Today I am remembering, from all the memories of September 11th, the first plane ride I took after the terrorist attacks. It was two to three weeks after the attacks and getting on an airplane in New York was close to the last thing I wanted to do. I don't remember ever being so frightened about flying.
I got to LaGuardia Airport, so grateful for the bomb-sniffing dogs in their yellow jackets, the armed soldiers watching everything and everyone. I got in line to board the plane to Chicago. It was unusually quiet in that line. We moved slowly toward the cabin. Instead of the flight attendant there to greet us stood the pilot. And this guy was from central casting. Deep voice, chiseled jaw. He said hello to each one of us, making eye contact, shaking our hands, and that helped because when Gregory Peck is flying your airplane it tends to make you feel secure. I found my seat — it was next to an older gentleman — and we instantly began talking, like so many on the plane did with their seat mates. He was a retired art history professor from NYU going to visit his granddaughter for her birthday. He looked at me and said, "You know, this is hard being here." I said, yes, it was for me too. We talked about the attacks, where we were, how we were trying to process. It was good to talk about it, to not just keep it inside. The door closed and a woman behind me was crying softly. The plane headed for the runway and I thought, my God, please get us to Chicago safely. Please. The art history professor said to me, "I'm not trying to be fresh, but would you mind if I held your hand when we take off?" We clasped hands as the plane headed down the runway and lifted into the sky. We sat there for a while holding hands. I don't remember who let go first.
There are moments when we just need to be real and grab somebody's hand. That man will always be part of my road to healing.