David Lias

Well, another Sept. 11 has come and gone.

If you uttered that statement to a friend, say, 20 years ago, he or she would probably wonder if you’d been out in the sun too long.

Last Wednesday, and Sept. 11s for generations to come, that statement will make perfect sense.

That awful day -- Sept. 11 -- has come and gone.

I’ve been struggling of late, trying to make sense of all that’s occurred in the past 18 years. I’ve been looking for a silver lining in the dark cloud that hung over the nation, a cloud so similar to the rolling wall of debris that seemed to swallow all of Manhattan when the Trade Center towers fell nearly two decades ago.

I recall the “feel good” twinges of hope in the weeks and months following the terrorist attacks that struck New York City and the Pentagon.

I remember how flags seemed to sprout up everywhere. Patriotism suddenly wasn’t reserved only for public buildings or military veterans. People were proud to show off the red, white and blue.

Those good feelings quickly evaporate after a day like last Wednesday, when our senses were bombarded once again with some of the most horrible scenes ever filmed.

Airliners, full of fuel, disintegrate upon impact with a skyscraper’s wall. Men and women peer from the jagged cracks in the building nearly 100 stories above the ground, perhaps at first to try to find fresh air. Later, scores of those people, no longer able to stand the searing the heat, jump to their deaths before the twin towers crumble to dust.

Quite by accident, however, I stumbled across a documentary program on PBS a few years back that, I believe, will help me better deal with all of the Sept. 11ths yet to come.

The show described how the FAA ordered all aircraft headed toward to the U.S. to land immediately after officials realized hijacked airliners were being used as missiles.

Since so much bad stuff was happening on the east coast, pilots destined for cities in that part of the country turned their aircraft north. Soon, dozens of Canadian cities found their airports crammed full of jet planes, and, more importantly, thousands of people.

At first, no one really knew what to do. The planes sat stranded on the runways; and their passengers grew increasingly restless.

It turns out these pilots couldn’t have picked a better spot to land their aircraft. The residents of the various Canadian cities quickly realized that their unexpected guests were about to go stir crazy if they stayed trapped inside their planes.

So they rounded up every bus they could find, and they brought their stranded guests into their towns.

The Canadian hosts gathered and cooked food to feed the hungry, set up cots for the weary, hooked up school computers so their guests could e-mail loved ones, and invited people into their homes for a hot shower, some home cooking, and a good night’s sleep on a real bed.

One remarkable Canadian woman operated a ferry tour service off Canada’s western coast. Before they reached land, all flights were grounded, and her guests -- a group of senior citizens from Iowa -- found themselves stranded.

Since they couldn’t fly, the tour guide figured they only had one option. She drove them home -- all the way to Iowa -- in her van. Her guests still get choked up when they talk about her. They’ve dubbed her their guardian angel.

The airways of our country were eventually deemed safe once more. The marooned citizens, after several days, were able to finally board their planes and fly from Canada to their original destinations.

But they left with much more than they had before Sept. 11. They had created life-long friendships with a group of people who simply dropped what they were doing and came to their aid.

The Canadian people who offered the help to their guests said, in retrospect, they felt honored to be able to offer comfort to their fellow women and men.

We hear so much about the cowardly, evil acts of Sept. 11, 2001.

This week, during quiet times of reflection, I choose to remember what happened immediately after that dark day, thanks to our Canadian neighbors.


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