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  • erinschrode

September 11th, 2019

I’m in the cockpit of a plane. On September 11th. With my mangled, stitched up face. And the pilot. Sharing about his military service and wound care and fake teeth and family. What is this life?

I haven’t sat in the cockpit of a jet since I was five years old — and here I am, today of all days, on a stopover in Chicago, as I make my way to my mother on the west coast for additional medical treatment, much-needed rest and a long journey of healing. As the flight attendant helped my travel weary self from the wheelchair to my seat, I attempted to ask her if they had any spare gauze, because I need to change the bandage over my eye. She finally understood my pitiful speech and told me to stay put while she went to fetch the first aid kit.

Immediately, the pilot invited me into the cockpit to sit down IN his seat. He put my stressed mind and body at ease right away, guiding my hands onto the controls just like my Air Force veteran grandfather used to do when I was a little girl and asking me point blank what type of incident had left me in such an injured physical state. I mumbled something about Friday's accident in Israel and pointed to my various stitches and bloody scabs and immobilized teeth, saying I’d been cleared to fly home, repeating my immense gratitude and marveling at the body’s capacity to heal. He began recounting tales of his Navy days, injuries his commander sustained, his siblings who are dentists, and his son who is now serving our country, as he took my phone to snap photos of me from behind that he said I would want after this ordeal passes. He just stepped out and I am now scribbling into my phone in awe.

I wish to extend a humble, unwavering, eternal thank you to all who selflessly serve our nation, who courageously protect us, who tirelessly care for the injured, who bravely uphold our liberties, who heroically make the ultimate sacrifice, who unflinchingly risk all to save others, who valiantly defend our values, who go to work each day not knowing if they will come home or in what state. I think of the blessed lives lost in and forever impacted by the horrific terror attacks on American soil eighteen years ago on September 11th and with its aftermath, which still continues to this day: the innocent souls in the planes, the pilots, the flight attendants; the sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, friends and neighbors in the towers, in the street, in the government buildings; the first responders, the police, the firefighters, the emergency personnel; the soldiers, the military, the leaders, the veterans — those whose names we know and those which will never cross our lips, those mourned publicly and privately, those hailed as great heroes and victims whose memories we cannot and will not let fade away. I grieve with the countless people who lost loved ones, saw families destroyed, raised children without parents, yet have somehow found extraordinary strength in the depths of despair. We do not recoil in face of pain, fear or danger, allow tragedy to be used to divide, exploit or politicize, or succumb to hatred, division or violence, rather we unite with renewed hope, belief and dedication as the beautiful, resilient, diverse tapestry that is the United States of America — a place I am proud and grateful to call home, hold citizenship from and return to today, far sooner than I thought I would once again set foot on our soil. We honor, we remember and we will Never Forget.


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