijackers flew Flight 11 into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.)

Our flight departed Logan on time and without incident.  After a quick, scheduled stop at Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (“BWI”), our flight continued on to Ft. Myers, Florida. Shortly after flying over our nation’s capital, I was summoned to the rear of the aircraft by our crew’s lead flight attendant.  He instructed me to closely observe our passengers as he was told we could potentially have one or more hijackers onboard our aircraft.  Our flight was immediately diverted to an aircraft maintenance hanger in Lake City, Florida, pop. 12,000+/-.  It was utter chaos at the aircraft hanger.  No one knew what was going on or exactly what had transpired.  Additionally, no one was able to make or receive telephone calls as all circuits were busy.  It was terrifying.  When cellphone service finally resumed, my voicemail was at capacity with messages from family and friends who had no idea where I was and had little more information than we did.

Our passengers were shuttled by bus (then taxi, after the bus broke down) to their final destination.  Our crew remained in Lake City for three days, as all flights were grounded.  I was glued to the television, watching the images over and over again.  I didn’t sleep and couldn’t stop crying.  I literally became physically ill.

I often wonder if I would have been so profoundly affected had I not worked in the airline industry at the time of the attacks.  I also wonder if I would’ve taken it as personally as I did if I hadn’t flown out of Logan early that same morning.  I struggled with “survivor guilt” for a long time, not necessarily because it was a close call.  Instead, I fixated on the possibility that I may have seen passengers of American Airlines Flight 11 in passing.  Time and again I wondered if I had in fact crossed paths with someone on that fateful morning.  Did I hold a door for someone?  Did I let someone cut in front of me in a line?  Did I make small talk with someone or compliment someone?  Was I kind?  Was I helpful?  Did I make a difference in someone’s life?

Whether we voice it or not, everyone needs to be acknowledged.  We need a smile, a kind word, or a gentle touch.  We all need to know we’re appreciated—not for our accomplishments, but simply because we’re here.  We’re this side of heaven and not the other.  That’s why we should be valued.   Plain and simple.

Please, as you step outside tomorrow—September 11, 2013, and every singe day thereafter, please let the folks who cross your path know that you’re glad to see them—if only in passing.  You might not get a second chance.

May your day be filled with love, peace and light.

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