Call From Heaven
From Wednesday, Sept. 12, to Friday, Sept. 14, our home was filled with people nearly 24 hours a day. It was such a strange time, since in addition to the normal mourning that a family goes through at the loss of a loved one, the entire nation was also in mourning as a result of the events of Sept. 11. Many of the people in mourning were also angry, resolute, and ready to respond in whatever way our nation's leaders deemed appropriate.
I never turned on the television during those days, but others in our home wanted to keep abreast of the newscasts. Death tolls from the World Trade Center and the Pentagon attacks were updated and revised almost hourly, as nobody seemed to know for sure just how many lives were lost at those locations. The number of people who died in the crash of Flight 93 was confirmed at 37 passengers — four of whom were terrorists — plus the pilot, copilot, and five flight attendants.
Usually I am totally in charge of what goes on in our home. But in the days following Sept. 11, our friends took over and did it all — including cooking, cleaning, and arranging housing for anyone who needed it. Each morning I came downstairs while it was still dark and tried to straighten things up a bit around the house. I'd put dishes away and also stash all the things I didn't recognize as belonging to our family in a closet that I designated as the "lost and found" area.
My personality type requires some alone time, almost an impossibility around our house during that week. So for me the quiet moments alone in the morning, putting our house back together in some orderly fashion, gave me a sense of normalcy in a very abnormal time.
Mom worried that I was trying to do too much. "You don't need to be housecleaning," she said. "We have lots of other people who can do those things."
"Don't worry, Mom," I told her. "I need to be doing something. If you ever see me just sitting around when my home is in disarray, then you can worry. Because then you'll know I've lost my mind. As long as you see me trying to keep things organized and orderly, you'll know I'm okay!"
Todd's mom, Aunt Bonnie, and younger sister, Michele, arrived on Wednesday, as did Keith Franz. Along with Pastor Cushman, Elaine Mumau, and a few other friends, we began to plan a special memorial service for Todd to be held on Sunday afternoon at three o'clock. Hopefully the airlines would be flying by then, or at least those who wanted to attend would have time to drive in for the service. We gathered some mementos and photographs to display and to use in a video presentation during the memorial service, and we selected some songs and Bible passages that were especially meaningful to Todd and to me.
Unlike the families of victims at the World Trade Center or the Pentagon, we had no hope of finding anyone alive in the wreckage. By all accounts, the plane had virtually disintegrated in the fiery crash. United Airlines clearly implied that there would be few, if any, remains to bury, and any personal effects found at the crash site might not be forthcoming for months. Consequently, I thought it was important to have a ceremony as soon as possible that would allow everyone to acknowledge Todd's death. Usually when a family member passes away, a funeral service is held within three or four days. Since we wouldn't be having a viewing, and most family members and friends were either with us or on their way, it only made sense to do the memorial service soon.
By now the family had heard that other passengers aboard Flight 93 had contacted loved ones by cell phone and that the passengers had planned some sort of attempt to overthrow the hijackers. Everyone speculated about Todd's possible involvement.
One question nagged at me: If others were making calls aboard the flight, why hadn't Todd called? He lived with a cell phone practically attached to his ear. We could only imagine what it must have been like during the final minutes of that doomed flight. But if others found the means and the time to call, why hadn't Todd?
In my lower moments, I even thought that perhaps Todd had been murdered by the terrorists. I didn't dare allow myself to dwell on such morbid thoughts, but that might have explained why he didn't call anyone.
I overheard several guys at the house as they discussed what might have happened as passengers tried to take back the plane. "I know Todd was right in the middle of them, leading the charge," one fellow said. I smiled slightly at our friend's comment. It was sheer conjecture; we had no tangible reason to believe that Todd had done anything to fight back against the hijackers. Yet, knowing Todd's personality and character, it seemed logical to assume that if anyone aboard the plane made any attempt to foil the terrorists' efforts, Todd would have been involved somehow. That's just the kind of person be was.
Interestingly, unknown to me at the time, Larry Ellison, the energetic leader of the Oracle Corporation, sent out an e-mail to all of the company's employees on Thursday, Sept. 13. In a moving letter, Larry informed the company that a number of Oracle employees were involved in the tragedy of Sept. 11, and at least seven employees were still missing in the World Trade Center rubble. Larry also told the company that Todd had died in the crash of Flight 93.
