9/11 Reflections

The 9/11 attacks had such a profound impact on many lives, it seems a little trite to discuss in on a personal level. However, the sheer size of the ripple effect this event had on people's lives is hard not to reflect upon. Ours was hugely impacted despite not being directly involved.


In my generation's "where were you when...." moment, I was on the treadmill in the basement of our 1950's rambler in south Minneapolis. Trudging through another boring cardio routine trying to alleviate the boredom by watching the Today show. When the news broke that a plane had hit one of the Wortd Trade Center towers, I dismissed it initially as an errant pilot in a crowded airspace. When the video showed the first hole in the tower, it was tragic but not unreal.


I gawked at the smoke billowing on the screen as another plane hit the other tower. I knew right then, this would change our lives forever.


Peter came home from an errand and ran downstairs to see if I had heard the news he had gotten on the car radio. We embraced. We were both frightened.


At this point in time, we had been Flight Attendants for over 15 years and knew then and there that our work lives had just changed. Ever since we were hired, terrorism was always part of our daily work life. We were trained annually on how to deal with hijackers. What do with a bomb on the plane while in the air. How to identify the type of weapon an assailant might have. Strange as it sounds, it was part of everyday work life.


We were both on the Go Team for a union - the team that assembles when there is an aircraft "incident" including crashes. When the news came out that all planes were being grounded in the US airspace, we pried ourselves from the television and headed to the union office to see what - if anything - we could do to help. We knew there would be a groundswell of member concern that would require attention.


The union office was abuzz. The leadership was at the company offices gathering information. Little additional detail was available. There was a state of bewildered fright as it was reported another plane hit the Pentagon. Some aircraft were still not accounted for. One of our airline's aircraft was rumored to be hijacked (unfounded). The tempo of fear escalated throughout the day.


Not having an aircraft involved in the incidents directly, the Go Team was released. We went home to ponder the day in a calm, clear, ear-ringingly quiet autumn afternoon. We talked about how frightened the day's events had made us. Would the airline industry survive this? Would we be laid off? What would we do next? What will our future hold?


In the 10 years since, our path has changed dramatically.


At work, the response to the 9/11 attacks was not as supportive of the Flight Attendant role as any one would like. Seemingly "window dressing" security measures were put in place. Security training for the Flight Attendant first response role was not required - and when it was made available, it was about a year later. From my perspective, all efforts for securing the aircraft protected the pilots. In hindsight I guess it makes sense to apply your resources toward the thing that would make the biggest impact. Securing the flight deck door, allowing pilots to carry weapons and other pilot focused initiatives came high on the list of priorities and were implemented. However, for those of us working on the other side of that secure door, it made for an uncomfortable acknowlegement of our expendablity.


Back in our union, this collective frustration in the lack of action was one of the contributing factors in our group's decision to change union's in 2003. Both of us stepped up to help and became part of the building team upon certification. Who knew this would lead to us both changing careers years later?


So, as I sit in Santa Clara, CA (getting ready to attend a technology conference) reflecting on 9/11 and the changes that have occurred in our lives, it's impossible to ignore the tital wave the 9/11 ripple became. Our lives are the quintessential example of how impactful the event has been even though we had nothing directly to do with the actual 9/11 events. We no longer do the job we once did. We no longer live in the house - or even city - we lived in. We no longer have a sense of false security.


But through the loss, we have gained a greater sense of independence and wherewithal. We no longer wait for things to happen. We no longer see the future as a line but a broad horizon. We no longer think someone else should do things - we should.


We've ridden the wave and reached a new level of awareness of people, life and ourselves. In the end, that is what comes of tragedy and change.




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