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What 9/11 Means to Me

September 11, 2021

Inspiration on the 20th Anniversary of 9/11

Daniel R. Brandhorst

Sitting next to the crystal blue pool with an equally similar colored sky above me, I gaze down into the water as if it is one of the 9/11 reflection pools. Missing from the edge of my pool is the name of my friend Daniel R. Brandhorst, a seven-year colleague from Le Moyne College who changed his flight that morning to catch an earlier flight back to the west coast from Boston with his family in tow. Somehow the image of the second plane piercing a twin tower also pierced my heart and I knew something was terribly wrong and would impact my life forever.

Freedom Tower

Not only did I lose a friend, I lost the bravery to fly even though I grew up in an air force base town and my stepfather flew a small Tiger Drummond plane. We flew that plane often to local places like Saranac Lake instead of driving. I loved being in the air. I had no fear then. But over the course of having a next door neighbors’ son die piloting a small plane near Lake Placid, a friend who was supposed to be on the Pan Am plane that went down in Lockerbie, Scotland, and then Dan dying in the 9/11 attack, a fear of flying grew inside my heart, spirit and brain. It wasn’t so much I feared flying, but feared someone I loved dying on a plane.

Two years after 9/11 my husband said, “The boys and I are going on a trip and we want you to come with us; you have to stop being scared to fly.” I tried to explain I couldn’t do it but eventually decided do go. Our first flight from Syracuse to Baltimore was uneventful. The second flight from DC to Cancun, Mexico, ended shortly with our pilot having an emergency medical issue that caused flight attendants to run up the aisles as I noticed feet moving under the cockpit. My youngest son was asleep on my lap but my legs were bouncing up and down so much with anxiety, I woke him up. I looked at my other son and said, “start praying Thomas, there’s something wrong.” My husband looked at me a bit crazy, but soon realized as they made the announcement we had to turn around came over the loud speakers.

Landing back in Baltimore, there were tons of emergency vehicles waiting for us, again totally panicked, I assumed we would crash and explode with a full tank of gas in the plane not knowing who was landing the plane. As we landed safely, I ran off the plane into the bathroom and sobbed for 30 minutes in a bathroom stall emptying out my fear. I knew I had to get back on a plane to finish our trip and I didn’t know how I was going to do it. My husband decided to order me a 3-shot vodka tonic to get me back on board. After safely landing in Cancun, we unpacked and I headed to the fitness room and ran 2 hours straight on a treadmill to dump out the rest of the fear inside me.

I know my friend Dan traveled first class and know without a doubt he would have tried to stop an emergency with his partner and 2-year-old son on board. So sitting on the plane to Cancun wondering what was happening and how Dan must have felt witnessing the high jacking of the plane, put me in his shoes. I always wondered what it felt like for him, and there I was feeling the experience although our trip ended differently. Our pilot had a heart attack flying and thus the need to turn back to Baltimore. I felt sorry for the pilot whose career probably ended that day and sorry my friend Dan had to die in an epic plane crash.

Eventually I was able to fly again but never without thinking about Dan or our trip to Cancun. God taught me that our fates are already written in the heavens. My son who is in the medical profession said to me once, “Mom, we all have a death story. We just don’t think about it or know what it is.” I jokingly said back to him, “I hope my death story is getting hit by a coconut on my head while I’m sitting under a tree on Sanibel Island.” Time will tell.

So today as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of 9/11, I think of my friend flying high in the blue sky above with his angel wings, brave, fearless, knowing his death story is written into history forever. He was such a wonderful person who didn’t deserve that kind of death, but he’ll always be memorialized on this day, and for that I’m eternally grateful.

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