A little over fifteen years ago, my wife and I were boarding a plane to return home from vacation in New Orleans. We thoroughly enjoyed our time together but were eager to return home since it was the longest period of time we had been separated from our kids. As we were standing in line to board our plane, the TV on the wall displayed the disturbing image of a plane plunging in to the World Trade Center. Our emotions ranged from denial to disbelief in a matter of seconds. Unfortunately, it was all too real.
Within minutes, all flights were cancelled and any attempt to secure another form of transportation to travel home to our young children was futile. We were forced to stay in a city of strangers while our children begged for our return.
We spent the remainder of that day in a hotel room watching the horror unfold on CNN. It was perhaps one of the longest days of my life. Little did we know, we were to spend the next several days in New Orleans as transportation out of the city was unavailable. We were separated from home and family by thousands of insurmountable miles for four endlessly long days. When we finally boarded a plane, the first to leave New Orleans, it seemed like an extraordinarily long flight, and we were unnerved with suspicion and fear. However, it gave me time to think - to pray - and to treasure the things I was still able to come home to. Others were not so lucky.
Our arrival in the Sacramento airport terminal was welcomed by a sea of American flags. It was the first patriotic display of this magnitude I recall. At that moment, for the first time since that fateful day of September 11, I felt a sense of peace - the comfort you feel when you know you are going home.
It has been fifteen years. I still feel the ache of being separated from those I love -- and still remember the warmth of witnessing the number of people flying our nation's flag in support. I reflect upon the events of that September day with sorrow, but mostly pride and thankfulness. I think about how many people went to work, how many boarded a plane, not realizing that they would never be home again. I think about how many people sacrificed their lives so that others could go home. And how many people still put their lives on the line every day – here and abroad – to help keep us and our loved ones safe.
We take a lot for granted in this life as Americans – our freedom of speech, our freedom of choice and due process, to name a few. But nothing more careless than the belief that there will be a tomorrow to set the record straight, to right wrongs inflicted, to tell our loved ones just how precious they are. As we engage in this season of thanks and giving, let's all take a moment to be truly thankful, to treasure what we have and for those we have to share it with still.