I knew the week was going to be chaotic—and chaos is not conducive to clear thinking or putting words on paper—or computer monitor, as the case may be. So I started this week’s blog on Saturday night, when my world was still and quiet . . . and focused on the events of that day 20 years before. My intent had been to revisit the last words of a few who lost their lives on September 11th, to repeat those words and to note their impact, even after so long. And when I finished—and I re-read what I had written—I was, quite frankly, far more depressed than I was when I started.
Not at all the outcome for which I had hoped.
But in my search for last words and fleeting phone calls, I had seen a story about a woman who lost her daughter on Flight 93, and the good she created from the devastation of that day. Her name is Deborah Borza; her daughter Deora was the youngest person to die on Flight 93 when it crashed into a field outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania. She was a bright and bubbly 20 year old who had been visiting friends and was heading home to San Francisco when her flight was diverted with the intent of striking a Washington, D.C. target. Instead of lashing out in anger or hiding from the world, Deborah began earnestly working to help create a permanent memorial for Flight 93. And when that was accomplished, she began building the September 11 National Memorial Trail which connects the three crash sites in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville. Along the way she has collected and curated the stories of those who survived the attacks that day . . . and of those whose loved ones did not.
Her story led me to that of Amy Hargrave, an innocent four year old whose father, T. J. Hargrave, reported to work at Cantor Fitzgerald that morning and never returned home. A vice president of the firm, he had at one time played the part of Tim Werner on “The Guiding Light”—a role he created that was later filled by Kevin Bacon. Amy and her two sisters, Corrine and Casey, grew up in the shadow of that loss; their mother Patty tried as best she could to provide a normal life for them, but their father’s death was too much a part of history for them to be successfully sheltered from its impact. The years passed and Amy continued to struggle with her grief . . . until her family suggested she volunteer at the National September 11 Memorial Museum in New York City. And she did . . . as did T. J.’s sister, Jeanmarie. Together they have shared their stories and encouraged others to tell their own, something that has helped them heal in ways that might otherwise have been impossible.
But for the grace of God and a scheduled day off, Paul “Paulie” Veneto could easily have been a flight attendant on either of the United flights that were hijacked on September 11th. Instead he watched helplessly as people he knew and worked with died. His life went into an opiate addicted tailspin for the next 15 years, but in 2015 he managed to get clean and began planning how he might honor his fallen comrades. Twenty-two days before the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, Paulie went to Logan Airport in Boston, Massachusetts and started walking toward Ground Zero . . . 220 miles away . . . pushing a beverage cart like the ones he had used for so many years. With the flight numbers of all four aircraft painted on the sides and a Facebook page set up so the world could watch his trek, Paulie made it to his destination at 1:15 PM on September 11th. His intent had been to shine a light on the heroic lives of those airline attendants and crew members who continued to do their jobs as the chaos engulfed them. As he put it, they were the first First Responders that day. And he wanted everyone to know. When he arrived at his destination he reached out to his Facebook followers with a simple, two-word post. “Journey’s End.”
These three people . . . and so many others . . . took the tragedy of that day 20 years ago and used it as the foundation for something good. In their grief, they found a way to overcome by honoring the lives of those they loved and lost.
About the author: Lisa Shackelford Thomas is a fourth generation member of a family that’s been in funeral service since 1926. She has been employed at Shackelford Funeral Directors in Savannah, Tennessee for over 40 years and currently serves as the manager there. Any opinions expressed here are hers and hers alone, and may or may not reflect the opinions of other Shackelford family members or staff.