I take my jacket from the closet and hang it on a hook. I inspect it for any imperfections. I check the collar and the sleeves, looking for lint. I examine the braid to make sure there are no frays or hanging threads. The skirt undergoes the same inspection. I inspect my shoes. My uniform must be perfect. I am an American Airlines Flight Attendant, based in Washington DC.
I was among the last to fly with the four flight attendants who had been on American Airlines Flight 77, Michelle, Renee, Ken and Jennifer. I carry the memory of that last flight. For a long time I had insomnia. The thoughts do that to you.
The five of us had flown into Washington together on Saturday, September 8. It was Flight 144.
Renee was at the front of the plane as I walked on in LA. She was working first class, sorting dishes in the galley. We waved hello. I saw Jennifer. She sat on the arm-rest of the last seat in first class with that big wide-eyed smile of hers. "Hello, Linda!" she said. "We're going to have a great day today, aren't we!" That was Jennifer, always so bright. Ken, never far from her, waved hello.
These are memories that come with the uniform.
I sat beside Michelle on the jump seat as we took off that Saturday. Michelle was always laughing. She had life figured out, that girl. She lived for her family. She had a wonderful husband and two wonderful kids. That's what we talked about on the jumpseat, her family.
I had a passenger come up to me recently. He saw my pin, with the number "77" on it, and he asked me what it meant. It told him it was for Flight 77. He said he didn't know what that meant, and I told him. He sort of shrugged. "Well, I guess you learn new things all the time," he said.
Where do you turn for solace when everyone around you is in need of the same comfort? When your life has been devastated? You turn to the people who can appreciate what has happened. You turn to one another. We became our own support group, all of us at the DCA base.
I'm not a big things person. I'm not someone who goes out and makes big news with my volunteer efforts. I look for little things I can do. We pulled together, all of us at the DCA base, looking for things we could do to honor our fallen colleagues. Each of them had something close to their hearts, and we dedicated ourselves to projects that had special meaning for them.
For Michelle it was the St. Ann's Children's home. She loved the kids. Renee volunteered at The Walters Museum in Baltimore, MD. Ken and Jennifer loved the outdoors. My colleagues came up with a plan to create a garden for them in a park in Culpeper, Virginia, their hometown. "Kennifer," they called it. It became important for me to contribute to these projects in some small way. I counted videos for a video library in honor of Michelle at St. Ann's. The "Kennifer Memorial Garden" required many hours of physical labor, but it felt so good to dig in the dirt, to arrange plants and water them with a "bucket brigade" from a nearby stream. These are small things. But it provided me with the camaraderie of others caught up in the same nightmare. The friendships I formed during this period were forged by fire. As a base we are much more cohesive today than ever before. Always a smaller base than most, we have endured more than most. This, along with doing charity projects, has brought us closer.
There is joy in being a survivor. But there is guilt as well. Why not me? Yet the healing goes on. I must live my life to my full potential. That is what I have decided to do, in my own small way.
I go to my closet. I take out my uniform It must be perfect, for them.
Linda Souder has been an American Airlines Flight Attendant since August 1999. Before that she worked as a nurse, first in the Air Force, then at various locations around the country.
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QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION - From the Editor
Debbie Roland and Toni Knisley, two leaders from American Airline's DCA base invited me to join them and their colleagues at the "Kennifer Memorial Garden" to mark the third anniversary of 9/11 in September, 2004. At the garden (mentioned in Linda's story,) I asked Heidi Pryon, an American Flight Attendant, why they chose the name "Kennifer." Heidi had been Jennifer Lewis' roommate before she married Ken.
"Because they were two peas in a pod," she said.
That moment I understood the special bond this group shares. Friends and colleagues of the Lewis' found strength in coming together for two people whose lives had been defined by "closeness." In the process the Lewis's colleagues reaffirmed the bonds of community. The charity projects members of the DCA base created to celebrate the lives of the Lewis' as well as their other basemates gave them a purpose, a focus and an energy that "moved them forward." Or as Linda says in her story, "where do you turn…when you've been devastated. We turned to one another." The projects brought them closer, ensuring "individual movement forward" for participants, but the projects also confirmed the power of group support.
Below you'll find a few questions for discussion, gleaned from Linda's story. These can be used by individuals to ponder the lessons in the story, or by groups. How do we learn to move forward after loss? That is the question and the challenge.
- What is the role of community in helping us recover from loss? Why is it helpful to talk to people who've had the same experience?
- I may want support, but how do I get it?
- In her story, Linda encountered a passenger who did not recognize the "77" on her pin. What's the best response in a situation like that?
- How can doing "small things" move us forward?
- Why do I feel guilty sometimes, even when I've done nothing wrong?
Below, offer your comments to these questions, and to Linda's story. Is there a lesson you learned from her story, an insight it gave you, or something her experience "triggered" for you that you'd like to share?
Below, in 10 to 50 words, enter your comments. (If you have a longer "story" to tell, or a story about your experiences, please feel free to go to the PROUDLY I FLY page click here.)
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A DEEPER LOOK - The Law of Attraction
In this months newsletter, we discuss the "Law of Attraction," which holds that "I attract to my life whatever I give my energy, focus and attention to." In the newsletter, we discuss the successful way that Linda employed the "power" of the "Law of Attraction."
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