Saturday, October 20, 2012

9/11 Really Hits Home

It was a beautiful fall day, with the temps in the 70's and still a lot of leaves on the trees and a lot of color left. I went for a bike ride this afternoon and I have a regular route that goes through some cemeteries and trails. I was going through one cemetery and the route I took just happened to take me by a grave site with a car parked, a lady sitting on a stone, and John Denver music playing in the car. Usually when I see someone at a grave I keep going, out of respect for their privacy. Sometimes they look up and I wave and they wave back.
  Today something compelled me to stop. I said hi to the lady, and I said "Is that your husband's grave?" No she said. "Its my son. He was killed on 9/11." My heart just sank. He was on Flight 11 from Boston to LA and that was the first plane to crash into the World Trade Towers. I was sitting on my bike, and I put the bike down and took my helmet off out of respect for her, and went over to her and we introduced ourselves. It turns out that remains were found of her son and they were  buried at the cemetery. He left behind a young wife and baby. He was visiting from California and stayed an extra day just to spend more time with his family and friends.  If he didn't change his flight, he would have left on Sept. 10.
  I told her how sorry I was and that my thoughts were with her and all her family. We hugged each other and we had tears in our eyes. She thanked me for stopping and said I was not bothering her at all. She said she loved to talk about her son. She took a book out of the trunk of her car and it was a life story of her son she had put together. Lots of pictures and stories. Her son loved John Denver and I told her how I had seen him in concert in Danbury, Ct. many years ago and  how great he was.
  Most of us watched  9/11 on tv and saw all the horrible images and read all the stories about all the heroes and victims. And over the years a lot of us have gone to the Memorial at the site in New York. All pretty powerful stuff. But I didn't know anyone that was on any of those flights or was in any of the buildings. The closest I came was we have a  good friend who was an attendant for American Airlines and she flew that Boston to LA route all the time. When I got home from work, that was the first call I made and she answered! She had not been assigned to that flight that day. But she knew everyone on the crew and she carries their names on a card and looks at it every day.
  But talking to this lady and hearing her story and talking about her son really hit home for me. I felt like I had lost a family member. Then she pointed to an urn that was right in front of her son's gravestone. She said that was her grandson. I said, "what happened." He was murdered she said. 18 years old. I didn't ask what happened. I was just too stunned. I can't imagine any parent losing a child and then losing a grandchild too. I didn't ask her about her husband. I hope he is still alive and she is not going home to an empty house. She moved here from another state to be closer to her son's grave.
  We talked about 20 minutes. We mentioned the hundreds of other gravestones in the cemetery and that each one of them had their own stories too. And we talked about how we see signs from our parents who have gone before us. I mentioned one of my sisters and how she took my mother for rides on Cape Cod and looked at the seagulls and fed them. And when my mother died 5 years ago, my sister lived in a cottage overlooking a marsh and there was an old post in the marsh, near the river, and the day after my mother died,  there was a lone seagull sitting on that post. There had never been anything on that post before.  Maybe that was Mom telling my sister that everything was ok.
  Just before I left, I knelt down, kissed my hand and wiped it across his name on the gravestone and blessed myself. I always do that on my parents' grave when I visit them too. She thanked me for doing that and for listening to her. I stood up, gave her a hug and kiss and told her may God bless her and her son and grandson. We both had tears in our eyes as I left and I could hardly see the road as I headed down the trail.
  I hope she is doing ok tonight. I have thought of her and her son and grandson all day. No one should have to carry a burden like that. And isn't it interesting how the lives of total strangers can intersect, if only for a few minutes,  and how they can affect each other. If I had gone a different path today, we never would have met. I know I am better off for having met her today. I hope she feels the same way.