Do you ever get a phone call that changes your life?
When the phone rang the morning of Sept. 8, the last name on the caller ID said “Ong.” Must be a wrong number, I thought.
When I answered it, a soft, unrecognizable voiced asked, “Steve?” I muttered, “Yes,” and she proceeded to tell me how grateful she was that I had been so instrumental in the Sept. 11 services my Legion group has put together over the years and how disappointed she was in the fact that there wasn’t going to be one this year.
“You see, Steve, my name is Cathie Ong. My sister was Betty Ong. She was the flight attendant on American Airlines Flight 11. She made that first phone call alerting authorities to the hijackings. It’s her voice you hear over and over on all the documentaries. It saddens me that you are not doing the ceremony due to lack of enthusiasm.”
I could have died. I felt about 2 feet tall. The reason the ceremony didn’t happen was MY lack of enthusiasm. I was the one who kind of pulled all the strings and pushed the buttons to make that event happen. I started feeling as if I was beating a dead horse and a drum that no one wanted to listen to anymore. I was burnt out.
So, I put the knife in the event by just saying I wasn’t going to do it. I was too busy, a lot of stuff going on. When no one else stepped forward to organize the event, we let it die.
Am I too busy? What am I too busy doing? Attending to my all-important life and universe that I am the center of?
I am not too busy. I was just beginning to forget what we said we were never going to forget, the “poignancy of the moment” that was 9/11 and the importance of why we remember. Ms. Ong, in that incredibly soft voice, reminded me again of what was important in the 15-minute conversation that followed.
It seems as if Ms. Ong frequents Cambria and follows us Cambrians with a subscription to The Cambrian. She was in town, on the deck, drinking her morning coffee and reading the paper, when she saw the piece on the canceled event. It compelled her to call me, not to complain, but to offer thanks for all the past years. I felt like I should have been thanking her.
She touched on her story, the suffering of her family to this day, their mother and the fact that, out here in California, we seem so unfazed by the magnitude of it all, but “those planes were all heading for California. Lots of people in California were affected. They keep it to themselves.” By the tenor of her voice, I could tell, she to kept it to herself.
“We need to remember. It can happen again. We need to remain diligent. Bad people are out there, and we can’t forget. The next generation needs to be reminded before it happens again.”
All of the reasons we decided to conduct the ceremony in the first place were just substantiated by Ms. Ong in the strongest, softest voice I have ever heard.
So, to Ms. Ong, and anybody else disappointed that we didn’t hold a service and community meal as we have in the past, “I am sorry.”
I will not forget next year. I will listen to Smokey when he says something is a bad idea. We will have a service, and we will remember Ms. Ong and her family’s suffering, and we will pledge to remain diligent in the face of those who threaten our way of life.