February 12th, 2009. My very pregnant wife and I were headed to bed. I caught the tail end of a news report that said something about a plane having crashed near Buffalo New York. I didn’t think much of it, my brain automatically scanning my friends and relatives- as we all do in such times- to see if I knew anyone out there.
I remember thinking to myself ‘I really only know one family out there.’ The details of the crash were still coming out, so there wasn’t a lot of information yet. I went to bed.
The phone rang.
My mother-in-law was on the line, a wreck.
Turns out, the only family I knew in Buffalo…had a plane land on their house just a few hours ago. It was the family home of a good friend of ours from college- a girl who was dating my brother-in-law at the time (They’re now very happily married)
Shock kicked in. What happened? Were there any survivors? Was the family home?
It turns out that the plane crash claimed the lives of 50 people, including my friend’s father, a man I had met a few times. Somehow or other, her mother and sister, who were also in the house, managed to escape.
The weeks and months that followed were a mess. We drove out for the funeral, nobody really knowing what to say. We met with my friend’s mother and sister, the survivors- and heard their stories in an intimate family setting, where I felt incredibly awkward. I remember sitting in a small house with family members surrounding the women, away from news reporters and cameras.
On funeral day, a bunch of people arranged a trip to the crash site. My wife, father-in-law, and I chose not to go along.
I remember a frozen, snowy burial in a cemetery. My friend’s father was a veteran, and taps was played for him in such a way as to make you forget the Buffalo winter was whipping around you.
In the time since the crash, 3407 has become another name, another number, another accident to everyone not touched directly by it. Just like every other tragic event though, the people close to the epicenter of it are forever changed, forever hurt, forever missing something, someone- and that will never change, no matter how much time passes, and no matter how many incidents follow along behind it, eating up news time, and burying it beneath newer pages of history.
I once heard someone say- that if you throw a rock into a pond, a splash and ripples indicate the violence that is the shattered surface of the water. Eventually though- the ripples fade and the water becomes calm again. Passers-by to the pond will not know of the splash, the ripples, and the violence…but no matter what the surface looks like, underneath, that pond is forever different with the addition of that rock to its bottom.
Tragedy throws its rocks into all of our ponds. The waves and ripples all will fade over time, but the changes underneath are forever.
3407 cast a large rock- a boulder possibly- into the ponds some people I love very much.
Two years ago, there was a memorial 5K run in the area where the plane crashed. Hundreds of people showed up for it, from the causal joggers, to the hardcore runners who were using this as a qualifier for one big race or another. In the middle, was me. I ran alone, weaving through packs of people. At one point, I was completely alone, the pack of pros was far ahead of me. The others were far back. All along the route were pictures of the victims as a memorial. I passed name after name, picture after picture. Smiling faces, some in uniforms of various services. Young, old…it was an incredibly emotional run, and I’ll never forget it.
Today is the anniversary of the accident. I’ll be thinking of my friend and her family. I’ll be thinking of the other families as well, and some of those faces I saw on giant posters during the run. I’ll be thinking of them because remembering might hurt, but forgetting just seems to much worse.