Nov 9, 2020
"Jack, pick up, sweetie, can you hear me? OK. I just want to tell you, there's a little problem with the plane. I'm fine. I'm totally fine. I just want to tell you how much I love you."
Lauren Catuzzi Gradcolas left that message on her husband's answering machine on September 11, 2001. She called from United Airlines Flight 93. Was this her last message? Not at all.
Lauren was returning home to San Rafael, Calif., after attending her grandmother's funeral, when she boarded the flight from Newark, NJ, to San Francisco, CA. Eager to rejoin her husband, she arrived early at the airport and took a seat on doomed Flight 93 and departed before her originally scheduled flight.
Forty minutes after takeoff, four al-Qaida terrorists hijacked the plane carrying Lauren and 32 other frightened passengers and seven crew members. While the plane changed directions, the passengers learned the news of three other planes that hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. They realized they had to take action.
"Are you guys read? Let's roll!" shouted Todd Beamer, and the frantic unarmed passengers attempted to breech the cockpit door. Trying to stop the break in, the hijackers put the plane into a roll. Minutes later the plane plowed upside down at 563 mpg into a reclaimed strip mine near Shanksville, PA. Another 20 minutes and the plane would have reached Washington, D.C., most likely striking the US Capitol.
As with the rescue efforts of New York City police and firefighters, United Flight 93's heroism helped inspire and unify a stricken nation during the fitful aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
Several memorials were established around the country over the following decade applauding the actions of the crew and passengers of the ill-fated flight. One of them is "Lauren's Garden" in Market Square Park in downtown Houston, Lauren's hometown. It features a bust of the 38-year-old woman. Particularly meaningful to her husband, Jack, is the birthing room at Marin General Hospital, which he and the family-run Lauren Catuzzi Gradcolas Foundation established in Lauren's name. She was three months pregnant at the time of her death.
A memorial of another kind is Lauren's book, "You Can Do It! The Merit Badge Handbook for Grown-Up Girls." A few months before she dies, Lauren left her editorial position with Good Housekeeping to devote full time to writing the book, which encourages women to have faith in themselves and reach for new accomplishments. Her two sisters finished the book, which they published in 2005. Proceeds from the book support several charities, including a college scholarship fund.
During her short life, Lauren as active in a number of charitable organizations, including United Way, March of Dimes, Project Open Hand, Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, Breast Cancer Awareness and others. Her example inspires those who know her story.
By definition, those who encourage others will engender determination, hopefulness and confidence. Encouragement is a vital force that brings needed change and new upward direction.
Encouragement is at the heart of the Christian faith. When the Apostle Paul spread the gospel, "He traveled through that area, speaking many words of encouragement to the people..." (Acts 0:2) His written words of encouragement continue for all time.
One of the spiritual gifts listed in Romans 12 is "encouragement." If you have that gift, says Paul, exercise it generously. The results are changed lives. Barnabas was one of the stalwarts of the New Testament church "whose name means 'son of encouragement'" (Acts 4:36). What a great way to be known. Teachers, whether in Sunday School, grade school or college, can impart encouragement that endures for a lifetime. Monuments to teachers may not stand in many public places, but memories of their encouragement ("You can do this!") live on in the minds of their pupils.
Each day brings countless opportunities to each of us to offer encouragement. We may never know how a word - or a note - of encouragement uplifts the life of a friend. We may forget what we said that meant so much, but our friend might remember the remark for years.
Like Lauren, may your own life leave a legacy of encouragement.
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