Remembering is something we do every day. We have to remember to stop at the market on our way home from work, remember to return phone calls, remember a friends birthday, remember the smallest things. Does this diminish the importance of remembering? I ask this as I wonder if that is why when it comes to September 11, people say "don't forget". In sales training, we were taught that to use the word "don't" at the beginning of a sentence or a presentation, you were pretty much guaranteeing that someone would do the exact opposite of what you wanted them to. For example, don't think of a pink elephant. Now I ask you, what picture is in your mind right now? Yep, a pink elephant.
When it comes to the events of September 11, I prefer to say "always remember". And tonight, I want to share some of my day, September 11, 2001. When someone asks "where in the world were you on that day", like everyone else, I can tell you where I was, what I was doing, all of those details. It's interesting as when I was little, my Grandma could tell me exactly where she was and what she was doing when they announced the assassination of President Kennedy on the radio. Even down to what she was wearing. I was always amazed by that and never thought I would have such a memory seared into my mind too. Ah, the naiveté of a child. But I digress.
My day began with a phone call in my cabin, it was what woke me that fateful morning. I was on the ms Veendam, heading into Glacier Bay for a day of scenic cruising. For my phone to ring so early, it was too early for my staff, so it must have been something serious. Little did I know. On the other end of the line was Reece Hughes, phoning me from South Africa, telling me to turn on my tv. I thought he was crazy, and laughed. He sat with me in silence as I watch the now old video of the planes fly into the towers. Reece quietly shared words of compassion and love, sending support for me and of course, the United States, telling of how he felt watching something so horrible and how everyone in South Africa was sending us love and praying for us.
I was stunned. I was silent. I kept blinking my eyes, thinking I would wake from this horrible dream. But no matter what, I had a job to do and couldn't just keep sitting there. I thanked Reece and immediately phoned the bridge to ask for the Captain, to see if he knew what had just happened. There was no way we could sail into Glacier Bay until all of the passengers knew what was going on back home! Why, you ask? The height of the mountains in Glacier Bay prevent the ships' satellite from getting consistent tv coverage. Normally this was not a problem but on this day, this news was too big to ignore or hold off on telling. How do you explain something so huge? It sounded so cold and shocking to say "someone just attacked the United States". It was if saying those words made it even more real. And I so wanted to deny this! I was never one to exaggerate, and he knew this, but I couldn't find the right words to impress upon him that I was not making this up. However I think the tone of my voice was enough to convince him. With that, the Captain went to his office to watch the same news I had just sat through. In the end, he instructed all of our passengers to immediately return to their cabins and watch CNN, that an international incident had just occurred in the United States and it was important that they were aware of it. He sounded so calm over the PA system, which was admirable and necessary to avoid public panic.
Just like me, everyone was stunned into silence and walked around for most of the day, looking dazed. When you are the Cruise Director, how do you go about your day, what do you say, what do you do. This was a true test, one of the deepest and most important kind. I phoned our Priest and asked him to offer a non-denominational service in the main theatre and advised everyone was welcome. Our hearts needed solace. I offered the space for the crew to come together in ceremony and prayer. They were welcome to offer a prayer, a song, music or just share their thoughts and feelings. This was extremely important to me as my Musical Director, and friend, Michael Branson discovered that he had lost a friend in the towers. These events touched a place of innocence in us all. A place that I have worked hard over the years to return to.
As with everyone, my life has never been the same. But that day, being in the public eye, hosting the shows, having to communicate information as it came through to us, being open and most importantly, being openly vulnerable to our passengers and crew. It was place of softness and a place of strength and it taught me the true meaning of "Steel Magnolia", one of my favorite movies, and it taught me how to handle the pressure with Grace and how important it was to stay steady and strong for so many. Being a public figure on September 11, 2001, opting out was not an available option for me. I couldn't run, I couldn't hide.
I remember going out on stage to close the last show of that cruise. My words came from my heart. I was sad, as everyone else was, disillusioned, as everyone else was, and I sent my heartfelt wishes to all of the people on board, who shared that moment in time with me, but most of all to all of the Veterans who had survived foreign wars. It was for them that I wept. They sacrificed so much to give us freedom and I believe that when the last war ended, they believed they had seen the end of such violence. Always remember what you stand for, what you believe in, who you love, who you appreciate, and remember to always appreciate the truth of who you are and where you come from.
One day I was contemplating the advice I had been sharing with hundreds, if not thousands, of people over the years. I decided it was time to put my experiences into the written word and hope that you find as much pleasure in my adventures as I have ... and maybe, just maybe, if your travels cross some of the same places that mine have, perhaps my words of wisdom will make your journey that much more fun and exciting.So whether it's local restaurants or exotic destinations ... as my Uncle Jim described me, I am the "intrepid traveler", always ready for an adventure, whether traveling solo or leading the way ... you never know what will pop into my head and come out on the keyboard.