9/11: My Story — Episode II

 

The host city of Moncton, New Brunswick

Day Three and the Journey Home

The next day, Thursday, Carol needed to complete her planning with three other ministers for a Prayer Service that evening. Merlin also needed to be away and they allowed Joe, Peg and myself to be at their home for what we thought was going to be the morning. The hotline number had been helpful in providing information about departure times, but the delays began to be the norm. Carol came home and suggested that we might like to get out for lunch as a change. As we drove around, I noticed the many flags at half-mast, which felt like a very supportive gesture on the part of our neighbors to the north!

More television that afternoon plus the opportunity to get on email at the home of a neighbor of Carol’s made the time pass quickly. At 6:30 p.m., Carol needed to be at the church for the service. Joe, Peg and I had already determined that we would also like to attend. Both Carol and Merlin seemed proud to introduce us to others as their guests for the past two event-filled days. We were even introduced by name to the assembled congregation at the beginning of the service. I was very touched to see an American flag draped over the pulpit and several people dressed in red, white and blue.

Immediately after the service, I was brought to the airport to begin the process of checking in prior to boarding for the flight home. My flight was now #8918 to indicate some special category and was scheduled to depart at 11:00 p.m., Moncton time. It was so good to see my fellow passengers and learn about their individual experiences of kindness. Inga was feeling healthy and energetic and had somehow been given two Canadian pins. She gave me the second one. The Red Cross was again present and attentive to our needs. They were amazing in their genuine concern and ready hospitality.

At 1:00 a.m. Moncton time, Friday morning, we were still going through the pre-flight process when the Mayor of Moncton came to say goodbye and offer thanks for our cooperation. Imagine! She also distributed little Moncton pins, which, along with the Canadian pin, I have worn proudly since my return.

After we had all boarded, the head of the airport came on board to say goodbye and thank us. Imagine, he was thanking us! He also encouraged us to return at a happier time and remember to enjoy their lobster!

A flight attendant suggested that we each capture our stories and send them to her to compile. She also suggested that we send a postcard from our individual home areas to the city hall as a thank you for their enormous generosity.

At 2:00 a.m., Moncton time, we lifted off and were so happy to land in Philadelphia at 2:45 a.m., EST.

Philadelphia, PA

I experienced yet another act of generosity when the family of another passenger, Tom, took me home. It was 4:00 a.m. on Friday the 14th.

My trip was finally ended physically but because I felt “on hold” while in Canada not knowing really when or how I was going to be able to return home, my emotional journey had just begun.

I now had welcome tasks to accomplish such as—

Writing a letter to the President of US Air to alert him to the totally professional and caring way that our flight crew managed throughout the experience. I learned from the flights as we were all sharing our stories during the waiting in the lounge area before departing for Philadelphia that during the 4.5 hours that we were airborne they did not know whether we might also be a potential flight to be hijacked. During the flight, the flight attendants had quietly but definitely removed the fire extinguishers to be used as defense if necessary and had also made a pact among themselves that it was absolutely going to be over their dead bodies that anyone would get to our cockpit!

Writing a letter to the President of New Brunswick Telecom to thank him for both the use of cell phones and the kind assistance of his many employees.

Sending donations to Carol’s church and to the Canadian Red Cross.

The experience affected me deeply, including in the following ways:

1— I’m ashamed to report that I was not so aware of God during the ordeal, but it was impossible to miss so much goodness that surrounded me—an extension of God!

2—These Canadians may have redefined the word “hospitality” for me, and, as a New Orleanian, that’s a huge concession. Their generosity of both spirit as well as tangible services will always serve as a model for me of other-oriented compassion.

3—The experience of being in real time during the attacks and even actually viewing the tape of the second plane going into the second World Trade Center tower is unimaginable to me.

4—The unabashed patriotism displayed with flags and ribbons plus dressing in red, white and blue was all quite new, true and lovely to me.

5—The sights and sounds of planes in the air have new meaning.

6—The many, many demonstrations of courage suggest examples of leadership that I included in my research and in my work.

A final comment—As I was leaving the customs area in Philadelphia an agent asked how long I had been gone. I replied that originally it was to have been eight days but… and he finished my sentence by saying, “And it turned into forever”.

Amen!

Addendum

I was returning from Europe where I had been visiting two young men who I had met fifteen years earlier in the Philadelphia area. The three of us were the only passengers on an airport van. I was returning from a domestic trip, and they were coming to the states to go to boarding school. In the process of our thirty-minute ride together, I learned that they are brothers who had been in boarding schools since they were five years old. They were now 15 and 16. They were unsure about when they would be going back home to Europe, perhaps not until school was over the following June. I mentioned that I had also attended boarding school when I was in high school, and while it had been a great experience of independence for me, it certainly was lonely at times. If they were willing I offered to pay them a visit sometime, take them out to a movie, etc. Actually over the next few months, I began to really care for them and arranged to bring them to my home for visits, including weekends. I also taught them how to drive. I determined that I would like to have them live with me the next school year since they had never experienced coed school, Friday night football games, etc., and I went to Europe the next spring to meet their (divorced) parents and secure their permission. I explained that there were three items we did not know:
1—Could the three of us live together?
2—Would the boys “like” the experience of the local high school?
3—Would a man come into my life that would change my priorities?

That summer the boys began to live with me and it did not take me very long to realize that I had been over-ambitious in many ways, including the reality that I did not have insurance for them. So, I let them and their parents know that I could not continue the arrangement. I let the boys know that I still cared for them very much and wanted to be considered a mentor or resource. They were very hurt and, I think, felt abandoned. After some time, they individually contacted me, and I have indeed loved being a part of their lives since.

Roderick now lives in Luxembourg where he is very happily married and expecting their first child. He is European Technology Project Manager for Sapa group. Sebastian is based in Paris as a consultant with Accenture. We had a beautiful time together visiting and sightseeing in Europe.


Beryl Byles

Beryl B. Byles, MBA University of Dallas, worked as an Executive Coach, specializing in leadership development for senior executives in large corporations, CEO’s of small to mid-sized companies and leaders of non-profit enterprises, challenging and supporting her clients in making growth oriented choices.  She wrote a professional memoir called Authentic Leadership: An Inside Job.  Beryl co-teaches OLLI-USF’s leadership class and is the inspiration for the Operatunity SIG.

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