49: The Call

49: The Call

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles and More

The Call

Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer. And let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good.

~Maya Angelou

My mother was waiting for me at the bus stop. I was a freshman and she hadn’t picked me up in years, so I knew something was wrong. She hugged me tightly, told me to get in the car, and told one of my classmates, who was also my neighbor, to get in as well. My mom drove us the four short blocks home, but those four blocks seemed to last a lifetime. She told us something had happened, and from the way she choked up on the words, I could feel her fright and sorrow.

“The World Trade Center has been hit by a plane,” she managed to say. I thought something had suddenly forced all of the air out of the car. I couldn’t breathe. She dropped off our neighbor and pulled into the driveway. Inside the house, the TV was still on, and images of the smoke billowing from the North Tower showed on the screen. We were stationed in Germany, where my dad was a soldier in the Army, so it was already mid-afternoon for us. I remember feeling helpless as we watched the second plane approach the Tower on television. I watched it hit, and I felt the strike as if the weight of it would pull me down through the floor.

Being so far away from my homeland when it was hurt was strangely isolating. Suddenly, I was much more aware of the foreign land surrounding us. My mom was on the phone trying to call friends in New York. I’d been born in New York, and my mom had visited the city frequently when she was growing up. When the second plane struck, my mom cried. Not quiet tears; she fell to her knees and cried out loud. She knew seventeen people whom we would later learn had died in the Towers.

The military base was put on lockdown, which meant my dad couldn’t come home. I was sitting on the floor, holding our German Shepherd, Hobbes, while my sister toddled around in her walker, blissfully oblivious. Suddenly, I felt an overwhelming need to call my grandfather, Pa, who lived in Virginia. I needed to know he was safe.

Mom told me we would call him later when he got home; the phone lines would be very busy due to the attacks and rescue efforts. But I didn’t listen, which was hugely out of character for me. I knew I had to call him right that minute. It couldn’t wait for him to get home from work.

I went and picked up the phone. To dial out of the house, we had to dial 9, then 0-0 to make an international call. Then we had to dial the country code for the United States — 1 — and then the phone number. I could never remember the number for the house I lived in, much less dialing to the States to Pa’s cell phone. We always called him at home. He didn’t like the charges on his cell phone from an international call. I knew he’d be annoyed because of the cost, but I didn’t care. I had to call him. I had never had such an intense feeling in my life.

Somehow, I dialed the right numbers, including Pa’s cell phone. He answered and said I caught him just as he was about to go through security at the Pentagon, which meant turning in his phone because he couldn’t take it into his office. If I had called more than a minute later, his phone would have already been turned off.

My voice was shaking when I told him I just needed to know he was safe. He could tell I was upset, so he walked away from the security line toward the parking lot so his signal would be better. He told me he was just fine, perfectly safe, and the guards at the Pentagon were protecting everyone so I didn’t need to worry. That is when Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon, destroying Pa’s office.

He told me he would call me back — that he had to go. I didn’t know what had happened until it came on the news a moment later. Mom cried again later that day when Pa called back. He was home safe because my earlier phone call had kept him from going into his office. I will be forever grateful for whatever grace allowed me to remember his cell phone number in that moment I needed it.

That urge to call my grandfather was the most miraculous mercy I’ve experienced in my life. It gave me fourteen more years to share with the most wonderful grandfather anyone could have.

~C. Solomon

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