The fallout from Sept. 11 still swirls like the dust clouds created by the collapse of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Like the people who escaped from towering infernos to terra firma, some of us continue to run without looking back.
We have welcomed 40 days and 40 nights of distractions. We take refuge in angst and anger, shifting our focus between anthrax, the mail, travel, the economy, war, TV networks, the flag, the president, the Taliban, ground zero, Osama bin Laden, faith, Congress, Islam, prayer, Palestine, Israel, Saudi princes, Afghan refugees and Pakistani protesters.
What happened on Sept. 11 was so awful we persist in keeping it safely impersonal. It is enough to know that thousands died. To seek to know, really know, any of them risks an emotional short-circuit.
And then on Friday, Lisa Beamer boarded a plane, and my emotions were flushed from their safe haven.
Lisa Beamer was a teen-ager when her father died in the 1980s. She was 31 when her husband, Todd, 32, died on Sept. 11.
Todd Beamer, a software company employee and Sunday school teacher, joined an unknown number of passengers who confronted the hijackers of United Flight 93 after the terrorists diverted it from its Newark-San Francisco route and steered it toward Washington, D.C.
Todd's decision was an informed one. He had spent 15 minutes talking to a GTE air phone operator. Beamer asked the operator to call Lisa in Cranbury, N.J., and tell her and their children, David, 3, and Drew, 1, that he loved them. Then he and the operator said the Lord's Prayer. Then the operator heard him say: "Are you ready? Let's roll."
A few minutes later the plane crashed into a field in Western Pennsylvania, killing all 44 people on board and saving what the White House? The Capitol? And how many lives - dozens? Hundreds?
I know that story. I can handle it. I've had a harder time allowing myself to think about the young widow, six months pregnant, and the two boys who are unlikely to remember their father.
And then, Lisa Beamer boarded a plane.
The flight was United's Newark-San Francisco route, leaving at the same time that Todd Beamer's Flight 93 had departed. Now United calls it Flight 81. For Lisa's flight, the GTE air phones were covered, but the setting was the same otherwise.
One can only imagine her thoughts during four hours in the air. One can only imagine her thoughts of the past 40 days and nights.
In flying on that airline and that route, Lisa Beamer paid tribute to her husband, to the love they shared and to the courage he displayed on behalf of his fellow passengers and fellow Americans. Her courage, building on her husband's courage, frees us to go literally and psychologically where we dared not.
Amid genuine grief, she is a tower of strength. Amid the fear of an emotional moment, I had suppressed my feelings. Lisa Beamer is moving ahead. So can the rest of us.
Already, she has created the Todd M. Beamer Foundation to provide immediate and long-term assistance to the 22 children who lost a parent or parents on Flight 93. On the foundation's Web site (www.beamerfoundation.org), she directs visitors to the 20th verse of the 50th chapter of Genesis, explaining that the words contained there continually have come to her mind since Sept. 11:
"You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives."
Todd and Lisa Beamer want something good to come from something bad.
Are you ready? Let's roll.
Steve Reed is managing editor of the Empire. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.