Traveling back Nineteen Years

Saturday in Virginia, September 5th, 2020 in my book can go down recorded as one of those perfect temperature days, blue skies and low humidity. Apparently, I live in a ‘bubble’ now with my children and grandchildren, and we all hung out outside, ate nachos and watched Shrek after dark. Delightful, and weren’t we all surprised and pleased by the crisp cool nighttime temperature when our daughter took her sleepy children home for the night? Sounds sublime.

But something about the perfectness of today won’t let me sleep and I find myself up in the middle of the night lucky to see what the Moon looks like when it dons Mars as a glistening garnet stud earring, (pretty AWESOME!) Meanwhile, I’m thinking about the week ahead of me.

A big travel weekend, I can’t believe it’s really Labor Day.

In checking the U.S. Department of Labor website at (now) midnight, I learned that it’s not really certain who thought venerating the common worker “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold,” was a good enough idea to warrant a national holiday, but it might have been a man named Peter J. McGuire, a collective union man, and I like the quote that he is credited with saying sometime before 1882.

The meaning of Labor Day, for me, acquired an additional task nineteen years ago from just being a holiday (be it a traveling holiday or not.)  To me, it’s now more of a countdown to another significant day that is definitely not a holiday. Dubbed by W, Patriot Day, I will always refer to it as September 11th, or 9-11 and it’s a national day of mourning.

Thhuift, thhuift,‘ is the sound made when I tear off each day of my Page-a-Day Calendar. A gift from a dear friend, each leaf offers encouraging sayings. Saturday’s and Sunday’s are grouped together, maybe to save paper, or maybe ‘cause folks aren’t as obsessive about which day it is on the weekends. This weekend’s saying is, ‘Happy Long Weekend’ with a graphic of a l o n g hotdog.

I peeked ahead; Tuesday has a favorite by Winston Churchill, written with crazy lettering, ‘HISTORY will be kind to me FOR I INTEND to write it MYSELF’ (no punctuation.) For a minute my mind wanders as I think about how the days of the month slide around every year over the days of the week. The September 11th fell on a Tuesday. This year it will be on a Friday. Even if folks don’t get a day off, they may take one but for many it will be a second  l  o  n  g  weekend, (double-entendre intended.) I thought about the people assigned with the task of creating saying’s for calendars on 9-11, so I peeked ahead further. Friday’s page suggests we, ‘Be a NICE human.’ Page-a-Day credits Lori Danelle for it.  That is really nice, Lori!

This will be the nineteenth anniversary of September 11, and in this ToC, (Time of Covid) I wonder what the upcoming National Observances will be like. It will be likely Monday or Tuesday before any news media begins to provide any details. More than likely the observances will be simpler and less attended. Next year will be the big memorial or the twentieth anniversary, so this year along with every other special day being suspended or subdued because of coronavirus, it’s easy to imagine quiet and dignified services this year.

The horror of that day centered around our most treasured form of travel…flying. That Tuesday, nineteen years ago, people were traveling on planes like was then custom. We dropped our own fully packed bags on conveyor belts that channeled them through machines at security and simply picked them up on the other side. We didn’t give a second thought about walking around with water bottles. Home comers were met at arrival gates by loved ones; coming home meant little homecomings. A lifetime ago.

Nineteen years ago, my husband had only been a few years flying for the major airlines, but I was already used to having the ability to head straight to a ticket counter, show them my ID, state where I wanted to go, and well then, go. My kids were young high schoolers, so I didn’t ‘go’ a lot then, but just knowing I would be able to ‘go’ very soon, was extremely satisfying.

I think a reason I can’t sleep must be the weather. On 9-11 nineteen years ago on that morning I was home enjoying the beautiful Virginia weather; weather we had just like today. The windows on that day were open as well.  I remember reading the morning newspaper, (an item I haven’t laid hands on in what’s now, years.) My son, a freshman, was likely in a second period at school, and my daughter, a junior, was in Washington D. C. serving as Page in the U. S. House of Representatives. Pages attended early, early morning school at the Library of Congress and by nine that morning, the pages would have started their workday. Our girl served in the House cloakroom.

My husband was flying from somewhere to somewhere else; pilots are most appreciative of good weather. It was memorable weather. And it’s been remarkably a good weather day, at least here in Virginia, pretty much every anniversary since. I wonder what the forecast is for Friday.

