I will never forget where I was the morning of 9/11 seventeen years ago. I was working for the District Office of Verizon Wireless. Tucked away in the middle of our office was a monitor room with multiple TV's. As soon as the news hit, we somberly made our way to that narrow little room. I stood in a reverent silence of disbelief at what we were watching unfold in real time. It was surreal enough to see on one screen, but absolutely tormenting to watch it on a wall full of television screens. The mirrored images were like a house full of horrors.
Almost afraid to breathe, we stood there speechless. My heart felt as if it would beat out of my chest as it began pumping scalding tears to the surface. I felt sick, afraid... numb. As soon as communication was available, we received word from our corporate office that Verizon was actually able to restore communications. Our company at the time was on the cutting edge of telcom and digital technology. I had not been all that personally interested in our advancements, but at that moment, I felt as if I were a small part of something bigger than myself. We weren't totally helpless, we could actually "do something...."
I've thought of that feeling many times. I was a single mom to a nine-year-old. He was in school and I was not with him. All I wanted to do was drive as fast as I could, grab him up and hold him tight. But I had a job to do. We couldn't leave - not just yet. Businesses, schools, and every institution imaginable shut down that day and people made their way home to the safety of their families and friends. Many however, could not retreat to their "safe place" or hibernate from the evils of the world we found ourselves in. Hospitals, police stations, fire houses, government agencies and yes even cell phone district offices stayed put. Not because it was what any of us wanted to do, but because we had become a part of something bigger than ourselves. We had a choice to make. No matter how small our tasks seemed, we were needed.
Yesterday, as people began sharing stories about 9/11 on social media, I came across the story of Tom Burnett , a passenger on United Flight 93. On that fateful day, Tom was aboard one of the five high-jacked planes that terrorists were using to attack our great nation. His plane had not reached a target yet, but it was only a matter of time. The high-jackers had taken over and already killed one passenger. They informed the remaining passengers their impending fate - this routine commercial flight had become a suicide mission. Tom, and his fellow passengers could only pray and wait, it seemed. Tom picked up the phone and called his wife Deena as the drama unfolded. He wanted to let her know he loved her, he wanted to make sure his children were okay and I am certain he wanted to be home with them more than he ever had in his life. Tom asked Deena to call 911 as he told her the events happening around him. She begged him to sit in his seat, be still and quiet, and try to stay safe. Tom knew that his fate was sealed no matter what. His response to Deena was "we're going to do something."
Those words were the last words Tom Burnett spoke to his wife Deena. He and some of the other passengers took over the plane and fought the terrorists crashing the plane in a rural area so that it would not hit it's designated target. Tom had a choice on 9/11. He could've sat silently, talked to his wife quietly and embraced the few moments he had left. He could've prolonged his fate and minimized his pain to a small degree. He could've fumed over his unfair situation, he could've even made an attempt at something positive by simply praying. In exchange for what though? Many more lives were at stake and he and a handful of passengers were the only thing between life and death of countless others. Tom Burnett chose to "do something."
Over the last several months, I have found myself swimming in a sea of doubt, uncertainty, feeling sad, angry, frustrated and even overwhelmed by circumstances beyond my control. This is not a pleasant place to be, but sometimes it is a necessary place. When we are taken out of our comfort zone, when the proverbial rug is pulled out from under us, when the people we thought were on our side suddenly turn on us or at best disappear, we find what we are truly made of. Do we curl up licking our wounds praying for a better day, a miracle, a second chance? Do we allow the hot water we find ourselves in scald us or do we allow its process flow through us like a tea bag to make something nourishing and refreshing? Sometimes it isn't what we go through that changes... at least not right away. Often it is "us" that changes. It is an old worn cliche' but we can become "bitter or better." Maybe we can't help ourselves at the moment, but maybe, just maybe someone else is watching us - a child, a spouse, a neighbor, a friend, a companion, a co-worker or boss, or even strangers at the store, church, or online. What are we going to do? Nothing? Something? And if "something," is that "something" good or bad?
Goodness knows I've made many mistakes and handled situations in the worst way possible. We all do at times in our lives. But there comes a point when clarity, like a beacon in the night shines a light of truth. Often that clarity is more like a swift kick in the rear or a smack upside the head in a "duh" moment! It usually comes when we are forced to take our eyes off of ourselves, our problems and situation, and onto those around us. There are days when I feel I can't help myself, but I see elderly parents with health issues, a grandmother that requires extra care-giving, and a son that is the most selfless person I know that I can bless in small ways. While none of the things I am going through are death or life, they still matter and they still affect others around me.
Today, as I stand with the rest of our nation in a time of remembrance and gratitude for those who lost their lives and those who sacrificed their lives on that fateful 9/11 morning, I pray the lesson that Tom Burnett and those on board that plane taught us resonates so strongly that I will forever be changed and motivated in the way I live my life and the way I face my difficulties and setbacks. I also pray that we all can step outside of ourselves like the everyday heroes who stepped in to rescue victims, and even recover bodies when there were no signs of life left in the rubble of evil. Maybe we can't perform the heroic works of a fire-fighter or police officer. Perhaps we can't save a life like an EMT or surgeon. But we can "do something," even if it is just keeping lines of communication open. I will "never forget" and I am more determined than ever that I am "going to do something!"