As I begin our Writers of Kern A-Z Blog Challenge, I want to take time to remember this day back in 2001. Our family had been on vacation for several weeks and we were homeward bound. Stopping overnight in Green River, Wyoming, we wanted to rest before the next day’s driving.
My (ex) husband went across the street about 9 am the next morning, September 11th, to get some coffee at the local diner. No sooner had he left, I heard pounding on the motel door. As I approached the door, I heard him shout, “Let me in. Turn on the TV.” He was breathless, and as we turned on the old Motorola, we sunk onto the lumpy bed and didn’t move for almost three hours.
Check out time came and went, no one cared. We sat transfixed, witnessing the madness over and over again. Finally, about noon we flipped off the set. We needed to head home. The motel owner had the TV in the lobby playing and as we checked out we all stared at it; no one made eye contact. Leaving Wyoming, we realized we were 900 miles from home and had no idea what was going on in the United States or in the world.
We stopped for gas from time to time and at each stop the same scenario played out. No one spoke; everyone just stared up at a TV set mounted to the wall. Preoccupied by a fatigued newscaster we hoped to hear positive news. But, we only stood and shook our heads in disbelief, and then walked back to our cars. No one could comprehend such acts of violence.
Fortunately, we had friends in Salt Lake City, Utah and stayed a few nights to gather our composure. It wasn’t a pleasant get-together as we’d originally planned months before, but more of a chance to catch our breath and talk, although no one felt like talking. Since the TV played the same horrific scenes over and over, we kept it off so not to frighten their young kids and my five year old son.
Soon we were on our own again, heading to Las Vegas, Nevada. By this time a few days had passed. But, in those few days, something changed. Being so far away from home, I think we noticed this more than if we had been in our own town. People needed to talk, to understand, to be there for each other. Strangers began to nod and smile. It was if a big covering of self-absorption had lifted and people were reaching out to someone, anyone, next to them.
Every marquee in Vegas blinked, “In God We Trust” and “America” with red, white and blue lights waving in a flag. There were no headliners featured, nor any shows advertised, just encouraging words for everyone to see. With the airport still shut down, there weren’t many tourists. The town was strangely quiet. Most of the shows had shut down also, but people still walked the strip – just to be together.
There was something else different too. Most everyone had American flags attached to car windows. It was like waves and waves of flags everywhere. Being from out of town we tried finding one for our car, but everywhere we checked had sold out. As we got ready to pull out of a gas station parking lot, a car pulled alongside us. The driver got out grabbing the flag from his back window. He approached us, “I saw you were from out of state. You want a flag?” This single random act of kindness from a stranger renewed my faith in mankind after witnessing such random acts of violence days before.
We arrived home later in the day. Finally we were back to friends, family, and familiar surroundings. But, I kept thinking about the man in Vegas who shared his flag with us. I realized in the midst of confusion, people still cared about each other, even if we didn’t know each other.
Twelve years later I still remember. When I think of the day, I grieve for the loss of so many lives. I also rejoice for the victory of one man’s simple gift of a flag. Whoever he was I thank him. He impacted my life more than he’ll ever know.