I never knew you, and you never knew me. But somehow over the course of the last few years of the nearly 3,000 people whose lives were so tragically taken from this earth on 9/11, your name keeps presenting itself to me.
The first time I learned of your story, I was volunteering at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanskville, PA.
September 11, 2001:
I remember. It was picture day at my high school. I was in the school’s auditorium waiting for our classmates to finish up so we could be dismissed. The initial whispers of what had occurred began here. A few minutes later the hallway bell rang loud and we were scattered, heading into different directions to our next class. The memory that forever exists in my mind like an image that has been burned into a TV screen, was in those moments. I was walking past a fellow classroom and as I looked in I noticed the usually rowdy bunch of upperclassmen were still, all faces glued to a TV. And, in my memory, I swear it was slow motion, I looked ahead and my Spanish Teacher, whose class I was heading to, came running from the classroom across the hall and into a fellow teacher’s room exclaiming, “Turn on the TV.”
I saw the World Trade Centers on fire.
I think everything was a blur because I remember nothing else looking back, until we had moved to science class. Teachers pulled TV’s out to the center of the rooms. Lesson plans placed aside. Everyone was glued. News came in regarding another plane which had crashed in Somerset County, PA. A fellow classmate let out an agonizing scream and collapsed into tears at her desk. Her mother was flying into Pittsburgh that day and all I could recall was her pure panic as the news suddenly engulfed her and the reality of the day was barring down. The fear of her losing her mother in the most recent crash was all that was on her mind. Later she was informed her mother was okay.
While little was known at that time, the news of the crash in Somerset County, changed the dynamic of the day for our town. We were just an hour from the crash site. No one yet knew what we know now. All we did was look at the TV, then to the sky, then to the TV, and again the sky, not knowing what was next.
I felt so compelled to participate in the Friends of Flight 93 Reforestation Project back in 2012 when it was first offered to me through work. I had never visited the Memorial up until that point. I wanted to experience it and I wanted to give back. We spent the cool April morning in 2012 in the fields above the crash site, planting seedlings. The project was (and still is) part of a major reforestation effort led the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation to support the goal of 150,000 new trees at the Flight 93 National Memorial. These trees, will serve as a windbreak to protect trees planted in nearby Memorial Groves. As I walked the rugged terrain which was once coal mined a Park Ranger said to me, “You know, those 40 people died right there (pointing to crash site) for all of us. The least we can do is spend a day sweating and getting dirty.”
After planting, I finally made my way to visit the Memorial Plaza.
What I never expected was to be completely overwhelmed with a calm and peace. That day was beautiful, with bright blue skies. Much like the skies on September 11, 2001. As I walked along the Memorial Plaza Wall and Walkway, my mind raced with thoughts. In the chaos, was there anything going through their minds? Did it happen so fast they did not have time to fear death? I prayed that you all did not suffer from the fear of leaving this earth. I walked and I prayed.
Ecclesiastes 12:7 – then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.
I walked along the Wall of Names and Flight Path taking a moment to read each one. But, then I came to yours.
And, I stopped. I was stunned. “And Unborn Child.” My heart broke. I continued ahead along the wall, but all I thought was about what I just read. I went back and that is when I snapped the picture above.
We have all heard stories of those who so tragically perished. Names became faces and faces become stories. Until that day in 2012, I had most notably heard of Todd Beamer, who was heard over an open line saying, “Are you guys ready? Let’s roll.” But, now after reading your name and “Unborn Child” a sad reality hit me for the first time as I pieced together the day and then my heart broke all over again for the family and loved ones who suffered your loss, 3,000 losses that day and continue to bare the weight of that loss everyday.
I headed back to the Memorial Plaza and located on the storyboards I found your face.
September 11, 2012:
I was asked to write a Social Media remembrance regarding 9/11 for my company’s Social Media accounts. Being mindful of the sensitivity of the day I debated and delayed on what to say and share. I had my office TV on in the background. My office was located in Pennsylvania and a local TV station was running coverage of the Flight 93 Memorial services. I worked as names were read off in the background. I decided to go through my photographs from the volunteer project at the Memorial when I pulled up the picture of your name on the wall and at that very moment, very second, your name was read across the TV. I still get chills when I think of it. Right there in my office. I cried.
I took the time to look you up. This was the first time I heard your story.
Lauren Grandcolas was traveling from her grandmother’s funeral. She actually rearranged her schedule to get an earlier flight that morning, Flight 93. Lauren was also celebrating life. She was about to write a book and she and her husband who spent years trying, were finally pregnant. I learned that Lauren’s late husband and family now run the Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas Foundation and have celebrated her legacy naming a birthing room at Marin General Hospital in her name.
I have been so grateful for the experience Friends of Flight 93 and the park service provides and volunteered with reforestation in 2012, 2013 and 2014. This year something was different though. No one knew, but I was pregnant. We always started the day with the project, working in the nearby fields. Afterwards we ended our day volunteering by visiting the Memorial site. This time though when I saw your name, I reached up and touched “Unborn Child,” and the magnitude of your family’s loss seemed unbearable to me, as I thought about my own baby growing inside. All I could do was pray.
I have had a rough few weeks. Stress has got the best of me. My baby is now 8 months old. She is teething, not sleeping, developing a personality that some days scares me – she can be so headstrong, and thrashes herself around in temper tantrums. I am tired. All the time. I am frustrated. Some days I think life is not fair. And, I pout.
Facebook does this creepy thing where it seems to know everything about you – where you shop, where you travel and now has a memories feature that displays posts you shared during the same time years prior.
Although this time I don’t think Facebook knew what it was doing. Sometimes things happen for a reason or a divine intervention.
I was in one of my “whoa is me” moods. I have been on the go mentally and physically and just felt stretched to my limits. In a moment to numb my craziness I opened my phone to Facebook cruise. I just needed to clear my mind with garbage and mindless entertainment.
When I opened my App there was your name, the picture from the memorial, a picture I posted back on September 11, 2012 with the caption – “9/11 changed us all, but I always feel a certain sadness as I think of the victims and their families. During my first visit to the Flight 93 Memorial, I the took this picture. It moved me. Initially it was the words “Unborn Child” but as time went on, I realized it was more… it was the thought of the victims and how each had a story, a life they were living.”
I sat there looking at your name and “Unborn Child” and I looked up and saw my baby girl playfully sitting before me. How selfish have I been? How ungrateful have I been? How can I complain about life, when I am living and breathing in this day, and you were so unfairly taken? How can I complain about motherhood when you were never given that chance? If I was your loved ones I would have shaken me and said, “Be grateful. You have one life and you never know when it will end.” I am so sorry.
Sometimes I think God works in mysterious ways. That moment this week was one.
I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, I don’t know what today or even the next second will bring. 9/11 forever shaped the direction of our country. It changed the lives of 3,000 people who had friends and family that loved them and lost them. It changed each one of us who just lived that day in heartache. I always say on 9/11 – I will never forget. But the truth is that after the Anniversary passes and life happens, we all forget. We focus on the negatives like a moody co-worker, or a traffic jam, we focus on the rude hostess at a restaurant and teething babies and we let life pass before our eyes.
Dear Laura, I never knew you and you never knew me. But your loss did not happen in vain. For you impacted my life by living and for that I am grateful and will live better.
September 11th – May we never forget.