9-11 Reflection at Tully Fire Station


Loving God, we remember before you this day our brothers and sisters lost on September 11, 2001.  We thank you for their example of courage and sacrifice.  In your boundless compassion, console their families, friends, co-workers and all who mourn their loss.  Teach us to to holders of your compassion to one another.  Give us the deepest loving strength to forgive in all ways.  Give us faith to see in death the gate of eternal life, so that in quiet confidence we may continue our journey and serve with honor, dignity and courage.    AMEN.

Reflection: It’s The Coffee

Additions:  Where were you?  So you don’t begin to think that being a flight attendant is too glamorous, I was home when the first phone call came in on 9/11.  In my apartment…sleeping on the bedroom floor, literally the bedroom floor.  I didn’t even own a mattress.  Sorry, all your glamorous images are out the window now. Flight attendants are people.  

We’ve been talking about “communication” this morning.  That was a big deal.  Remember, most people didn’t have cell phones back then.  And they weren’t like what we have now…they pretty much did this one cool thing: make phone calls.  9/11 was the first day I’d heard on a cell phone: “we’re sorry, all circuits are busy.”  

After the second plane crashed into the second tower, United shut down the system.  Usually, you could look up who was where if you had an employee number or full name.  Nope.  Nothing.  We didn’t know who was where.  We talked about no one knowing what to do and the sudden improvising (I think we all did pretty good, considering).  We made improvised phone trees and started mapping out who was where and if they were ok.  And waited to find out for the people we couldn’t get in touch with…

Original:  I’m Charlotte for those of you who don’t know me.  I’m the minister at the North Orange and Tully community church.  Most of you might not know that I was a flight attendant for United through 9/11.  Today is a day that I usually do what must be done and then have quiet solitude.  Truth be told, I usually hibernate and hide.  I’ve felt like I’ve “earned” it.  A coping mechanism, obviously, but that’s OK.  

It’s a time of nightmares.  Yes, I still have them.  I have little or zero tolerance for the news, division, hate of any kind; it feeds the nightmares.  I couldn’t watch any horror movies after 9/11 (even really lame, not really scary ones), mostly because I didn’t want to trigger a nightmare alone in a hotel room if I could possibly avoid it.  But I’m less disturbed by box cutters these days and less jumpy if you try to stand right behind me.  Time does change things.  

Even if I forget what the date is, I feel 9/11 coming.  It’s the change in the air.  That fall air, crispness and coolness.  Sometimes, the nightmares show up before I even realize what’s happening and then, I remember…oh, it’s coming.  9/11.  It has softened with time.  It’s awful…awful, but it’s also been a part of making me who I am.  

Vulnerability is a teaching tool and we can do Good by coming together in a shared experience of pain.  We all experience pain, but we can soothe one another’s suffering.  After all, compassion is “suffering with”.  So, here I am and I’m not sure how this will go…so bear with me…

There’s a very specific feel to early morning flights.  The first flights of the day.  They have their own flavor.  Quiet. Subtle.  You could even say spiritual or mediative.  The day has not yet begin or is beginning or barely begun.  “God Time” it’s often called, although I didn’t know that until later.  

People are quiet.  Most are sleepy or sleeping.  Some quietly working on puzzles.  It’s the USA Today crossword puzzle time.  People are softer and kinder.   

It feels safer.  The plane’s been sitting and inspected.  The sky seems smoother.  People are more settled.  Must be that “God Time”.  

It’s the flight that feels easiest.  There’s a definite routine.  Slower.  Set.  It’s the flight that’s mostly likely to be on time.  The rhythm doesn’t really vary. There are very few expectations or needs of passengers.  

It’s a nice flight, aside from the getting up early thing.  Quiet.  Easy.  Safe.  

It’s the flight we most make sure there’s coffee for one another.  We don’t know each other (each trip has a new set of crew; I rarely ever flew with anyone I had flown with before), so we always make coffee for the crew that might need that wake up boost (captain, crew).  There’s always coffee.  Coffee…there’s a lot to coffee.  Let’s talk coffee….

The plane isn’t supposed to take off with a pot of coffee on the burners.  Just before take-off, the coffee is dumped and fresh pots are prepped to brew with only a jab of the button.  

Everything gets tucked and tidied away, even the crew into jump seats, and we take off.  

Take off is barely accomplished and the crew pops up to press the brew button, usually before we’re supposed to, then settles in, feet up on a wall, maybe a magazine or crossword in hand (sometimes, later, we’ll compare answers with quiet business men), waiting for a cup of coffee to be ready.  

Get up to prep the beverage cart.  We start the day with quiet galley talks.  Getting to know who we’ll be working with or continuing to get to know each other.  

There is an awakening and a settling in.  The sun is rising.  It’s beautiful from the sky.  A new day is unfolding.  There’s silence, just the hum of the plane, or a gentle bubble of one or two quiet conversations down the aisle. 

These morning flights, most follow a rhythm and a pattern.  More than any other flight.  So, it’s easy to imagine…everything that morning.  It’s easy to put one’s self into the shoes of your colleague that morning…it’s easy to repeat the reel of what must have happened…over and over…

Coffee.  Even coffee changed that day.  Ironic that the “Manual” (I think it’s safe to share trade secrets twenty years later) was prepared for an airplane takeover.  Flight Attendants were trained for an airplane takeover.  We are the first responders on the plane to anything and everything that might happen.  It’s been twenty years, so I’m paraphrasing the Manual: ”make them coffee”…”be nice”…”make friends”….”be vigilant”….”notice”….”offer coffee”…

Offer coffee and try to escape the plane with as much information as possible.  We were prepared for a hostage takeover of a plane.  It was the only thing we’d ever known.

After 9/11 the entire safety manual changed (and continued to change).  Now, coffee, like everything else, was to become a possible weapon to be used…

They say in every horrific event, look for the good people.  Seeing the good people is important.  Our first responders.  And also to see those who have no idea what to do and yet still step in to try.  Cuz, no one knew what to do.  There was truly such beauty out of the horror.  

Coffee again.  People who didn’t know what to do, but wanted to offer a kindness, brought and bought coffee.  Coffee has forever changed in so many ways, but I tend to equate coffee with the gift of trying and kindness.  A token that says: I see you.  

Yes, there was post-awfulness, but the coming together was exceptional and inspiring.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  We reached out to one another and checked in on one another.  

Things we always should be doing.  We did it.  We united and loved one another.  We listened to one another.  We suffered with one another.  We offered and experienced deep compassion.  It didn’t matter if we didn’t know what or how, it was just being present for one another.  The reciprocity of compassion.  

If only for a moment in time.  But it changed so many people and so many people the change was they they held on to doing what’s really important and being better than before.  

That’s what I choose to remember.  Perhaps that was the early morning God Time that continued to unfold.  Perhaps that’s part of what God Time means.  

I choose to remember that: the God Time UnFolding from the chaos, if only in the gift of a cup of coffee…

Firefighters’ Prayer: 

When I am called to duty, wherever flames may rage, give me the strength to save a life, whatever be its age.  Help me embrace a little child before it is too late, or save an older person from the horror of that fate.  Enable me to be alert and hear the weakest shout, and quickly and efficiently to put the fire out.  I want to fill my calling and to give the best in me, to guard my every neighbor and protect his property.  And if according to God’s will, I must answer death’s call, bless with your protecting hand, my family, one and all.   AMEN.

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