9/11 And My Mother’s Birthday

Sunday will be ten years since the World Trade Towers fell on 9/11. Funny how if you ask most people what they did yesterday, they don’t remember. If the next question was where were you when the Twin Towers were attacked on 9/11, they would know exactly where they were and what they were doing that day.

For me, it was a typical day of shopping at Costco with my then two year old daughter, minding my own business. Another typical thing for me was to get my shopping done as early as possible so as to have the rest of the day to do things with my daughter. By the time I got home, everything had changed. I found my husband glued to the TV and as I started to see what he was watching, I froze. Initially, I thought it was a scene from a movie, until I saw his face and the sadness that it showed. All I heard myself say was, “Oh my god” as I saw the second tower collapse on TV. I felt a sense of sadness, loss and incredulity over what I had just witnessed.

Seconds later, I realized that it was real, and the Twin Towers were gone. Still hoping that it was just a show, not wanting to believe what just happened, I kept uttering the same words, over and over: “Oh my God, those poor people!” At the same time, I ran to the phone to call someone but couldn’t get through, the lines were all tied up. News flashes kept circulating letting us know that any flights on air were not being allowed to land and were being diverted to land somewhere else. It was at that moment when I remembered that my mother was on a flight scheduled to land at JFK that day and in that instant, we didn’t know where her plane would be allowed to land.

After what seemed like hours of trying to contact any of my family members, my mother called me. When I asked her where she was, she sounded confused and angry that their plane had to make an emergency landing in Edmonton, Canada. I asked if she knew what happened and she said that they were not told why they had to land in Canada, and that’s when I told her that Twin Towers had been attacked and that the buildings had collapsed. I heard my mother cry over the phone and I cried along with her. From my end, although my mother was in another country, she was alive and safe. What saddened me more was that she had to go through two traumatic events without us, coming home alone from the Philippines after visiting her dying sister and celebrating her birthday, the 12th, after this attack in another country without her family.

Upon realizing this, my husband and I made sure that we sent flowers to the hotel where she and 300 other passengers were being hosted during their unplanned stay. While my mother was surprised and happy for the flowers we sent, the happiness was short-lived since she was not allowed to take it with her to the airport due to security reasons when they tried to fly back home. To her, the flowers made her feel close to us, but it also reminded her of why she was in Canada and how far away she was from home.

That unplanned stay consisted of going back and forth to the airport every day, hoping to get a flight back home, but to no avail. That went on for a full week and for my mother, the worst part was not knowing when they would be able to leave for home. By the end of the week, my mother and all the other passengers from Asiana Air got the clearance to fly back home.

Ten years has passed since 9/11 and whenever I have asked my mother questions concerning that fateful day, she doesn’t respond. I believe that it’s too painful for her to talk about it since it involved so many deaths, some she knew, and so many others that she didn’t. This year, we will be celebrating my mother’s birthday on 9/11 since it’s the only time we can all be together. While it is a birthday celebration, it will be different this time. It may be ten years later, but the memories have not faded. My mother may be ten years older, but the pain has not diminished. To her, that day will always signify not just losing her sister, but knowing that one’s safety can be taken away in a heartbeat. My mother may have survived 9/11 ten years ago, but it has forever changed her view of life and death. That’s my take on this, what’s yours?

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