Image Courtesy of Annaclare Burnett
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I woke up for my first day of preschool. I went into the kitchen for my usual cheerios and cinnamon toast, when my mom informed my sisters and I that “Daddy changed his flight this morning so he could come home sooner. He’s on his way home right now. He misses you so much.”
We missed him too. We missed him tossing us up in the air, dancing with us before bedtime, reading to us, singing bedtime songs to us, teaching us to fish and playing with us…we missed him.
We have never stopped missing him.
My mother ritually turned on the TV to watch the morning news, and the first image was one of a plane crashing into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. My mom ran around the house, looking at airline papers and making phone calls. Then, the phone rang. I watched my mom answer the phone and sigh with relief — it was my dad, he was OK. The phone rang a second time. This phone call was different. My mom began to wail so uncontrollably, we thought she was playing “the animal game,” where you make the animal noise and try to guess the animal. So, we shouted out our guesses, and she paid us no mind. We knew then that this was no game. Her terror seeped into us.
It is an agonizing experience to hear your own mother cry so violently. Panic-stricken, I hid behind the couch. My mother’s screams, the noise of TV and the sound of planes crashing consumed me. It seemed like if I could just be still enough and silent enough, I could close my eyes and it would all go away.
The phone rang a third time. Instinctively, I knew it was him. I begged, “Please, mommy, please let me talk to daddy! Please!”
It was as if she didn’t even hear me.
The phone never rang again.
Our neighbors came and took me and my sisters to their house. Policeman, reporters, friends and priests crowded our driveway and street. I went to preschool and came home to our entire neighborhood filled with TV trucks, police and people praying. It was chaos. That night my mom sat all three of us down in my bedroom. Weak and red-eyed, she whispered, “There were some very bad men on daddy’s plane…he’s not coming home.”
Daddy’s not coming home.
Fifteen years later, I still cannot find the words to describe that moment. My dad is my hero. His last words to my mother (via the phone) were, “We’re going to do something.” He formulated a plan, inspired the passengers and stormed the cockpit to take back the plane. Although the plane did crash, he managed to at least steer it away from the original target — The White House.
I have learned from him to never be a bystander, to always take action. Life is exactly what you make it for however long we are here. Of course, I wish my father and the other passengers had survived, but since that day I have been nothing but blessed a thousand times over. I have learned to love and appreciate everything as completely as I can.
Who would have ever thought that tragedy could teach someone to be an optimist? Yes, it was hard growing up without a dad. Yes, I have cried myself to sleep, aching for a fatherly relationship. It was hard watching my friends’ dads play with them and carry them to bed. But at the end of the day, there is too much to be thankful for to be encompassed with grief. This, by far, is the biggest lesson I have learned.
Today, I am happy, healthy and overwhelmed with love and joy. Every day, I strive to honor my father, to make him proud and carry his legacy.
Follow Annaclare Burnett on Twitter: @annaclarenews