A 9/11 Story

On September 11, 2001 my friend Janice hugged her brother good-bye and sent him off to Logan airport where he had a seat on Flight 11 to LAX. He would return to Los Angeles after a 2 week visit with Janice and her son Jason. Janice had been smoke free for 2 months and a week. She had declared her independence on Independence Day – the fourth of July (an appropriate Quit Day, for sure!) Her brother was very proud of her for quitting.

Imagine her horror as she watched, like so many of us did that day, the footage of flight 11 flying into the World Trade Center… She would see that image repeated dozens of times that day and that image was more horrific for her than it was for most of us. Of course at a time of intense grief like that, we are all tempted to return to a familiar “friend” – cigarettes. Janice heard the “little voice in her head” assuring her that a cigarette would help her feel better, that she could have just one.

The Twin Towers following the impact of American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175

An Important Question

Somehow, in the midst of her unthinkable grief and shock, Janice summoned the presence of mind to ask herself an important question. She asked herself honestly, “would a cigarette make me feel better?” As she thought about that question, the little voice tempted her again, as if to seize her at a weak moment. Shaken beyond my understanding this exemplary woman summoned the truth from deep down inside of her. “Sure!” she exclaimed aloud. “A cigarette might make me feel better – for a minute. But it won’t change anything! IT WON’T CHANGE ANYTHING!” she sobbed loudly.

Janice was absolutely right. No matter what the source of the stress is, no fight, fear, or frustration is going to get better because we choose to smoke. Smoking will never solve anything, never fix anything, never improve anything (except some tobacco company’s profits!) As she sobbed the truth that day, the lie fled. The truth within her (something she had come to believe from her weekly QuittersWin group) chased the lie away! The day had sufficient tragedy without Janice relapsing into her tobacco dependence. The loss of her brother and the loss of her freedom would have made the day doubly dreadful.

She had been waiting with dread for the phone to ring.

A Phone Call She Didn’t Want to Answer

Mid-afternoon that day the phone rang. She had been expecting this. Janice assumed that the FAA had finally released the official passenger list and that Janice’s Mom had received a call confirming their loss. Janice was shocked to hear her brother’s voice! He explained that when he arrived at Logan and complained about having to wait so long for his flight, a helpful ticket agent had transferred his seat to an earlier flight. His flight was in the air over Chicago when the fated planes were hijacked. He was grounded in Chicago and waited for hours to get inside the terminal and use the payphones to call his family.

The Truth Will Set You Free

Consider Janice’s temptation. Consider her choices. Janice is one of the truly heroic and wise people I have had the privilege of meeting and knowing through my work. She knew the truth and it set her free. The truth is that no cigarette ever makes anything better. The day will live forever as a tragedy, but because Janice clung to the truth that day, her family will have two reasons to be grateful.

As we solemnly remember this day, let us all reach inside ourselves and find the resolve that Janice found that day. May we each find that unshakable truth that will hold us safe, even on the darkest of days.


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