VIEW FROM THE TOP: Adventures in times of tragedy

Vanessa Gomez

This month marks the ninth anniversary of the tragic events of 9/11. Around this time every year, I take a moment to revisit the kicked-in-the-gut kind of fear that paralyzed the country for weeks and the long-term effects it had on our sense of freedom.

It was a travesty like 9/11 that forced me to consider the cliché “life’s too short” to hold a much deeper meaning. I dropped everything that I thought was important to me: a political science degree, my steady boyfriend and my overprotective family. I cashed in all my chips for what I really burned for; the fantastic world adventures I’d always dreamed of.

I originally got into the airline industry for the romantic notion that I would be a New Yorker virtually overnight. I could jet set almost anywhere for next to nothing by making a couple of phone calls and throwing together a toothbrush and a pair of camel heels. My travels led me to crepes and cafes in Paris, rowdy soccer pubs in London, and the best clubbing night of my life in Barcelona.

While the majority of my passengers are stuffy, overworked businessmen that would rather have a root canal than rack up more frequent flier miles, there are the few that remain loyal to the pursuit of adventure.

A group of firefighters many years ago boarded my flight with mixed emotions on their faces. The nineteen New Yorkers sat in the back of the plane with Heinekens while sharing one of the greatest tales of adventure they never saw coming.

One of their comrades had fallen ill with cancer two years prior, devastating the men when he finally passed away. The fire captain explained to me that even though the deceased John Banker had no family or wife to speak of, he treated the members of the firehouse like his own blood.

A week after Banker’s burial, the men of the firehouse were called into an attorney’s office for a reading of his last will and testament. The men were shocked to learned that Banker had prepaid a Vegas vacation for his “family,” an outing they had tried to arrange but had to postpone indefinitely because of 9/11.

Some of the final words that Banker shared in his will were his sincere wishes that the firefighters spare no expensive and that they finally have the adventure they never got around to in his honor.

Listening to stories about their dear friend told over cold beers in a crowded galley almost brought me to tears. Here was a group of men that lived through arguably the worst disaster on US soil, only to lose one of their own to cancer. All the men could do was toast their cans to celebrate the life of John Banker, the man that wanted to leave this gift of freedom to his one true family.

The idea of adventure after 9/11 in a disillusioned America is almost dead, but it might just be the bright yellow umbrella we need to shield us from the rainstorm of tragic memories from that day. We should shake the drops of fear from that umbrella, and plow into the world headfirst, just like John Banker would have wanted.

Vanessa Gomez is the City Times copy chief