I was in the air when it happened.
Working as a director of training and development for a large company meant frequent travel. Every Tuesday morning, I boarded a 6:00 AM flight for either San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston or New York, and flew to meet with and train various executives.
September 11, 2001 was no different.
I boarded my flight from Seattle to San Francisco at 5:40 AM (pacific time) and we took off as scheduled at 6:00 AM.
We only made it to Central Oregon.
The first thing I remember is a flight attendant pushing the food cart in front of the cockpit door.
It struck me as a strange place to leave it.
The captain then came on the speaker and said we would be making an emergency FAA landing in Medford, OR. He said it would be very quick, so prepare for the force of it. We all assumed there was a mechanical problem with the plane.
Nervous, fidgety and very quiet…that was the entire plane’s reaction to that announcement.
I was sitting in the emergency exit row. I barely had time to store my laptop before we started to descend. The captain was right. It was fast – roller coaster fast.
I anxiously scanned the emergency door, making sure I knew how to open it… just in case. I was frustrated that the attendant had left the cart in the cockpit area. Didn’t she know she was blocking an exit?
When we landed, only about a minute and a half later, there was a sigh of relief. Then, just quiet movement as folks grabbed their suitcases and bags.
I remember seeing the flight attendants whispering.
I thought there might still be something going wrong with the plane, and tried to encourage people to start moving toward the exit.
All of a sudden, cell phones started ringing – a lot of them. Passengers started gasping. The man sitting next to me exclaimed, “What happened?” in disbelief.
I called the person I worked with to let him know I was going to be late to San Francisco that day. He gasped when he realized I didn’t know.
He is the one that told me.
Without any visual, it was difficult to understand. “Wait, what? Where did they crash planes? At SFO? Is that why we can’t land there?” I asked in my ignorance.
It wasn’t until we all walked into the airport from the tarmac that it began to sink in.
The airport was eerily silent. A huge crowd of people, from all the planes that had emergency landed there, were gathered around the only TV in the small airport.
And, I finally had a visual.
I saw the footage of both planes crashing into the towers. There was confusion on the news report about what was happening in DC and Pennsylvania, but it was suddenly and irrevocably clear that this changed everything.
After an hour of news reports in the airport, two charter buses drove up outside. One bound for San Francisco, one for Seattle. The passengers on our flight could choose which city we wanted to go to.
I boarded the Seattle bus home, without a second thought.
I was on the bus for nine hours. Without cell service for most of the ride. Without the TV reports. Without radio.
We stopped once for food, at a sweet little restaurant in the middle of nowhere. There were about 20 of us total. We all decided if the restaurant could accommodate us, we would like to sit together. We hadn’t spoken to each other during the drive, but somehow, eating alone just seemed wrong.
The waitress served us pancakes and omelets. Then she sat down with us too. We talked about what little we knew. We talked about our families. We talked about the firefighters, police officers, and medical personnel in NYC and their families.
When we got back on the bus, we were all quiet again, lost in our own thoughts and trying to process what in the world had happened.
For the first time in years, I closed my eyes and I prayed.
I didn’t really know Jesus then, but still I prayed. I prayed that if he was real, he would make this better. That he would fix it.
As I fumbled through the prayer, I heard, somewhere deep down inside, “It’s time to have a baby.”
What you don’t know is that at that time in my life, motherhood was not on the list. Not. At. All.
I was a successful, upwardly mobile, career oriented woman. I had no intention of “ruining it” with a baby. My husband and I had agreed before we got married that we would not be having children – ever.
And then, September 11th happened, and everything changed.
By May of 2002 I was pregnant. A year later, in May of 2003, God would permanently take over my heart.
When I heard, “It’s time to have a baby,” in that moment I knew it was true.
I just knew.
For many of us, life was totally turned upside that day. My colleagues in New York, walked through ash and listened to the sirens all day long. When I returned to New York on business, only three weeks later, the ash still hung in the air and covered all the store fronts in the area.
I cannot imagine what it was like to live there.
So many people lost family members and friends and bosses and clients and neighbors. So many people, gone on one September morning,
My story is so small compared to theirs.
Yet, throughout all of our stories, I know that there is one breathtaking common thread –
God was with every single one of us that day.
In the face of unspeakable evil and loss, God was there – comforting us, loving us, changing us.
He was there.
And, I am forever grateful.
Shawna Wingert is a former training and development professional turned education specialist, and has homeschooled her two children for the last ten years.Shawna has written four books about homeschooling unique learners and has been featured in homeschooling discussions on Today.com, The Mighty, Simple Homeschool, My Little Poppies and Raising Lifelong Leaners.
You can find her online here at DifferentByDesignLearning.com.