After the tragedy of 9/11, someone said to me that travel would never be the same in this country again. It seemed an odd thing to say, when the real focus was on so many lives lost, and such a shocking betrayal and attack on our own turf. I suppose the people who experienced Pearl Harbour felt the same way. Other than those two events, I can’t think of any other attacks on American soil, by people from a foreign country. And yes, things have changed since. Like any terrible event, once you know it can happen, life is forever changed.
But the prediction about travel in this country, as a sidebar to that, and directly related to it, certainly turned out to be true as well. We now stand in security lines for hours at airports, taking half our clothes off to go through the metal detector, we get frisked, patted down, wanded, felt up, felt down, trot around the airport in bare feet (yerghk!!!), and recently I was offered the opportunity (and declined it, fortunately it was optional) to go through a machine at airport security that shows you naked on the films. Great, I’m afraid they’re a few years too late on that one, if ever, and the woman who offered me that easily resistible opportunity assured me that they ‘get rid of the films later’—-yeah, to whom? The National Enquirer? Just what I want to see while buying my groceries, standing at the check out stand at Safeway, is me naked at the airport. No, thanks. I passed on that one. Besides, I’m used to being frisked now. Not to mention the fact that they throw away your make up, your toothpaste, any liquid, and treat you like a criminal if you have an Evian bottle in your purse. And honestly, I don’t mind the intense security, it reassures me that if I can’t get my make up onto the plane (I now check it through), hopefully some terrorist can’t get a bomb on either. Let’s hope. Although occasionally I wonder if while they are going through every paper in my briefcase, and eyeing me with suspicion—-are they missing someone really suspicious further down the line? I look pretty harmless when I travel, and still follow my grandmother’s rule about being ‘properly dressed’ when you travel or fly. I’ve slipped a little, and am more casual than I used to be, but I still look pretty respectable when I fly. And they still go over me with a fine tooth comb anyway. It’s just part of travelling now, although not a lot of fun to spend an additional hour in the airport before a flight, to accommodate the long lines, frisking, patting, and search through my handbag (Good luck if they can find anything in my purse, I sure cant.)
But what I was reminded of recently, as 3 of my children flew home for Thanksgiving, and all called before they took off—–I was reminded of something I have noticed again and again in the 9 years since 9/11, which really makes me sad. It is something that has changed radically between my children and me. Before 9/11, we were always a family that travelled a lot. I have family in France and Germany, I spend a fair amount of time there and always did, many of my kids went to college in the East, I do business in New York, and we move around a lot, so travel is not new to us, and it seems like every week, one of us is going somewhere, and always did. And we travel for pleasure too. In the past, all of us got on planes, went where we were going, didn’t think about it, and didn’t communicate with each other en route, until we walked through the door of wherever we were going, if then. Travelling and flying was just something we did, and considered commonplace. Calling me to say goodbye from the airport would have seemed silly, and if I had called them before the plane took off they would have thought me ridiculous. What’s wrong with Mom? Is she sick? But not so anymore. Remembering those fateful flights on 9/11 where everyone lost their lives, as soon as we began flying again after 9/11 (and not long after, albeit somewhat nervously), each child called me just as they got on the plane to say “I love you, Mom”. It was as simple as that, and it gripped my heart as they started to do it. Suddenly, each child was calling me from whatever plane they were on, before take off, and before they told them to shut off their phones. And I realized that they weren’t just telling me they loved me, but it was a way of saying goodbye to me ‘just in case’. And often their last call before take off was followed up by a text, again telling me they loved me, and my rapid response also by text, telling them I loved them too. And the term ‘fly safe’ became part of our travel vocabulary as part of that goodbye. Within a short time, I began doing it too, calling each of them before I flew, and I have a lot of kids!!! Now as I drive to the airport, or am driven, I call to tell them I’m leaving, and tell them I love them, and I call or text each of them to tell them when I land and arrived safely.
What it implies very clearly is that none of us feel fully safe anymore when we travel, that we realize that a terrorist can change our lives forever in an instant, that flying has now become risky business and nothing is sure anymore. Whereas people used to be afraid of plane crashes, now they are afraid that a terrorist might recreate 9/11. It saddened me greatly to realize that my children now feel so unsafe, that they realize they might not survive some random ordinary flight that they wouldn’t have thought about as risky before. They want to say ‘goodbye’ to me before they go, in a touching, poignant way that is the direct result of that terrible day of 9/11. And I who am a relatively fearless and constant flyer feel it too. I won’t leave the ground now without telling each of them how much I love them, so that will be the last they heard from me ‘if anything happens’. None of us have expressed in words why we make those calls now, but we all know. And the need to say ‘fly safe’ has become an almost superstitious ritual, because our safety in the air is not quite so sure anymore as it was before 9/11. I never erase my children’s pre flight text messages now until they have safely reached their destination.
I don’t mind being frisked by strangers in the airport, or standing with my arms and legs wide while someone turns the waistband of my slacks inside out, or walking across the filth on the airport floor in stockings or bare feet, but I mind so much that each of my children realizes now, even if unspoken, that their I love you call to me from the plane might be the last time we speak, and they want to tell me that they love me, or hear it from me, one last time before we fly, ‘just in case’. How incredibly sad that young people have to think now, each time before they fly, that their lives might be in jeopardy and they might never reach their destination, because of a random act of terror (and not a mechanical failure of the plane, which could happen too, but is far less likely. Statistically, flying is far safer than driving on a highway).
I had a bout of fear of flying in my early 20’s, and took a wonderful fear of flying class, offered by United Airlines then. It got me flying again with no problem, and ever since, I take one, two even three flights a day sometimes to make connections, without problem or second thoughts. But about 4 of my children are afraid to fly now, and have really had to wrestle with it since 9/11. They are anxious now, although they have grown up on airplanes and never thought about it before. Now they really don’t like to fly.
But as three of my children called me this morning from the airport, before they got on flights home from the various cities where they live, they told me how much they love me, they sent me a text right after we talked, and before we hung up I told them to ‘fly safe’. So much feeling and fear wrapped up in those two awkward words…..fly safe….please don’t let anything happen to you….please God keep them safe….please know how much I love you…..fly safe….come home….and don’t let a 9/11 happen to anyone ever again…..I was struck again by how much fear we are all left with after 9/11, not just the inconvenience, even if we are not overtly conscious of it, after these 9 years of intense security at the airports…..fly safe…..I am so sorry that my children feel a need to say goodbye to me and tell me how much they love me, before every flight now. How sad, and what a terrible price we have all paid for that fateful day……fly safe….forevermore, and may no one ever attack us on our turf again. May our lives be safe, and those of our loved ones, on the ground or in the air….fly safe….be safe…..