Friday, September 08, 2006

"I'll see you when you get there."

I do not intend to add to the barrage of memorials and tributes that have been and will be circulated as we approach 9/11/06. There is one column, however, by Peggy Noonan that I wish to pass along. The subject she touches upon, the messages left on voicemail and answering machines that morning by those in harm's way, is something that's been on my mind of late. I watched a TLC special on Flight 175 last week. This was the second plane to hit the WTC. Brian Sweeney, whom Peggy quotes later in her article, left a voicemail for his wife that she played for this documentary. He's brief, to the point, and ends with words that will stick with me always: "I'll see you when you get there."

I'll see you when you get there. In moments of abject terror, violence, and faced with knowledge that they were about to die, so many of the 2,996 called loved ones with grace, calm, and a fortitude one cannot help but admire and be proud of. And in his message to his wife, this man Brian Sweeney also expressed an optimism that we all hope we have when our time comes. Peggy notes this optimism:

Capt. Walter Hynes of the New York Fire Department's Ladder 13 dialed home that morning as his rig left the firehouse at 85th Street and Lexington Avenue. He was on his way downtown, he said in his message, and things were bad. "I don't know if we'll make it out. I want to tell you that I love you and I love the kids."

Firemen don't become firemen because they're pessimists. Imagine being a guy who feels in his gut he's going to his death, and he calls on the way to say goodbye and make things clear. His widow later told the Associated Press she'd played his message hundreds of times and made copies for their kids. "He was thinking about us in those final moments."

Elizabeth Rivas saw it that way too. When her husband left for the World Trade Center that morning, she went to a laundromat, where she heard the news. She couldn't reach him by cell and rushed home. He'd called at 9:02 and reached her daughter. The child reported, "He say, mommy, he say he love you no matter what happens, he loves you." He never called again. Mrs. Rivas later said, "He tried to call me. He called me."

There was the amazing acceptance. I spoke this week with a medical doctor who told me she'd seen many people die, and many "with grace and acceptance." The people on the planes didn't have time to accept, to reflect, to think through; and yet so many showed the kind of grace you see in a hospice.

Peter Hanson, a passenger on United Airlines Flight 175 called his father. "I think they intend to go to Chicago or someplace and fly into a building," he said. "Don't worry, Dad--if it happens, it will be very fast." On the same flight, Brian Sweeney called his wife, got the answering machine, and told her they'd been hijacked. "Hopefully I'll talk to you again, but if not, have a good life. I know I'll see you again some day."


These were people saying, essentially, In spite of my imminent death, my thoughts are on you, and on love. I asked a psychiatrist the other day for his thoughts, and he said the people on the planes and in the towers were "accepting the inevitable" and taking care of "unfinished business." "At death's door people pass on a responsibility--'Tell Billy I never stopped loving him and forgave him long ago.' 'Take care of Mom.' 'Pray for me, Father. Pray for me, I haven't been very good.' " They address what needs doing.

I'll see you when you get there. There are many lessons to be learned from 9/11. For me it's been to express to those I love, family and friends, just how very much they mean to me. Not in big flowery speeches or expressions, but in simple and to the point. I never want to pass from this life with those people wondering just how I felt about them or what they meant to me. I want them to know that I love them...that they are blessings in my life. And that should go before them into the next life, I will see them when they get there.


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