When I was a child I cherished going to the airport. Watching the sentiment of people saying tearful goodbyes, feeling the anticipation of those searching for the passengers that they have not physically seen in a lengthy time¦feeling the energy of emotion that ran through the space. It was a happy place; an exciting place and it was my favorite place in the world.
Growing up in a town of 200 people, going to the “city” 2 hours away to go to the airport was amazing, exciting and injected dreams of the future into my blood. I knew someday that I would be among those sitting elbow to elbow in the seats that would take me to faraway places that I could only imagine. I would lay in the grass in my front yard and wait for the airplanes to pass by in the air, conjecturing in my mind adventures of the passengers in the blue skies above me. It was always electrifying and mystical and I longed to belong to the society of explorers in the worst way.
When I was 18 years old I boarded my first flight. I was lucky enough to score a window seat and just knew when I sat in it that I had arrived. I watched in awe at the world below me and for the first time I felt like I was truly a part of it. I could not imagine ever leaving that window. From that point forward I focused relentlessly on getting back in that seat as many times as I could. An airplane ticket was the key to the lock that had kept me in suspense of the world all of those years. It was my freedom.
As I worked to build my career I sought out a job that would allow a lot of travel. I spent so much time aboard an airplane that I stopped looking out of the window. A glance here or there would remind me of that virgin trip, and once in a while I would see someone earning their wings aboard a new flight and smile, but it had slowly became something I had taken for granted. Still, the need to get in the air ran thick through my soul. The electricity of the airport revived me in a way that gave breath to my dreams and energy to my existence. There was nothing like it.
My best friend became a flight attendant and from time to time I would see her at the airport. I would always look for her dark hair in the red uniform, I would ask the attendants on the plane if they knew her. It was a fun connection. Then she decided to become a pilot. I was so excited for her! And I understood her deep desire to fly.
2 years later, just a few short weeks after I gave birth to my first daughter, she was killed in an airplane crash. The second I received that monumental call, I plunged into a deep depression and could not see the daylight, let alone feel a need for adventure. Fear gripped me and took hold. I was afraid of everything. The airplane had given me life and had now taken it away from me. The airport became my worst enemy. I would see my friend in her red uniform, only to realize that it was not her, just someone who looked like her, it would never be her again. I would see the embraces goodbye and think “hold them tight, they are leaving you”. I was so sad. And I was very afraid to fly.
A year later my husband suggested we take a trip to Europe. I agreed reluctantly, because I was worried something may happen, but tried hard to fight my reservations in order to move on. I wanted my daughter to live and feel the life that I had once felt.
Then September 11th happened. I will never forget seeing those planes crash into those towers. I had been in those towers a few short weeks before they fell. It was all just too much to take. Equipped with the baggage of my loss, I understood that each person in that tower had a family, had a best friend. I felt the defeat profoundly. I watched the news footage of a man falling from the towers to his death; his tie was flapping in the wind and I thought “how horrible that he died with that tie around his neck!” The world was a different place from that very second.
We cancelled our trip immediately. I closed the blinds in the house, crawled into my bed and cried a deep mournful cry for each victim and for my friend. Somehow, in the depths of the darkness as my mind wandered wildly through the why’s and the memories, emerged the memory of my very first trip. I pondered the day that my heart pounded as I soared high in to the air for the very first time. I had been afraid that day, because I had never done that before, but I was also excited, joyful and accomplished, overcoming all fears to venture out in to the world that was waiting for me. In that memory I found the hope that I needed to pick up the phone, call the travel agent and re-schedule our trip. For my friend and for each person that was lost on September 11th I was going to live.
A few weeks later, not long after air service began again, my husband and I left with my 1 year old daughter in tow for a 2 week cruise through the Mediterranean, including the predominately Muslim country of Morocco. As we walked through the airport I began to cry softly. I was so happy and proud that I had gained the strength to do this, but I longed for the feelings that I had had before the tragedies had happened. The long security lines, the armed security guards, the weary travelers, the hushed suspicious stares at anyone of a different Nationality, especially anyone from Middle East descent¦it was a changed experience. There was an electrical current of anxiety that ran through the place. I could see it on the face of every stranger that I passed.
The trip was amazing. With 37 nationalities on the ship, the encounter with another world changed me again. When we arrived in Morocco (one of the last stops on the trip) we did not think twice about joining the day tour. The Muslim people we encountered embraced us as if we were family and repeatedly told us they were sorry for our loss and thanked us for having the courage to come. In the village we ran into two little school girls’ that were so excited to see my daughter, with her blonde hair and blue eyes. As they ran away with their backpacks on, our guide told us that girls had only been allowed to attend school for 5 years. Hope. There was hope running through my spirit again.
It has been 2 years since the airplane hit the towers and 3 years since I lost my friend. I am not the same person that I was before everything happened, but I am enriched with an understanding that I could not have gained without my loss. I will never go to an airport again without feeling a small amount of sadness, but I have grown. I appreciate things in a different way and make better choices with a different level of understanding.
Today I will buy my daughter a toy airplane from the airport gift shop, I will give it to her in anticipation that she will point it to the sky and imagine all of the places that she will go.
Submitted by Sara Savoy whose best friend, Louise Albright, was lost aboard a private aircraft on December 3, 2000