When my work affords me the opportunity to travel, I am always grateful. Growing up not having seen much of the United States, I am always delighted to find myself in new states, new cities surrounded by unfamiliar streets, faces and food. This gratitude was present when I flew down to Norfolk, Virginia two Sundays ago for work. Meeting with young, ambitious adults who are interested in addressing the grave educational inequities that continue to plague communities throughout our nation, I heard stories about family struggles, growing up in poverty and what it’s like to enter college and discover your K-12 education has not successfully prepared you.
I departed for Norfolk on Tuesday afternoon and headed to Charlotte, NC—the connecting city in my journey back to New York—and after my flight was delayed by almost an hour I began to pray that I’d arrive back to New York in time for the second presidential debate. Having connected in Charlotte in route to Norfolk and then back to New York, my flight home was the fourth plane I had been on in just over 48 hours.
I’ve never had a fear of flying, but I must admit that when the aircraft is shaky at times, the possibilities of danger sometimes arise in my creative mind. Like other passengers, I always remain calm of course, reading my Kindle until I’m told to turn it off or sipping on a ginger ale wondering if it’s really delicious or if it simply reminds me of being comforted when I was ill as a child.
The flight back to New York was relatively smooth. It was a pretty short flight time and having won the aisle seat—where I am always most comfortable—the only thing left to do to make the day a true success was to snatch a cab and get back to Brooklyn in time to unwind before President Obama and Mr. Romney took the stage. As the seatbelt sign returned, trash was collected and electronics were summonsed to rest.
The sun was just beginning to set and the beauty of the city from way up above was simply magnificent. If painters search for moments to capture a reality that must never be forgotten, surely the scene from the aircraft was the foundation of a profound masterpiece waiting to be discovered. The water, the reflection of the sun from large glimmering windows of tall buildings, bridges connecting the histories of unfamiliar divisions… I was in awe.
Then my feelings of elation were interrupted by the raspy voice of the pilot. The moment he began to warn us about turbulence, I could feel the cabin beginning to rattle. I had felt turbulence before of course, but this was a bit more violent. Passengers beside me leaned forward a bit as the front of the plane tipped and then our bodies were pulled backward as the aircraft began a sudden climb.
For a split second I honestly thought: what if this is it? What if something goes wrong? What if that Facebook update about my breakfast at Cracker Barrel are the last words I leave for the world? Then I began to think about what it must feel like to be on an aircraft and to not suspect, but to know for sure that in a few moments the plane would crash.
The thought terrified me and at the same time humbled me. Living in New York, you still feel a palpable fear and a sense of loss from the September 11 attacks. Perhaps for generations those feelings will remain and certainly they are accompanied by a sense of courage, bravery, and patriotism.
Like all Americans alive during that horrific tragedy for our nation, we’ll always remember where we were that moment history was made. What we will never know, and what I felt on the plane landing in New York on Tuesday evening was the view of a history untold, because the men and women who lost their lives sitting on an aircraft are not here to tell us what they saw and heard. What the felt.
When my flight finally landed I could feel in myself and in the expressions of relief from those around, an overwhelming sense of gratitude that we had made it safely. What I couldn't escape, despite this relief, was a haunting sense of sorrow for the last words and the views of history unknown...