Many stories have been told about 9/11. Stories of loved ones lost, heroes sung, innocence lost. No one will forget where you were or what you were doing that fateful day, the day our lives changed forever. Rich and I were relatively new innkeepers at our first inn in North Conway, NH and had survived yet another busy summer season in the White Mountains. The dining room was full of guests enjoying breakfast and planning their adventures for the day when our neighbor called and alerted us that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Torn between watching live coverage of the events unfolding on TV and the needs of my guests, I struggled to maintain a sense of calm as I moved among the tables refilling coffee cups and juice glasses.
Today, many years later, as I think back on 9/11, my mind drifts to another morning here at our Inn on Cape Cod. Again, it was crystal clear morning, the sky so blue it almost hurt to look at it. Again I was circulating among the guests in our dining room, bringing them muffins and juice and catching snippets of conversation. Somehow the topic turned to 9/11 and one of our guests quietly admitted that he had escaped the 75th floor of the south tower on that bright September morning in New York City. I caught my breath and touched his shoulder, somehow needing to connect, then listened quietly as he told his story calmly and without undue emotion. It was my first encounter with a survivor, and I felt blessed that he was willing to share his story, to make real and tangible an unreal event that touched us all.
Across the table another gentleman leaned forward, intent on catching every syllable of the man’s story, every nuance of his facial expression. In time the other guests drifted away, slowly turning their attention to the matter at hand: how to enjoy this lovely Cape Cod day. But the two gentlemen and their wives continued talking for quite awhile across the table. Eventually the two couples left the dining room, only to continue their conversation in the privacy of one of their guest rooms. We often have guests who meet as strangers over our dining table and leave the Inn as friends days later. That is, I assumed, what was happening on this morning.
It was not until the day the 9/11 survivor checked out that I learned the truth. He asked me to share his email address with the gentleman to whom he and his wife had been talking the previous morning. For privacy reasons, we do not as a general rule share guest’s information with other guests. But in this case it seemed appropriate.
It turns out that the brother of the gentleman who sat across our dining room table from the 9/11 survivor was on the plane that struck the south tower. Their conversation was intensely personal and the 9/11 survivor felt that the other man needed help finding closure with the death of his brother in such a tragic manner. He wanted me to share his email address with him in the event that the gentleman wanted to talk further, hoping that by reaching out to him, he might possibly be able to help him heal.
I was, and still am, so touched by this selfless gesture that when I think of 9/11, I think of the enormous capacity of the human heart to reach out to others in pain, to offer comfort even when they are strangers.