As we started the day today, my mind was flooded with memories of 9/11/01 when the world fell apart for America. Sitting at my desk at work, I remember a friend opening the door and telling us what was going on in New York. I immediately called my mom to see what was going on and, as we were talking, the second plane slammed into the South tower of the World Trade Center.  I will never forget that day and the days that followed. The fear for our country and the sadness for all of those families who lost loved ones in New York, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania. Those planes represented hate filled destruction, anti-American sentiment, pain, sorrow, grief, fear, guilt for those survivors who questioned “why them and not me?”, so many emotions. For a long time, I was afraid of flying because of the events of 9/11. Those passengers had no idea what was about to happen to them when they boarded those planes. Sometimes I would look up at the sky and see a plane flying overhead and my mind would go back to that day and I would want to cry from the deep sadness that I felt. Sometimes it’s hard to believe how much an event can touch our hearts so deeply that we can’t control the tears. I have felt like that many times in the years since that day.

Today, sixteen years later, as I was getting my daughter ready for her first day of school, I was again experiencing some of the same emotions of that day but for a couple of reasons:

Since moving to St. Kitts in 2014, air travel has become the norm for our family. It’s simply how you get anywhere when you live on an island. So, as I was looking at her, I thought about how hopping on a plane is just a normal thing for her; like getting in the car to go to school. I could not imagine how those passengers felt aboard those planes that day. Honestly, I can’t allow myself to ask all the questions that run though my mind about what it was like for them during those final moments. If I did, I would probably never fly again. It was such a sad and confusing time.

The other reason that the emotions have been running the gamut today is because of the recent passing of Hurricane Irma over the Caribbean islands and into the US. While our little island was spared the worst of the storm, many neighboring islands were destroyed leaving many without anything except the clothes on their backs. One of those islands, Sint Maarten, holds some special significance for our family because it’s where my husband also works in addition to our island. He travels there frequently and we rarely travel with him so we were extremely blessed to be able to ride out this storm together in the safety of our home in St. Kitts. Some of our friends weren’t so lucky. For one reason or another, they ended up being separated from their loved ones during some of the scariest days of this disaster. Because the airport in Sint Maarten was not operational from just prior to the storm until now, no flights have been going in or out of the country. During these days, our emotions have ranged from joy upon hearing that everyone was ok to sadness over the level of destruction, relief for our own safety to fear for our friends’ safety. There has even been some “survivors’ guilt” because it could just as easily have been our island instead of theirs and now we are back to “business as usual” while they are in a state of uncertainty. It just doesn’t make sense. These past several days, the planes have represented frustration, fear, and desperation for all of those whose loved ones have been stranded without even basic necessities while we were left feeling helpless just a few miles away. If only a plane could get there and bring them home.

We’ve been hearing reports of evacuations starting for several days with one of my friends hopeful that she would be reunited soon with her father and another praying to be reunited with her husband. I’ve heard that planes were being chartered by different groups to get people out but the process is slow and none of us wanted to get our hopes up. Then, this afternoon, as I was driving to pick my daughter up from school, I looked up to the sky and saw a plane take off. When it banked toward Sint Maarten, I started to cry. That plane, that tiny plane…represented hope. It represented people whose loved ones would be reunited with them very soon; after days of waiting and praying.

I was struck by the two extremes in my emotions today; both represented in my mind by planes; both bringing me to the point of tears; both shaping what this day will represent to me in the years to come. I think the thing that I am realizing is that, even amidst the worst imaginable destruction, after all the pain and suffering, the worry and the fear, there will always be hope.

Fly little plane…bring them home.

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

Writing and Speaking for the Pop Culture Literate.

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