A Traveler In The Worst Week

 

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I believe this day will be to our generation what the shooting of JFK was to the previous generation. Even twelve years later, when the anniversary is upon us, you still feel the collective sigh. Everyone who remembers that morning. Everyone who still wonders why. Even twelve years later, people still talk about where they were the day the towers came down and the country came to a halt.

I was living in Seattle’s Greenlake community the day the planes hit the World Trade Center. I tuned in to the news as soon as my alarm blared, groggy from the evening’s rest, just minutes before cameras caught the crash of the second plane. I left for work in a daze, along with the usual flow of fellow commuters, a barrage of calls from family and friends pouring in. I was docked pay for being late.

As federal airspace across the country remained closed, my thoughts went to the flight I was supposed to take that weekend. My attendance back home at a dear friend’s wedding, where old friends would be gathering. Sure that I wouldn’t be able to make it given the circumstances, I made a phone call to the teary bride who was already weary from guest cancellations.

The days floated by, a struggle to find meaning in and explanation for the horrible events that had transpired on that random Tuesday in September. Anxious to still make it home, I phoned the airline often until I was able to get a seat on one of the first flights out of Portland on that Friday morning. As I crossed the Columbia River at dusk on Thursday night, I cried out when a plane flew  overhead, a sound and sight I had taken for granted until there were none in the sky. A silence observed.

The airport was nearly empty for the first flight of the morning, with only a queue here and there. Passengers tried to be as normal as possible, going about the usual traveling tasks – the purchase of amenities, the shuffling of carry-ons. Everyone quietly wondering if they would make it to their destination.

I arrived to the western Michigan wedding just as the bride and groom were posing for pre-ceremony photos on the front lawn of the church. Smiles beamed as we all spotted each other, a joyous gathering of old friends who had all assumed the moment was not to be. The ceremony and reception held a new level of exuberant joy and celebration.

I made my way back to Portland a few days later.

When I had secured my luggage from baggage claim, I phoned my mother back home. She answered the phone with a sadness in her voice. She explained that one of the bridesmaids – a bright, bubbly, kindhearted redhead named Kelly – had died that morning in an auto collision. A memorial was being set.

I called into work and boarded the next flight back home.

My friends and I re-assembled in a nondescript hotel in Kelly’s hometown for the funeral, wrapping our arms around each other much as we had during the wedding reception, each of us feeling the loss of our missing partner-in-crime. Just a week after we had mourned as a country, we were mourning as lifetime friends. Photos of the wedding were passed between us, each of us telling stories from the event, each of us telling stories of our friendship with Kelly. Grateful that we had been so open and appreciative of the time we had been able to spend together that weekend. Grateful that so many pictures had been taken, that so much laughter had resonated around us during our last moments together.

Each of us wading in a monumental awareness of the immeasurable impact of a single, solitary day.

 

~Jennifer Heigl