Out of smoke and despair, comes hope. Hope that holds vigil over our boundaries to keep us safe.
9/11 Reflection of a Flight Attendant and Broken Boundaries
by Cindy Paul
I wasn’t certain I wanted to watch any of the memorial tributes to 9/11 today. Reliving the feelings would be too painful. I succumbed finally to the History Channel and am glad I did. You see, I was an American flight attendant (formerly TWA) at this time. A few minutes before 8:00 CST that morning, I prided myself in successfully trading out of a weekend trip for one that left Tuesday evening, 9/11/2001. Just a short time later, the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York. A few minutes later, another crashed into the South Tower. My four children, 1 year old triplets and 4 year old child, were happily watching Barney when I got a call to change the channel.
I could not believe my eyes, what just happened? Wow, so many people dead, so many in shock. Was this really happening or was this yet another movie being filmed in NY. I did not know anyone working in the towers but did have plenty of friends flying the skies at this time and one working in Manhattan at the time. So much was unknown and nothing made sense. This was all happening within the boundaries of our country, right here in the United States. I had just picked up a trip set to leave in a few hours. Of course, I would take it, it never occurred to me not to, even after my husband and family members advised against it. Air traffic control made the decision for me when they grounded all air travel.
Later, I listened to a flight attendant friend recount her very different experience. She was departing just a few gates down from one of the targeted planes. As she searched her memory, she recalls seeing faces of the passengers and crew as they waited to board the plane. She boarded hers and one passenger talking on the phone asked about a crash into the WTC. No one knew anything and they took off on time. As they did, apparently, so did the plane carrying all of the faces she had just seen. Very quickly, they were called into the cockpit and told the news. They had to go back into the cabin and walk row by row looking for anyone suspicious. Obviously, I can only imagine how surreal this all must have seemed. We, as flight attendants, are trained for hijackings and other emergencies. Most hijackings occur when the perpetrator wants to go somewhere specific or have a specific demand met. The terrorists knew this and knew that all flight personnel are trained to cooperate. They used this to their advantage to overtake the planes and carry out the suicidal mission.
For weeks, nothing was routine any more for my job at the airline. New security measures fell upon us all. We, eventually, were given self-defense classes. We tried to console nervous passengers. We comforted one another. We learned to spot Air Marshalls on our planes and learned to stay out of their way. We learned that the world we lived in was now one where anyone can change the lives of another in an instant. Selfish people with selfish agendas, filled with jealousy, hatred and fear can now dictate the way you live and enjoy your life.
How dare this extremist group of terrorists invade our country? Who were they to impose their will upon countless numbers of humans who didn’t share their view? I believe God appeals to us all in whatever language or religion we seek him out? These people were not acting through God or for God; they were acting for their own selfish reasons. Granted, so much can be traced to how they are indoctrinated at a young age but there comes a point when we all must think for ourselves, sometimes at a very early age. We all become accountable for our own actions.
This was one of them. Ten years later, I realize that my generation will always remember what they were doing this fateful day, just like the previous generation remembered where they were when JFK was murdered. I hope my children’s generation will not carry on the legacy of witnessing anything this horrific again, but I know life does not work this way.
I commend my fellow Americans for their individual sacrifices both in the air and on the ground ten years ago. I also am grateful that I was not in the air that day so that I may reflect on this today with you. So I do watch the tributes, I do relive the painful feelings. I guess it would actually be more painful to forget.