September 11th will always be an emotional challenge for me. Since 2001, television or any indulgence of media is avoided on this day because the images that are etched in my long term memory do not need a sensational nudge by a lip-glossed news anchor, nor does my sympathy gauge need to see professional photographs of New York City memorials in newspapers or magazines.
This day is personal. Tragedy is personal. Did my family member or friends lose life in this terrorist disaster? No. But this catastrophe affected my nation, my America, my homeland, my liberty, and my freedom. This airborne act that lacked courage affected my psyche, my sense of safety, my anxiety level, my spirit of hope. Most important, this waste of land, life, and love reminds me of Flight 800 which exploded off the Long Island coast in 1996. That flight was enroute from the JFK airport to Paris, France.
My roommate Eric Harkness – who was the most outstanding human being ever – perished midair. It was a fate worse than death because every Flight Attendant, including yours truly, was envious that Eric was selected to work that flight. The more painstaking aspect was that he was scheduled to “dead head” the flight over and work the flight back. Dead head is an industry term which means you fly as an extra capacity crew member and enjoy all the perks. As we all would on any working flight/trip, Eric would be given his own hotel room (in Paris), enjoy the Louvre, gaze at the Eiffel Tower, and drink Chateau St. Michel. We were all pissed over his stinking good fortune. Each of us “Fresh out of Flight School Reserves” dreamed of the day some “Sky Hag” senior attendant would be too tired for their seven day Egypt trip, and who would get the assignment? Us! Why was Eric given such Godly favor and/or what random act of “crew scheduling” kindness did he commit that granted him such a vacation?
The irony is that Eric’s deadhead resulted in his short lived life’s death. He never saw New York from 33,000 feet high, the city lights of Paris were dismissed from his future, and Europe missed meeting one of New York’s best. It was a horrible, sad, solemn, unbelievable tragedy that no one on planet earth should endure or survive. While Eric clearly was the victim, as his roommate, the misery of watching inaccurate news reports on television in a cramped, Kew Gardens apartment with more than 30 flight attendants and pilots from every representative airline imaginable belonged to no one more than it did to me.
A full decade and six years have passed since we all flew to his memorial in Ohio and poetic words fell from my lips in a eulogy that also should not have been owned by me. God bless the chosen; we are always envied for the wrong reasons. For this reason and more, the events of 9/11 shake my core and regardless of which anniversary year reigns as the most significant, my memory always travels back to 1996 and life in New York.
People are not supposed to fly to Paris, France and die in the air. People are not supposed to travel on subways from New York boroughs, ride elevators up 30 floors in a tower and then get seared by combustible gas and fire. Few were given the opportunity to say goodbye to their loved ones, most never saw the danger coming, and none made it home to break bread with their loved ones or tuck their children in for bed.
There are no winners in terrorist acts. While this event happened on 911, my eyes will forever look at those numerics and think: Nine One No-one Won.
Penny Dickerson 2012