One of my biggest moments of shame came a week after September 11, 2001, when I scrubbed a planned trip to Arizona for a relative’s wedding. I was terrified to get on an airplane, and fear won out. Not only did I miss an important day in a loved one’s life, I also deprived my wife of the same thing. I didn’t want her flying, either.
I’ve talked to many people over the years who have similar stories and whose fear of flying lasts to this day. I got over the flying fear several years ago and love doing so now. But it’s always been hard to fault people who have vowed not to get on a plane if it’s the anniversary day of the attacks. For some, it’s not even about fear and superstition. The memories of that day are simply too much to take, and nothing will make you fix on such a thing like being on an aircraft on the anniversary.
But last year I flew on September 11. And it was one of the most peaceful flights I had all year.
I was coming home from the CSO Security Standard. I was managing editor of CSO at the time, and the Brooklyn event was a favorite, because it always coincided with the anniversary. New Yorkers showed us how to stare down adversity during and after the attacks, and there’s something special about being in NYC around that time of year. But I never managed to fly on 9/11 until last year. I always left on September 9 or 12.
Truth be told, I didn’t think much about the anniversary when I went to the airport. I was too tired to think about much of anything after a super-busy few days. I was also more focused on being annoyed with the third-world experience that is LaGuardia Airport. But once we took off, I looked out the window and could see Lower Manhattan, with the Freedom Tower rising up next to where the Twin Towers once stood. I could clearly see the two memorial pools built in the footprints of the towers as well.
It brought my mind right back to the anniversary. But it also inspired me in a major way, which suppressed any feeling of dread or sadness I might have otherwise had.
I’ve been to the site many times. But on the ground it can be hard to get the full appreciation of what’s taking shape there. It is, after all, a large construction site with all the noise and barriers that drive a person to distraction. It’s also not easy to get a clear view of the memorial unless you’re right there, behind the fencing, boards and signage. Seeing it from above was quite a trip, indeed.
It wasn’t an exercise in banishing fear, since I had already overcome the fear of flying years before. But it was one of those moments that marks you forever.
In this case, it’s a mental mark I’m happy to have.