It had been a tough four years leading up to this long-delayed and much needed vacation. Let’s just say that the launching of our business, a long-held dream of my husband’s, had not been as successful as we had anticipated. Sales growth? Glaciers moved faster.
Notice I say it was a dream of my husband’s; I had never been fully on-board with this venture and wasn’t exactly a pillar of support or strength through the difficult days. The strain of getting this business up and running was not what I had in mind for this phase of our lives, and a certain entrepreneur bore the brunt of my pity party. Everybody say “Awwwww, poor Barb, she’s having to deal with a setback. Isn’t that terrible?”
At the lowest point we had exactly one mortgage payment left in the bank. I had no choice but to go back to work selling real estate, a career at which I excelled but not-so-secretly loathed. Square peg in round hole sums it up. I had hoped those days were far behind me and now imagined myself a poor downtrodden and beleaguered beast of burden. Absolutely insufferable, wasn’t I?
We managed to hang on by the hair of our chinny-chin-chins and, finally, the financial pressures eased a bit. After four long years without one, we could take a vacation.
We would leave Richmond, connect in Dallas-Ft. Worth, and fly into Albuquerque. Beautiful Santa Fe, here we come.
I cannot tell you how excited, relieved, and almost giddy with happiness we were as we settled into our seats that morning and climbed to cruising altitude. It was a gorgeous morning; I had a window seat, I remember, and the sun was streaming in. We had breakfast, and I was doing the crossword puzzle when everything changed. Just like that.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking. Due to the attack on the Pentagon, the FAA has temporarily closed all air space. We are to put down at the nearest available airport. It looks like we’ll be landing in Little Rock shortly.”
What?? What attack on the Pentagon? And so what if there was? Some nut with a gun opens fire in a parking lot and they close down airspace? What if we miss our connection? This is going to ruin our trip! Little Rock??
We circled over Little Rock for about 45 minutes before being allowed to land. No sooner did we hit the tarmac then passengers started frantically calling home. And that’s when we heard that the attack on the Pentagon was not all that had happened; news of the unfathomable was being spread from seat to seat by increasingly agitated passengers.
“Don’t be ridiculous. Of course the Towers didn’t come down. Good God.” I remember these words as if I said them yesterday. It was preposterous to hear such a thing; clearly any sane person would know that this was just not within the realm of possibility.
What in God’s name had happened as we, oblivious to the horror, had flown blissfully along towards our destinations?
Maybe within a half hour of landing the captain came on the air again and told us to gather our belongings and disembark. At the gate, holding rifles, stood some National Guard, directing us down to baggage claim. I saw a TV on the wall and headed to it.
“Ma’am! Get back in the line. Now!” Whoa, what is happening here? You better believe I got back in that line and pronto.
As we walked, subdued and dazed, we saw the restaurant TVs with the terrible footage. We all just stood there, in stunned little pods, craning our necks, trying desperately to absorb what had just happened to our world.
It began to sink in that night in the hotel as we watched the news reports, over and over. While we were 30,000 feet in the air having our breakfast and working the crossword puzzle, other people, just like us but for their doomed choice of airplane, had lost their lives. We couldn’t help feeling, warranted or not, that we had somehow dodged a bullet.
Perspective can hit with a sucker punch and that day it walloped me big-time. Happy because I was going on vacation? How about being happy because I’m alive? Just to be breathing in and out is an indescribable marvel, a miracle, really. Add to it a person to love and we’re rich as Croesus, aren’t we?
We remember September 11 and its impact on our lives each in our own way, I guess. I’m not saying I had an epiphany that day; that wouldn’t be honest. I had a shock which sent me down the road towards a permanent attitude adjustment, no doubt. I worry it might be offensive to you, dear reader, that I even attempt to describe what happened to us, as insignificant as it was, on the anniversary of 9/11. I know our experiences that day were nothing, nothing at all, compared to what happened to so many others but somehow want to tell the story anyway. I hope you understand.
I am forever grateful for a detour to Little Rock.