Today, like most people, I think about where I was eleven years ago. I’d had my job as a flight attendant for only a handful of months, and in a strange scheduling twist, I was home in Seattle when I had been scheduled to be out flying. When I heard the news, I felt an immediate kinship with the crews working on the planes for obvious reasons….then I considered the passengers, the workers in the buildings, the people on the ground, and all the people connected to all of those people. The scope of tragedy was simply too large for me to wrap my head around, the television brought unimaginable sights and sounds…..I was struck completely powerless, overwhelmed from trying to wrap my head around it all. I found solace in concentrating my thoughts on just one man.
The first time I visited New York was in the winter of 1995. I headed out with my girl Monica who had once lived there and would prove to be a most excellent tour guide. She told me if I took my Fodor’s guide out in public like a dumb ass tourist that she would throw me in front of the F train, which certainly set me straight in a hurry. I’d always heard the rumors that New Yorkers were brusk and harried….when I planned the trip some of my Seattleite friends echoed those sentiments, warning me that I would find the city unpalatable, especially in the dead of winter. Excited to make the trip regardless, I tried to keep an open mind.
Monica and I headed to the World Trade Center on our first morning there. Wanting to see the city from up high, we stopped an older guy working security and inquired if there was an option to look outside from the top. He explained that going to the roof was no longer a possibility since “the devastation”, his euphemism for the truck bombing that occured two years before. Even in discussing a fairly recent somber event, he never lost his bright smile. He told us about all the other buildings where we could get a decent view of the city and made some other suggestions that were his personal favorite places to see. He was patient and kind, and immediately I felt a sense of warmth on a cold winter day in New York. We thanked him for his time and headed off to the Empire State Building.
When I heard the news about the attacks eleven years ago, I thought about that man. I wondered if he still worked there, if he was working there that day, perhaps he had retired or had taken a Tuesday off to spend with his family. I had no idea, obviously, but it gave me comfort to think about him and how his friendliness had colored how I felt about an entire city full of people. I think of him every year on this day when my sadness threatens to get the best of me.
Sometimes I struggle with my identity as a flight attendant. I’ve often said it’s just what I DO, it’s not who I AM. I’ve resisted writing stories about the airplane for this very reason. But after eleven plus years of flying, it’s undeniably a big part of who I am. I’ve written about two encounters that happened at work; one was about a soldier coming home from Iraq that shared with me that he had been discharged with post traumatic stress disorder, another about a co-worker that I had written off as a brainless asshole until I found out that the load she was carrying at home was unimaginably heavy. When I’ve shared these tales with other people, they’ve often reacted that the stories reminded them that there is a person with feelings behind the flight attendant facade, behind the wings and the uniform and the service industry smile. The world is such that we all tune out on all the nameless, faceless people sometimes….I know I am often so far up my own ass it’s ridiculous, so focused on my own petty bullshit, riding a pendulum swinging back and forth between fearless bluster and self condemnation. But I keep myself grounded by taking in other people’s stories, sharing snapshots of our connections to one another…..in my case, I often gravitate to reflecting about people who have come in and out of my life in a flash, like that man in New York. Taking a few minutes to recognize someone else’s humanity can change your own…..just listening is a powerful act of love. Pondering that everyone I come in contact with, even that jerk in 14C who will not turn off his phone until he is damn good and ready, is an individual with a story, even if I never get to hear it.
Honoring those we lost eleven years ago can be as simple as a small act of compassion for another. You never know who’ll be thinking about it every year, seventeen years later. Also taking a moment to really consider your dreams…..if there was ever a day to let it soak in that now is all we have, let it be today. Think about what you can do with your one wild and precious life in tribute to those who were taken from us too soon.