Silence has strength. Often times silence is more powerful than words. Today I have decided not to remain silent.
That’s Terry Thames, an American Airlines pilot, hanging out of the cockpit window. This is the first American Airlines flight returning to Washington Dulles after the skies were reopened four days after 9/11. The photo was featured in the book, Reclaiming the Sky, by Tom Murphy.
I can’t stop staring at the photo and thinking about how great it must have felt to have hung that American flag across that airplane when it finally came home. I love that photo. Maybe because it’s one of the few taken at that time depicting strength, not sorrow. Which is exactly what many of my colleagues, as well as our passengers, radiated when they walked on board the airplanes and soldiered on days after our world completely changed.
Last year on this very day I wrote a post, 9/11 – That day, about what had happened to me eight years ago and how it still affects my colleagues and I today. The best part about the post were the readers comments, all so full of hope and strength. I didn’t want to write another 9/11 post. Really, I didn’t. What more could I say? But then how could I not? I’m a flight attendant. If I don’t write about it, who will?
A few days ago I logged into Twitter and typed, “We will never forget,” and then I pressed send. The message went to @planesofthought, an organization that collects thoughts and turns them into paper airplanes that will cover New York City’s skyline to remember the lives lost on 9/11.
After that I wrote, “I’m looking for interesting 9/11 stories. How it may have changed your life in a positive way.”
No one answered back. Not one person. The silence was deafening.
I tried again on Facebook and this time I got a response – one response. “Positive? That’s a hard one. I guess how New Yorkers found some closeness. American pride came back. Sadly, it’s slipping away again,” wrote Lynne, a fellow flight attendant and friend.
While I couldn’t agree more, I worried that I may not have gotten my message across the way I had intended, so I added, “I’m looking for stories about people who started doing things they always wanted to do, but never did, before 9/11.”
Again, no response. Complete silence
I prayed my question did not offend and decided, once again, not to write this post.
While we’re constantly reminded of 9/11 every single time we go to the airport, take off our shoes,and throw out our bottled water before passing through security, grumbling about it as we do so, it does seem, at times, as if it never happened, that day, eight years ago. But I don’t think we’ve forgotten. In fact, I know we haven’t because I truly believe silence has meaning.
Just as I was about to scratch this post for good, Jeffrey sent a note via Facebook. “I worked for an airline and took a buyout offer on 9/28/01. Hired a career coach. Became one. Used the buyout money to launch a successful executive coaching business. Launched a second entrepreneurial venture in 2008, which is my passion – SAVVY NAVIGATOR.”
Slowly, but surely, the stories began to trickle in. Erin, who described herself as a mother/wife/traveler, wrote, “My whole life is still divided by pre/post 9/11…for better or worse.”
Mark, a frequent flier, wrote, “Heather, you may have seen this story before. It’s about a United Airlines flight attendant who was supposed to be on United Airlines flight 175 that crashed into the Twin Towers. Because of a typo and then later computer problems she couldn’t trade to get her trip back. On the employee bus that day she actually spoke with the flight attendant who “took her trip.”
I clicked the link Mark had attached and wound up on the Boston Globe web site where I read a story, Flight attendant changes course, I’d never heard before about a flight attendant who just barely survived 9/11, a flight attendant who is now a nurse.
Next it was Chris, a pilot, who wrote, “I think I have a real problem with the context. When I was an Air Force pilot, I knew what I was doing could get me killed. That was my job, and I accepted it. And I accepted when every 9 months or so, one of my buds became, as we used to say, a “mort” (mortality), or “a ghost” (as in, “Remember Bugs? Sea of Japan–he’s a ghost”). That was the deal.”
“9/11 was not the deal,” Chris added. “Our colleagues weren’t anything but murdered. They had no chance, and no choice. That’s a breach of faith, and too high a price. I don’t know who to blame, who to accuse, who to hold responsible, who to fight back against. And yet, our management makes us all just cost units, marketable, forgetable commodities. Okay, I’ll shut up now.”
And with that the silence continued…
While this post initially started out as a story about your stories, it quickly turned into a post without a story, which made me a little sad. But that, in itself, is a story – one that should be told. I’m a flight attendant. If I don’t write about it, who will?
Photos courtesy of (American Airlines) Tom Murphy, (flag quilt) Catface3, (9/11 tribute light) PlanetGordon.com