I still have the airfare ticket stub marked September 11, 2001. Ten years ago, we didn’t use e-tickets.
Also, there were no smartphones. This partially explains why it isn’t the images of destruction that have stuck with me (images we didn’t get a good look at for nearly a week). It’s the voice of our pilot.
We had just begun our flight from Shannon airport in the west of Ireland home to Chicago, when a deadly-serious voice sounded over the speakers: “Something terrible has happened,” it said. “The FAA has closed all airspace, and we will not be continuing this flight.”
Our plane was grounded in Dublin, a city we hadn’t planned to visit during this, our first, trip to Ireland. Jonathan and I didn’t say anything while we sat on that plane waiting to disembark and collect our luggage packed with dirty laundry. We only looked at each other. Later, we discovered that the image in our minds had been the same: mushroom cloud.
Somehow the actual story was harder to believe. An Irishman with a working cellphone began hearing stories, and they spread quickly from row to row. Attacks? On New York City? Washington D.C.? We shook our heads, said we didn’t believe it.
A few hours later, the airport employee helping me find accommodations in Dublin said it was like something out of a disaster movie. That’s when I understood.
Jonathan left me with the luggage and went searching for a television. He found one at the airport pub. Walking back in my direction, he looked stunned.
I could only pray, “Lord, have mercy.”
For a week, we wandered around the city, feeling as if we might never get home. We guarded our torn ticket stubs as if they were a king’s ransom. We saw confused looks every time we handed them over to another ticketing agent. It was hard for them to understand that when the towers fell we’d been caught in mid-air.
Some small, rational part of our brains kept repeating that if only we knew when we’d be going home we could enjoy this unexpected vacation in Dublin. But we were counting pennies, dodging raindrops, and washing a suitcase full of clothes at the laundromat. It didn’t feel like vacation.
While on vacation we had spent our carefully saved dollars on bed and breakfasts that served Irish porridge with just-picked blackberries. In Dublin, we had a small lumpy bed and were served canned beans on toast. Want to make an American feel wretchedly homesick? Just serve her instant coffee and canned beans on toast.
The world had shifted on its axis, we understood that unimaginable evil could rear its head at any time and in any place, but we couldn’t comfort ourselves with the well-loved and familiar. The flags at half-staff were Irish ones.
After several days in Dublin, we were promised a flight home, but we would need to get back to Shannon airport. We said goodbye to the lumpy bed and took an all-day bus that brought us back across the country, to the place where we had started.
When international airspace reopened, we were there, again, at Shannon airport. They had no record of our names, and we had only our tattered ticket stubs.
We spent one night in the home of a family preparing for their daughter’s wedding. Two stranded German tourists were across the hall from us. The wife said not to worry, we were no bother at all, and she cooked us a big fried breakfast. The husband drove us back to the airport for another try.
At the airport again, we sat on the floor and listened as Aer Lingus employees filled up a plane to Chicago with names called out one by one. When there was exactly one seat left, they called my name. I said that I wouldn’t get on any plane without my husband.
We were wondering whether we could interrupt the wedding weekend with one more night’s stay, when a woman in an official green uniform came running up and shouting, “Does anyone want to go to Baltimore?” We raised our hands. Then, following our guide, we ran.
We also prayed, “God let the doors still be open.”
We weren’t headed home, but it was close enough.
We remembered a friend who lived near D.C. Jonathan, miraculously, remembered his phone number. He picked us up, drove us to his own home, gave us a beautiful, not-at-all lumpy bed.
We managed to find a tiny, out-of-the-way rental car business with one car still on its lot. We took it. Twelve hours later, and one week after 9/11, we slept in our own bed.
“God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
The holy place where the most High dwells.”
(Psalm 46: 1-4)
Wow. Cant imagine having been on a flight. Gene and I were also in a foreign country (St Lucia) though we were on an all day hike rather than travelling. So eerie to return to the hotel and learn what happened. I can identify with the homesickness and feeling out of place you talk about!
Homesickness is such a strange experience, isn’t it? You would think we both would have been thrilled to be in either St. Lucia or Ireland (one of my favorite places on planet earth!), and yet when terrible things happen we long for home, home, home. Makes me consider all of the promises of a real and lasting home that God has given in the Bible. We were created to be at Home.
Oh, Christie, your writing brought back a flood of memories. During those days, we prayed for you and Jonathan; there seemed to be so much uncertainty to the safety of Americans everywhere. As I read this, I was saddend, but your mention of the beans on toast made me laugh, great emotional relief . Also, when you mention the kindness of the family with the wedding and the friend near D.C., it is in such contrast to the evil in the hearts of the terrorists.
I agree! It’s important to remember the beans on toast (which were horrible but funny) and the amazing family who hosted us near the airport. Evil is never the entire picture – never the whole story – I think it’s important to notice and remember the good even if it appears small in comparison. Because one day the good will be everything. We know that God’s plan for evil is to destroy it utterly.
I have been thinking of your story every since I read it at 6:30 this morning. It is very moving. I keep thinking about how our generation each has a story to tell and how they felt when this horrible tragedy happened. What amazes me is how it effected each of us, even to this day. Thank you for sharing your Irish tale of love and generosity.
You’re so welcome, Kristin!
amazing to read the memories posted this week all over blogs and facebook feeds. everyone has a story from that day! it is so good to be reminded that while our life stories will include pain and sorrow, it doesn’t end there.
“You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; You encourage them, and you listen to their cry, Defending the fatherless and the oppressed, in order that man, who is of earth, may terrify no more. Psalm 10:17-18
I don’t know if I ever heard all the details of this story before. We were in Chicago and I was on the 35th floor of the Mercantile Exchange Center looking out at the Sears tower when they evacuated the city. Downtown Chicago became a ghost town and Pete and I watched the news on a repeat loop. Still seems unreal.
I imagine certain places brought the terror home more directly. Like airplanes and big-city skyscrapers. Still, terror like that infects every, ordinary place. I’m thinking a lot today about how able we are to remake places, to wash them clean of terrible associations. Or, should we not try to do that? Should certain sites, like concentration camps, be left always as memorials? Difficult stories, difficult questions.