Any­thing can hap­pen, change ev­ery­thing

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND - Dan Ro­dricks dro­dricks@balt­sun.com

When she first told me the story, I thought, with dark irony sup­pressed, that Es­ther Hey­mann was one of the lucky ones. Her 27-year-old step­daugh­ter, El­iz­a­beth Wainio, had died in the ter­ror­ist at­tacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but at least the two women got to say good­bye. At least they had that. On that sunny, late-sum­mer, backto-work morn­ing15 years ago, Wainio called from United Airlines Flight 93, the one that took off from Ne­wark, N.J., and crashed in a field in south­west­ern Penn­syl­va­nia. Wainio man­aged to stay on the phone for sev­eral min­utes be­fore pas­sen­gers stormed the cock­pit to keep the hi­jack­ers from us­ing the plane in the fourth at­tack of the day, pos­si­bly on the U.S. Capi­tol or the White House.

“This is go­ing to be so much worse for you all than for me,” Wainio said at one point. Hey­mann sug­gested they look at the sky to­gether — Wainio through the plane win­dow, Hey­mann through the win­dow of her home just out­side Bal­ti­more — and, in those fi­nal mo­ments, they found some peace to­gether.

Wainio’s last words were: “I have to go. They’re break­ing into the cock­pit. I love you.”

The Boe­ing 757 crashed near Shanksville, Pa., killing all 44 peo­ple on board.

I re­mem­ber think­ing Hey­mann was for­tu­nate — so many friends and rel­a­tives of 9/11 vic­tims never had a chance to say good­bye to them — but I kept that thought to my­self. If there was con­so­la­tion in that fi­nal phone call, it was for Hey­mann to say, not me.

From time to time, I think of Hey­mann and her step­daugh­ter. Just about any­thing might bring them to mind: Walk­ing through the se­cu­rity check-in at the air­port, hear­ing my son or daugh­ter de­scribe plans for a trip, see­ing busy peo­ple star­ing into smart­phones as they wait for the lights to change on the way to work. I think of peo­ple go­ing about their day, liv­ing and work­ing, and how any­thing can change ev­ery­thing.

I thought of it Tues­day morn­ing, af­ter the hor­rific bus ac­ci­dent on Fred­er­ick Av­enue — a yel­low school bus strik­ing a No. 10 MTA bus, killing the driver of the school bus and five pas­sen­gers aboard the No. 10. An­other 10 peo­ple were in­jured.

I take the bus fre­quently, though not the No. 10, and I am very fa­mil­iar with what the morn­ing com­mute looks like.

My fel­low trav­el­ers are headed to work, or they’re com­ing off the mid­night shift; They might be headed to a col­lege class, or a doc­tor’s ap­point­ment, or they’ve just come from get­ting their daily dose of methadone. Some sit qui­etly. Some nod off. Some read books. Some play games on their smart­phones, or they lis­ten to mu­sic with ear­buds.

Some chat with the per­son in the next seat. (I once eaves­dropped on an ex­ten­sive dis­cus­sion — ac­tu­ally, some­thing ap­proach­ing a mild ar­gu­ment — about the var­i­ous fla­vors of In­ter­na­tional De­light cof­fee cream­ers.)

Some pas­sen­gers stare out the win­dow. Tues­day morn­ing, some of those who died might have seen what was com­ing. Or maybe not.

It hap­pened in just a few sec­onds, right? Peo­ple who have lived years and decades, who have fam­i­lies and fur­ni­ture, pets and cars, hob­bies and re­la­tion­ships, fa­vorite TV shows and books — peo­ple like any of us — were gone in sec­onds.

I know: Hap­pens ev­ery day. Peo­ple die in ac­ci­dents all the time. The Na­tional High­way Traf­fic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion said 17,775 peo­ple died on U.S. roads in the first half of the year. That’s close to 100 deaths a day. The coun­try is full of peo­ple and cars, trucks, buses and planes. Any­thing can hap­pen. Any­thing can change ev­ery­thing.

I know. We all know. We might not, most of us, be able to re­late to sud­den death with a gun — some­thing that hap­pens with dreary fre­quency in Bal­ti­more — but we can imag­ine our­selves just sit­ting there, along for the ride, some­one else at the wheel, and ...

Let’s be hon­est: We try not to think about this stuff un­til it hap­pens to some­one else, and in a way that hits home.

But yes­ter­day, I thought of the peo­ple on the MTA bus and won­dered if, like Es­ther Hey­mann and El­iz­a­beth Wainio, they had ex­pressed their feel­ings to the peo­ple they care about.

I re­flected on re­grets: Peo­ple I lost touch with. They got busy. So did I. Some of them left for good be­fore I had a chance to say farewell.

I don’t have any grand ad­vice ex­cept to be mind­ful of what’s truly im­por­tant — only you know what that is — and re­flect on it, if only for a few min­utes, each day.

And I’ve never for­got­ten the re­quest Mike Royko, the late Chicago colum­nist, made of his read­ers in 1979, just two weeks af­ter his wife, Carol, died sud­denly, at the age of 44: “If there’s some­one you love but haven’t said so in a while, say it now. Al­ways, al­ways, say it now.”

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