Then, to the amazement of many, Larry continued to eulogize Todd in an almost prophetic manner. "We know Todd Beamer is dead," Larry reported. "We believe he died when he and other passengers aboard Flight 93 tried to recover the hijacked airplane from the terrorists.... Todd's courageous actions may not have saved the lives of his fellow passengers, but he helped prevent the airplane from reaching its target — our nation's Capitol. Considering the devastation wrought by the other aircraft, it is unquestionable that Todd's brave actions, and [those] of his fellow passengers, saved countless lives on the ground."
Clearly Larry was convinced that Todd had been involved. How did Larry know that? The FBI hadn't made any announcement to that effect. Todd's name had not shown up in any reports indicating that he might have been involved in some way. Yet Larry, like many of us, couldn't imagine Todd Beamer sitting idly by while terrorists threatened to hurt others.
Friday evening, around nine o'clock, the house was once again filled with friends and relatives when I received a call from Nick Leonard, our family liaison with United Airlines. "Lisa, I have some information for you," Nick said. "But you might want to go to a quiet place before I tell you."
Nick was the man who had first informed me that Todd was on Flight 93. What could he possibly tell me that would be any worse than that? "And you might want to take someone along with you," Nick added.
I thought, Okay, what in the world is this guy going to tell me?
Nevertheless, I motioned to my brother Paul, and we went upstairs to my bedroom and took Nick's call there. Slowly and carefully, Nick began to give me the news. I could tell he wasn't sure how I was going to take it.
"Lisa, the FBI has released information that Todd did make a phone call from the flight. He called on the GTE Airfone aboard the plane, and the call went to an operator in the Chicago area. The FBI has been keeping the information private until they've had an opportunity to review the material. But now they've released it."
As Nick was speaking to me, I was relaying the information to Paul. Nick went on. "I have a written summary of the call, and I'm not sure what you want me to do with it."
"Do you have it in front of you?" "Yes, I do." "Well, read it to me!" I said straightforwardly.
Nick read a summary written by a GTE supervisor, Lisa Jefferson, who had taken over the call when it came through one of her operators' switchboard stations. It was clear from the information Nick read that Todd hadn't been murdered by the terrorists. Quite the contrary, he had been actively involved in communicating with someone on the ground, providing information about the hijackers in hopes that somehow he and some of the other passengers could devise a plan to thwart the terrorists' efforts.
As Nick relayed the operator's summary, I scrawled quickly in staccato form:
Is there a recording of the call? No, she would have had to leave her station to record a call, and feared being cut off. A miracle that his call stayed connected b/c volume of calls.
Do we know where he was sitting?
By the time Nick finished telling me the content of Todd's call, I was in tears. The information confirmed to me that Todd was "who he was" right to the very end of his life. It was a tremendous comfort to know that in his last moments, his faith in God remained strong, and his love for us, his family, was at the forefront of his thoughts. I was glad to know that Todd felt he had some control of his destiny, that he might be able to effect change even to the end. The words "Let's roll!" were especially significant to me. Just hearing that made me smile, partially because it was "so Todd," but also because it showed he felt he could still do something positive in the midst of a crisis situation.
Of course his final "I love you" will live with me forever.
"If you'd like to talk with the operator, she said it would be okay to call her," Nick told me.
"Yes, I would love to talk with her." Nick gave me the telephone number where I could reach Lisa Jefferson, the last person known to have spoken with my husband. Did I want to talk with her? Absolutely!
Paul and I went downstairs and called everyone together. Through our tears, we recounted the message Nick Leonard had passed on to us. The change in the mood of the family and friends was almost palpable. We were still grieving, and although the information could never change the horrible sense of loss we felt, we were given a bit of joy in knowing that Todd hadn't died a helpless victim, and might even, in fact, have prevented others from becoming victims.
Somewhere Larry Ellison must have been smiling.
It was such good news that we had to share it. I called Todd's mom, who had returned to Washington to await the return of David, Todd's dad, who was still driving across the nation. We were able to contact David by cell phone as he made the cross country journey. For all of us, even more significant than Todd's heroic actions aboard Flight 93, we were encouraged to know that his faith — and ours — could withstand the ultimate test.
On Saturday morning I called the GTE Airfone supervisor, Lisa Jefferson, and for the first time learned what Todd had said and done, and what had truly happened aboard Flight 93.
Lisa Beamer's life was forever changed on Sept. 11 when her husband lost his life in a heroic attempt to retake a hijacked airliner. Lisa shares her personal story in Let's Roll!. Copyright ©2002, Tyndale House Publishers. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
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