9/11 Coffee Break: Conversation with a Flight Attendant

When I was traveling to Philadelphia in July, I made friends with an off-duty flight attendant who was sitting in the row in front of me.

Turns out, she is an aspiring writer and often overnights in Santa Barbara, and last night when she arrived in town we met at Java Station Cafe for a cup of coffee.

Java Station Cafe

She wanted to talk about writing and the book she’s working on – a World War II story – but I had only one thing on my mind: How the hell was your day at work?

“The hardest part was last night (Sept 10th),” she said, “I was having all these thoughts – you know, do I have everything? What time do I have to be there tomorrow?… Ten years ago, those flight attendants were thinking the exact same thoughts. The next day was supposed to be just another day at work.”

It was a very moving conversation, especially the idea that we simply never know what’s going to happen next. We take a lot of things for granted, but perhaps the most criminal is that, sometimes, we forget our time is limited, that each day could truly be our last.

I get asked a lot about my thoughts on flying post-9/11. I get asked if I am scared, if I worry about it happening to me.

My short answer: I am always in favor of spending my time well and will never pass up a reasonable opportunity based on fear.

Long answer: Terrorists on flights are the least of my worries.

I think that thought comes from the memories of such pain in my own life – and no doubt we all can identify – and seeing it on the faces of others takes you back, makes you remember. The world is a crazy place, and I look around and, despite the efforts of many, I don’t necessarily see it getting any better. One day, if I choose to have children, they will inherit this earth and have to deal with the same madness and suffering that I have felt – that we all have felt. That’s an unsettling truth.

Instead of asking me if I’m scared to get on the plane, I feel like people should ask me, “Are you afraid to get out of bed?”

I’m not downplaying the significance of 9/11, but for me, it is a reminder that smaller (yet equally painful) tragedies happen everyday to people everywhere. This weekend, watching the coverage of the anniversary, it made me think about all the tragedies that happen every day.

In all honesty, it reminded me of how fucked up the world is.

We had two buildings go down ten years ago and we still feel the pain – think of all the families whose lives have been destroyed as a result of war over the last few hundred years, not to mention yesterday and last week. No insensitivity meant, but I think individuals have been a bit guilty of only taking to heart those things that happen close to home.

All tragedies are created equal. The man who mourns his murdered brother in Mexico is the same as the man who mourns his classmate who was shot, is the same as the man whose brother was on one of the flights of September 11th.

Let us remember this idea. The media may make one story seem more important than another – and it might be for them – but not for me, not for people who don’t have a monetary interest.

Even things that are close to home eventually fade – no one asks me anymore if I am scared to walk on a college campus, or if I think a sniper in Los Angeles could unsettle the City of Angels.

Don’t get me wrong – if I had the formula for peace I would present it – which is why I’ve essentially removed myself from the game and have decided to spend my days in a way that makes me happy, and what makes me happy is writing and traveling and seeing the world and meeting new people with different tales to tell.

I’m working on making everything I do stick with me – making sure that when I lay my head down at night, I can say that I enjoyed being alive that day.

I still cannot say this everyday, but I have come a long way.

I owe that to them, if nothing else.



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