Until 10 years ago I had trouble remembering my college roommate’s birthday. Now I’ll never forget it: 9/11.
That bright, sunny September morning found my almost 3-year-old daughter, Whitney, and me on a road trip, returning to Minnesota from my home state of Kentucky. I had been to Hopkinsville on rather sad business – to handle the estate sale of my Aunt Delma, who had died in June. I had no inkling how absolutely devastating the events of the day would be.
In the three years that I had been making regular trips back home to Kentucky to check on my ailing aunt I had always flown, never wanting to spend too much time getting there and back. This time I had decided to drive, thinking there might be some personal items I’d want to bring back with me. That was a pivotal decision. Soon the airspace would be closed and travelers stranded for several days.
Whitney and I were in a great mood, giggling and talking as we walked hand-in-hand from our Illinois hotel room shortly before 8 a.m. Central Time, heading for the lobby and breakfast. When we arrived in the dining room there was dead silence except for the TV set that claimed everyone’s attention. No one uttered a sound.
I asked, “What’s going on?”
“There’s been a hijacking,” a man said.
“We haven’t had one of those in a while,” I said, flippantly.
“Yeah, but these hijackers flew the plane into the North Tower of the World Trade center,” he replied.
My jaw dropped and I looked up at the screen, horrified to see the second hijacked plane, United Airlines Flight 75, ram into the South Tower, exploding into a fireball of destruction. Needless to say, I had no appetite for breakfast, but I fed my oblivious toddler, eyes fixed on the TV. I felt heartsick and nauseated, but I had hundreds of miles to drive before this day ended.
Ever the newshound, the minute I got in the car I tuned the radio to a news station. Things just kept getting worse. At 8:39 CT a third hijacked plane, American Airlines Flight 77, hit the Pentagon, followed 20 minutes later by the collapse of the World Trade Center South Tower. The North Tower would also collapse about an hour later. By now I, along with most Americans, was not just shocked and saddened, I was mad. How dare anyone have so little regard for human life? Americans were starting to pull together.
When we stopped for gas, strangers were chatting like neighbors, sharing the latest on what we now knew to be terrorist attacks. As we drove along through America’s heartland, motorists who spotted a car with New York plates would honk and wave in support.
Minutes after the collapse of the first tower, a fourth hijacked plane went down, this one United Airlines Flight 93. But this one missed its target, believed to be the White House or other landmark in our nation’s capital, thanks to the heroism of its passengers.Like other Americans, they knew what had happened to the other planes from information gleaned during furtive phone calls to loved ones after their own hijacking. These brave men and women tried to wrest control from the hijackers, realizing they would probably not survive the attempt. They were unable to save themselves, but through their efforts, Flight 93 crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pa., harming no one but those aboard.
While I mourned their deaths, I celebrated their American spirit, reminiscent of the soldier who makes the ultimate sacrifice. My heart swelled with pride. And I wasn’t alone. Another stop for gas and strangers again engaged one another in conversation. “Did you hear about the passengers on that last plane?”
Well, here we are, 10 years later and we can only hope that we recapture the positive and collegial feelings of 9/11. No one was seeing race that day. The only colors that mattered were red, white and blue. We are one. We are all in this together. We are a community, from sea to shining sea.