The radio crackled in my headset as we passed over a tranquil Lake Calhoun. Downtown Minneapolis drifted outside the cockpit window. The landing gear was down.
Everything was as it should be. Outside, the skies were clear and the air was refreshingly less humid than it had been the previous month. I briefly looked down at the passing homes and schools of south Minneapolis.
School was back in session, and bright-yellow buses were busy transporting children, as they would on any other Tuesday morning. But this wasn't any other Tuesday morning. This was Sept. 11, 2001.
As I was completing what would be another uneventful flight, there were four other airplanes whose final destiny would be anything but normal.
That day has forever changed our lives, whether because of enhanced screening at the airport or, heaven forbid, the loss of a friend or family member in the attacks on domestic soil. We all have stories about what we were doing on 9/11.
Most, like mine, aren't anything to write home about, but everyone remembers where they were when American Airlines Flight 11 hit the World Trade Center's North Tower, and what happened afterward is something to write about.
It's what we did after 9/11 that changed America and its people.
Maybe you watched the television with disbelief. Maybe you cried for the loss of fellow Americans. Maybe you called your parents and told them you loved them. Maybe you held your children extra long before they went to bed that night. Maybe you thanked a police officer or firefighter. Maybe you bought a traveling soldier dinner before your flight home.
But what did you do two years afterward? What did you do eight years after 9/11? I don't think people will ever forget that dreadful day, but it has definitely slipped into the back of our memory bank.
For someone like me, an airline pilot who is constantly dealing with airport security and working with federal air marshals, I am reminded of our post-9/11 world on a regular basis.
But for the insurance salesman driving around Kansas or the schoolteacher struggling with a lack of funds, telling your kids you love them one more time before they go to bed or thanking the police officer for what he does after he just wrote you a citation may not be the first thing on your mind.
This past week, just seven days short of the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, I was sitting in Terminal B at Newark's Liberty Airport, waiting for my flight home. I noticed a group of TSA officers wearing honor guard regalia.
With them was a U.S. Army master sergeant. I learned that the master sergeant was escorting a fallen soldier on a final flight home. I didn't ask for the soldier's name, or even if the soldier was male or female. I honestly didn't know what to say.
After the airplane arrived, the honor guard and master sergeant went outside. I stood at the window, along with many other passengers, watching in silence as the honor guard stood at attention while the fallen soldier was loaded on to the airplane.
Through the tears in my eyes, I looked out at the New York City skyline, and it all hit me. Ten years ago, when I was flying over that school, where kids were playing outside -- maybe, just maybe, one of those kids was this soldier who gave everything for our country.
So, when you see a soldier at your regular lunch spot, tell the manager that you'll take care of his or her bill. Call your parents and tell them you love them.
Thank police officers for all that they do. And when you come home from work today, hold your kids for a few extra seconds. As a matter of fact, that was the first thing I did when I got home from that trip. I forgot about the bills, forgot about the oil change the car needed. I held my little daughter in my arms for as long as she'd let me.
After today, we each have one day less. Make the most of it.
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Paul Holte, of Rosemount, is a Boeing 757/767 first officer for a major airline.