The tenth anniversary of 9-11 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania began under a low and dark, heavy woeful cloud covered canopy. After years of wrangling with plans and legalities, it was finally the long awaited for opening of the Flight 93 National Memorial. Three Presidents were there in observance.  Presidents Bush and Clinton attended the entire ceremony and President Obama and First Lady, Michelle flew in on Marine One and laid the wreath. The skies brightened just before, the clouds gave way and allowed the sun to pay its’ respects and paint the heavens in the palest blue whisked with thin clouds. Throughout the service the color deepened, the clouds puffed up bright white to what Bob Ross called, ‘Happy Little Clouds.’

The monument was unveiled. The bells rang. A day as such cannot be prescribed.

The weather was an incredible component that day; as if at first it honored our profound corporate loss, and yet realized the necessity to ever so gently and tenderly nudge out the tiniest emergence of hopefulness in an effort to heal a collaborate aching heart.

But our sense of security has never really been the same has it? Travel then, like now, came to a complete halt, yet another similarity niggling at me and keeping me up. Then and now, great weather on both days; also there are parked planes on runways now and were then; there’s a fear of traveling – the same – only a few are traveling. (Remember the “Thank you for traveling!” campaign?  I think I have a button squirreled away somewhere.)

Nineteen years ago, an unthinkable tragedy highjacked so much more than the planes. In our national grief, people rallied together at tenth anniversary observances all over the country and supported one another. It felt like everyone was trying to be a nice human. Calendar lady, Lori would’ve been proud. 

It’s the inherent goodness of people that my family comes together for this current, ‘Happy Long Weekend’ (quote credit belonging to LeeAndra Cianci.) And not just my family – so many others are spending Labor Day with loved ones on staycations in their bubbles – a few are venturing out, some folks are flying, adapting and braving it for one reason or another. For the most part, however, travel is not projected to return to normal for four…years. And there will again be a new normal when it does return.

9-11 changed our habits forever, and I wonder how the pandemic will too. Or if, after we have a vaccine, will we stop wearing masks and obsessing about hand washing? I wonder if I’ll ever be able to greet anyone with a hug without thinking about catching a virus or will it be like picking up someone at the gate, (flowers or a balloon in hand) that’s just not going to be a thing anymore?

There will be bells ringing on Friday, at particular times, in three particular places; a resonance of remembrance for each name read. Names. So much more was lost than just names. The people on the planes, the people in the buildings, the heroes that ran into buildings but never came out themselves. So many, many names. So many losses. On such a nice day. And so I realize another uncomfortable parallel; in the ToC we lose daily so many, many names.

The people ringing the bells this Friday I expect will be wearing masks. In Shanksville, (and not just because it’s the nineteenth or the tenth or the twentieth anniversary, but also because of Covid 19), I expect there will be no # 39, 42, 43, 44 or 45 Presidents.  I think it will be a quiet day.

Keeping me awake right now mostly is thinking about the names. For me and my family the names spoken aloud in Shanksville, Pennsylvania this coming Friday morning at 10:03:11 are the names of PEOPLE – who are SO MUCH MORE than just their names.  Real people with real lives who real people still miss every Labor Day and every other day, and were real heroes who shortly before 10:03:11, decided to form a collective body, who as Peter J. McGuire might have said, very much “from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.” But by doing so, in risking the creation of that collective body, those people, gave their lives.

The people on United Flight #93 saved our nation’s Capital Building and the people in it, and around it. One of the names in it was that of my daughter.  And she’s alive to have now blessed me with two grand-names.  That’s the grandeur I behold.  Because of their actions, the people on that particular plane, not only my family but every other House page and countless others were bestowed such grandeur.

So much more Flight #93’s heroes stand for today; their sacrifice is the manifestation of the spirit of coming together for a greater cause. There’s still another commonality with today when I think of the names of health care workers that are read nightly now on the news. By risking their lives to protect someone other than themselves they too are heroes. I’m proud that my boy on 9-11, now a man is an ICU nurse and fights on the front lines. He’s among those who labor to bestow the grandeur of living.

I am forever indebted to Flight #93’s heroes. I continue annually to honor them by not only attending their memorial and listening to their names, but also by continually trying to bring folks together for purposes greater than ourselves. I encourage each one of us to do the same in this ToC. Let us face, (with our masks securely fastened) all the threats that loom before us at this time.

The moon has moved now, Mars hangs underneath like a sparkling drop pendent ruby, and I’m at last sleepy.

Before I close my eyes I invite everyone to rethink the complicated but considerable Churchills’ statement about the writing of history. Let the wrights among us not record exaggerations, untruth’s or rewrites, but strive to get it right, as we right wrongs reciprocally and most importantly, TRUTHFULLY…all the while, remembering to be, kind humans.

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