Gratitude in the Midst of Terror
At 8:41am on September 11th 2001, I was waiting to get a breakfast sandwich from my high school cafeteria. It was 10 minutes before my next class started and five minutes before the New York City skyline would change forever.
A week earlier, the fall golf season at my school had started. My teammates and I were heading into our third and final season together. Our coach, “Coach V” had been with us since the beginning. He taught in the elementary school, but enjoyed spending time with us high school kids and teaching us what he could.
That season, he decided to take on an assistant coach. A young woman, who also taught in the elementary school. Coach Jane. She loved the game and wanted to help in any way she could.
We got to know Coach Jane during our first week of practices. She shared that her husband was the one who introduced her to golf, which is why she loved the game so much. It was something that they shared together.
Coach Jane talked about her husband often.
He was a broker at a tight-knit financial firm in New York City. He worked on the 105th floor of World Trade Center One, the North Tower.
September 11th 8:46am
I finally got my breakfast sandwich and realized…
“I’m about to be late for my next class.”
I walked out into the cafeteria and looked up at the TV screen that was showing the local news. I thought to myself… “the TV’s are never on in here, what’s going on?”
I asked a nearby student what was going on and he said,
“Some idiot just flew a plane into one of the Twin Towers.”
I remember thinking how terrible it was that someone could make a mistake like that. I watched for another minute or two as I ate. Then I ran off to my class.
I was nine minutes late to class. I explained to the teacher that I was in the cafeteria watching the news. The TV’s were on in the classroom too. She told me she understood and that she wouldn’t mark me late today.
Students in the classroom were glued to the TV screen. We were all trying to understand what was going on.
Then, at 9:03am my classmates and I watched as United Airlines Flight 175 flew directly into the the South Tower live on the morning news.
A National Tragedy Made Personal
Over the next hour and a half, the world watched as The South Tower, the second one to be hit, collapsed at 9:59am. Then the North Tower at 10:28am.
The twin towers were gone forever.
The aftermath of the tragedy went on for weeks. Response teams worked 24-hour shifts trying their best to save people from the rubble and destruction. Some people were found even days later, badly injured and starving.
Coach Jane’s husband, Bill, was not.
Minutes before the first impact, Bill was on the phone with a client. They were discussing the market and some trades they’d been interested in, when Bill mentioned that he just heard a loud bang and felt his building shake. Moments later, he was brought up to speed.
A plane had just hit his building 10 floors below and his company was asked to evacuate the building. Eventually, Bill was disconnected from his client. He tried to contact his wife, Jane, however the cell phone services weren’t working.
Because of the raging smoke and fire, everyone above the point of impact, including Bill, were trapped. None of them made it out alive.
Coach Jane never spoke to her husband again. She never saw him again. Bill had been stolen from her much too soon, all out of a hatred that had nothing to do with Bill or Coach Jane.
What’s Left to be Grateful For?
Coach Jane’s life had been turned upside down and nobody would have faulted her for quitting her job and moving back to California to be surrounded by people who loved her.
Nobody would fault her for any action that she took, after all, there’s no right or wrong way to grieve.
But Coach Jane didn’t quit life. Instead she focused on the one thing that she could hold on to.
The good times.
Two weeks prior to the attacks, Coach Jane and her husband Bill, took a 10-day trip to California to visit with Bill’s family. Little did they know it would be the last time they were all together.
Jane was later quoted in a local news article saying she and her family found solace in the memory of that last trip. “We just feel very blessed to have had that trip so he could see all the relatives,” she said.
In spite of all the unanswered questions, the agony of loss, and living life with a piece of her missing; she was grateful for the time she shared with Bill and the memories she had of all the great days they shared together.
Coach Jane was also grateful to her friends and family who stood by her in her most difficult time. She credits her memories and their support for helping her continue to move forward.
As time passed, Coach Jane put the remaining pieces of her life back together.
She kept teaching for another 9 years, being sure to stay true to her purpose. Then, when she decided to resign, she did something that she and Bill had talked about doing years earlier.
She moved to beautiful Hawaii, fulfilling the dream she shared with her late husband.
Lesson’s from Coach
No matter what’s going on in your life, no matter how bad things seem to be, it’s important to remember that there is always something to be grateful for.
But how do you find things to be grateful for when everything is going wrong?
I believe Coach Jane’s story teaches us that no matter how bad things are right now, you can always look to the past for something good. It may not be as big as a 10-day vacation, it may be as simple as a smile, a shoulder to cry on, or simply a kind word that resonated with you.
Those small moments, the one’s we often take for granted, are the moments that can lift our spirits. If we take the time to be grateful for them, those same small moments can make our days a little bit better and ultimately change our lives.
Today, find something to be grateful for, no matter what!