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Remembering 9/11, 21 years later...

by Bill Bechman.

On August 1, 2001, I flew back to my childhood home from New York City to spend a weekend visiting my parents in Indiana. My mother was not well. When my dad picked me up at the airport, he told me that he’d learned that day that her condition was terminal. I ended up staying for an unexpected leave of absence from my job at Lighthouse International. Mom was in hospice care. I’m grateful to have been with her and dad for her final days. She died on Labor Day morning.

My husband, Tom, flew out to Indy to be with us. There were a lot of people who came to the funeral home on Wednesday for the viewing. The funeral was scheduled the next morning at First Baptist in Franklin.

Early that morning, I decided to try jogging for the first and last time. I tripped on the jagged sidewalk, fell and smashed my face and shattered my left arm. I hobbled back to their apartment and told Tom I thought I would take a shower and be ok.

I was wearing an oversized t-shirt my mom had given me. It said “I survived Physical Therapy at Johnson Hospital.” Tom took me to the ER, and told them, “This is Bill Bechman, his father was on the board of this hospital, his mother’s funeral is in two hours, and you’ve got to fix him now” The doctor assured us that he would, but glancing at my blood-strewn shirt, said “how did you get our T-shirt?"

They did in fact fix me for the funeral, and then I had surgery the next day to put pins in my arm. Tom and I flew back to NYC on Sunday, 9/9.

On Monday, 9/10 I returned to work at The Lighthouse after my six week absence. There was a lot to do, I was responsible for HR, administration, safety and security, and special events. The Lighthouse was on 59th Street between Park & Lex. We had the entire building, where we provided services for people who are vision impaired.

There was a dining room with a TV on the wall. I happened to be in line getting coffee, and a colleague told me the TV was showing a crash at the World Trade Center. From that moment, we all began attempting to understand what was happening while keeping things in order for everyone, especially our special needs consumers.

All services were suspended, and it became apparent that ordinary transportation was canceled. As we think back on the experience, we now can “contain” it. There was the horrible tragedy of the crashes, but at the time there was such an ominous fear of what might happen next.

Our Lighthouse lobby became a place of refuge. We tried to provide news and comfort. Tom worked in Connecticut. Access to Manhattan was prohibited that night and all roads were closed.

On September 12th we received notice from All Souls Church that there would be a service at the church on that evening.

Tom and I met there. There were hundreds of votive candles arrayed in iron candle holders across the front of the chancel. I remember thinking, “Oh, Unitarians don’t do candles” …. but we did. One-by-one people came forward and lit the candles. It was an unforgettable experience, the sanctuary was packed, everyone mourning together.

The airports were closed for several days. On the first day flights resumed, my dad flew to NYC from Indy, I was the only person in the terminal waiting for the flight, and he was the only passenger getting off his plane.

My father was very lonely, but his main goal in coming to New York was to make sure I was ok, and to offer his support. It helped remind me how important family and friendships are and since that day I have tried not to forget this. We should be thankful for each moment and try our best to support and help others. All Souls Church is a place where we come together in times of sorrow and joy with gratitude as we strive to find meaning in our lives.

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