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Sunday, September 11, 2011

I Remember: Ten Years Later

Alaska sometimes seems like it's at the end of the world.  We are 3,370 miles from New York City.

I wasn't in Alaska, but on a flight to New York City to visit my best friend from college.

Flights from Alaska to the east coast tend to leave at weird times, usually late at night or in the small hours of the morning.  We all have stories about September 11, what we heard when, wondering if our loved ones were all right, crying for the inhumanity of the situation.  My story isn't special or tragic;  although I can't find a figure on it, I imagine there were millions of travelers stranded.  Here is what I remember:

I remember arriving in Seattle in the middle of the night.

I remember boarding the next flight just before 6 a.m.  and talking to the couple next to me, whose daughter was a set designer for Hudson Scenic in NYC.  I was studying lines for the play "Six Degrees of Separation."

I remember that the plane sat on the ground for a long time, for reasons that weren't clear. 
I remember that after sitting on the plane for 45 minutes, the crew told us that the flight had been cancelled, and that we needed to return to the terminal and pick up our tickets.

I remember that when we went into the terminal, the television monitors were off.  We all stood in line to pick up our tickets and someone received word on their cell phone that there had been a terrorist attack in New York.  I'm not sure how many of us believed it.

I remember going to a rebooking phone and asking if I could still make it to New York, and being scheduled on a flight the next day.  It was an insane thought, but I remember wanting to know if my friend was all right.  It didn't occur to me that the airports would be closed for days.

I remember someone announcing on the intercom that the airport would close in an hour.  The airport, which had been full of people, started to empty out.  It became a race to find a hotel room, because there were thousands of people stranded in Seattle.

I remember downtown Seattle shutting down in the middle of the afternoon because there were concerns that there would be an attack on the Space Needle.

I remember not knowing what to do with myself.  I couldn't concentrate long enough to read, and I didn't have the appetite to explore restaurants.  I walked around Seattle for hours, saw movies in which I otherwise would have had no interest and tried not to sit in my hotel room and cry. 

I remember trying to call my friend dozens of times that day and the next.  I gave my father her phone number so he could try her too, so one of us could reach her.  In the end, he was able to talk to her first.  She had seen the first plane hit.

I remember that flights would be scheduled and then cancelled, and it wasn't clear where I was going, or when.  By Wednesday afternoon I stopped trying to rebook for New York and started trying to get home.

I remember the people of Seattle being unfailingly kind, particularly the people who worked at the hotel. 

I remember standing in a two-hour long security line on Saturday morning, when I finally flew back to Anchorage.  No one complained.

When I rescheduled my trip and went the following spring, I remembered why it was one of my favorite places in the world.

Today we mourn the violence of September 11, 2001.  We mourn the 3,000 lives that were lost and the violence that man does against man.  We mourn the innocence that we had when we didn't contemplate such an act of international terrorism on American soil. 

New York City celebrates some of my favorite things, theatre and art and food.  It is strong enough to have survived the events of that terrible day.  Today, despite our collective sadness, I lift a glass and remember the resilience of the city of New York, and its people. 

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