Like many Americans, I was at work the morning of 9/11. My job was in human resources at a newspaper, a unique place to be in a national crisis. I remember that day with the sharp, rare clarity it possessed. The weather was gorgeous, a slight chill in the air, a deep blue, crystal clear sky. A day that makes you thankful to be alive. Little did I know…
With few exceptions, newspapers get busier as the day progresses. Things are quiet in the early morning hours, the presses cooling down from night runs, copy editors just into REM sleep from late night deadlines and newspaper carriers heading to bed or to their day jobs having completed deliveries. So it was primarily support staff on duty at 8:46 AM when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the World Trade Center’s North Tower. Seventeen minutes later United Airlines Flight 175 hit the South Tower; 34 minutes later American Airlines Flight 77 flew into the Pentagon. By 10:03 AM when United Airlines Flight 93 crashed near Shanksville, PA there was no doubt the world had tilted to change forever.
Newspapers are always at the ready to chase a story. When the plane hit the second tower my phones began ringing. My mind flashed back to the 1993 disaster in Waco, Texas a siege by the FBI on the Branch Davidian compound. That culminated in a fire that killed 76, including 20 children, 2 pregnant women and sect leader, David Koresh. I had stunned employees weeping in front of television sets throughout the building. Despite popular opinion, those in media have no immunity to emotion. “Painful as it may be, a significant emotional event can be the catalyst for choosing a direction that serves us – and those around us – more effectively. Look for the learning,” Louisa May Alcott.
So, how best to respond to this?
The human resource in me pressed ahead, thinking about support, protection, resources. Did we have or know employees in these areas we could assist? The mother in me kicked in too. Where are the boys? What will be the schools’ response? Can they get home? The call I remember most came from my oldest son who was in his high school AP English class at the time. I was surprised by his question.
The harsh, unfathomable truth was that we were witnessing reality turn into one of the most profound tragedies in history. Absent information, all we could know and understand was what we saw and felt. Our corporate motto was “Shed light and the people will find their own way.” The world was clothed in darkness. A lot of people were seeking light that day and in the days that followed.
Another dimension of my life surfaced to add another layer to the day. I had a lunch meeting scheduled in a city 30-miles away lending human resource input to regional churches. With my publisher’s permission, I was on a Sexual Misconduct Committee charged with finalizing harassment policies and procedures mandated by insurance companies before church insurance policies could be renewed. The work had been frustrating and more challenging than I anticipated. The day’s meeting held a critical deadline.
With little to do until more news developed, I headed up the interstate for the meeting. I noticed little traffic, no cars at the malls and, lo and behold, no one at the presbytery offices. No one thought to call me, the lone ‘lay’ person and out-of-towner. Everything had closed. The day, still brilliantly gorgeous, had been cancelled everywhere, except at the newspaper. I returned to where I should have stayed in the first place.
“The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us, and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us, and we only know them when they are gone,” (George Eliot). And that is where we Americans turned on 9/11 – to where we should have been. Waking up to honor what is truly important, what priorities should be, and the importance of life’s moments of connection like phone calls from co-workers and children. Patriotism and American pride soared. Within weeks you could not purchase an American flag anywhere. They were attached, hanging, displayed and flying everywhere and on everything from cars to skyscrapers.
Of the many lessons born of the 9/11 tragedy, the one most important calls us to live in the present and be thankful for so much we take for granted, including those who serve us as first responders. More than 90 countries lost citizens resulting in 2,996 deaths, including the 19 hijackers and 2,977 victims…..246 on the four planes (from which there were no survivors), 2,606 in New York City in the towers and on the ground, and 125 at the Pentagon. An estimated 3,051 children lost parents.
“It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space,” (Ed Abbey).
The victims of 9/11 and their loved ones had their lives, their dreams and relationships shattered. They no longer have the chance or the choice. But we do. Honor them and those you love by truly living every day of your life.
~From the desk of Becky Morlok~Share with a Friend or Colleague