When dreams turn into nightmares

By JODIE FLETCHER

City Editor

I didn’t used to be afraid to fly.

In fact, I loved the feeling of taking off. The wonder of soaring on top of clouds. The thrill of looking down at the Earth from several thousand feet above.

It’s miraculous the ability we have as human beings (in this case two brothers named Wright and generations of aviation engineers since) to dream something is possible and then make it a reality.

I like to tell myself that I’m still fond of flying. But that might be stretching the truth a bit.

I still prefer the window seat and still sit enamored at the views. I still crane my neck to get a better look as we fly over cities and mountains, lakes and the countryside.

But I feel kind of sick the whole time. Especially if the plane starts to shake. Then I can’t help but think that there’s a chance — remote though it might be — that we could crash. Or be used as a giant missile to murder thousands of innocent people.

I didn’t used to be afraid to fly. It’s just been the last 10 years.

As you read this, I’m probably soaring over the clouds. My stomach’s likely in knots. I’m guessing I didn’t sleep very well last night and I’m bound to be glancing out my tiny window from time to time trying to gauge how much longer it will be before the most famous skyline in the world comes into view.

I’m set to depart this morning from Manistee’s Blacker Airport. After a brief stop in Milwaukee I will land at New York LaGuardia.

I’m going back — to my other home. The place that was the center of my universe from the time I moved there, a week shy of my 18th birthday, until I moved to Manistee, a week after I turned 26.

When my editor, Dave Barber, approached me several months ago about going back to my old stomping grounds for the anniversary of Sept. 11, my first thought was, no way.

I’ve spent 10 years glancing over the conversation as people ask what it was like to live in New York City on that day and the days that followed. I’ve spent 10 years avoiding the pictures of the site, footage of the towers burning and, for God’s sake, the film of the plane hitting the South Tower.

So why in the world would I want to go back and report on the sorrow we’re all feeling as we reflect on a decade of terror?

Then I thought of my friend, and roommate at the time, Brian Corr.

We lived with two girls in an apartment on West 109th Street and we spent a good portion of that day walking from our apartment, through Central Park, across the Upper East Side and over the Queensboro Bridge to Long Island City, Queens.

Last year, I saw Brian right after the ninth anniversary of 9/11 and we talked about how every year we both remember the walk we took.

So, thinking Dave’s idea was a long shot, I began to think what if … What if the newspaper did send me to New York? What would I do? What would I see? And how would I write about it?

Confession time: I still have no idea.

But as I began to think of how I would like to remember that day 10 years ago, I thought of Brian and how I’d really like to take a long walk with my friend. And hopefully write something that expresses a little bit of what it was like in New York City the day it seemed the world would end.

I wasn’t downtown, I didn’t run from debris or see people jump to their deaths. But I was close. And when we looked at that cloud that moved north over Manhattan, we understood that it was what remained of skyscrapers turned into massive crematoriums.

People are genuinely interested in understanding what it was like to be there that day. That’s why the pictures I’ve avoided, the footage I’ve looked away from and the film that can still make me weep gets played, over and over and over again.

Once I committed to this trip, I began to finally examine the photos and films I’ve avoided for 10 years.

And when I look, I see a graveyard and the waste of it all horrifies me. As with all victims of terrorism, those who perished on Sept. 11 died for nothing. They weren’t martyrs for a cause. They weren’t heroes who gave their lives for the betterment of mankind.

Across the world, they were just people, like those in the World Trade Center, who did nothing but go to work one day. Or board an airplane. Or get on a train. Or step onto a bus. Or gather to worship.

They died for nothing.

And the people who were so committed to destruction that they piloted planes into buildings, strapped themselves with bombs or were lethally injected after spending years in prison didn’t further their cause. They did nothing but make this world a much more horrible place.

There’s enough horror in this world naturally — disease, devastation and disaster — without terror.

But for now, I need to stay on track. There will be time to reflect when I get there.

Until then, I’m just going to work myself up to getting on the plane. And trying not to think about the fact that there are people out there who value destruction more than human life. Who have no sense of compassion. Who can kill without giving a single thought to mothers that will never see their children again and children who will grow up without parents.

The human mind is miraculous — the ability to dream, and turn those dreams into reality. People have even found a way to do what only birds should.

What would the world be like if the same planning, determination and ingenuity that’s used to concoct nightmares like flying planes into buildings and murdering thousands and thousands of people was instead focused on feeding starving children or curing deadly diseases?

Perhaps mindless death — which is all terrorism really is — would be abolished. And the world would be a better place.

Maybe I’m not afraid to fly. Maybe I’m just afraid to die for nothing.

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