My 9/11 Hero

“For people who have experienced personal tragedies, the one thing that I would want them to know is to stay true — to hang in there — and there will be a better day. It may not be when you want it to come, but if you’ll just hang in there, life will get better.” –Liz Howell
(My Hero, by Howard Collett)
–Video created after the Haiti earthquake–

On 9/11, I did not know that years later this tragedy would become more personal to me.

Twelve years ago, I entered my 10th grade Spanish class and immediately our teacher told us that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. At first, everyone thought it was a small plane, a small accident. And we really hadn’t heard of the WTC before. So we unwittingly began class and sang happy birthday to my friend. Within minutes, our whole class was called down to the library. A TV was set to a news station. This plane crash had not been an accident. We watched as the horrible events unfolded and saw the second plane hit and the towers fall. A chilling and horrifying memory. Soon reports of the Pentagon came through, of a possible threat on the White House, of another plane down. You remember the feelings. Fear, sadness, heartache, pain. With these impossible emotions in our hearts, we were sent back to our classes for the remainder of the day, only to come home and discover the real horror of the day.

Less than a year later, I was on a Church history tour and went to Ground Zero in NYC and also went through Washington DC. There was a fence near Ground Zero where thousands of letters, stuffed animals, notes, and memorabilia had been placed in memory of those who had been killed and those who had sacrificed to try and save others. Again, those deep feelings we will never forget.

Little did I know, that some years later, I would become friends with someone so drastically affected by this event. Little did I know, that shortly after 9/11, when I watched the Olympic Torch being handed to President Bush for the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympics, that I would know the person who handed that torch off.

For the past four years, I have worked with and been blessed by my association with Liz Howell. On 9/11, she sent her husband of four years to another day of work at the Pentagon. She never saw him again. Brady Howell did not survive the attack on the Pentagon.

I don’t mean to relive the event, but I do wish to say that Liz has been one of my lifesavers and one of my heroes. Now, every year as 9/11 rolls around, my heart is even more tender than it was those 12 years ago. It is even more full of compassion and more full of love. Because I have known someone whose life was broken and shattered because of 9/11, I have learned what that day really did not only to our country, but to our brothers and sisters.

When I met Liz, I didn’t know her story, but I did know that she was one of the kindest and most compassionate people I had met. As I learned her story, I felt something of her deep character and faith build in me.

Liz has been one of my comforting angels. Her life, her example, her story, her faith, have inspired me in ways that I can’t even express.

After Brady’s death, Liz went back to school to become a Nurse Practitioner, then decided to serve a mission. She served in Portugal and I love that she speaks the Celestial language. She later came to work for the Church in Humanitarian Services–one of the few who started as an intern and then moved into full-time employment in various capacities.

I don’t know how Liz has been so strong. She is a pillar of faith. She has a talent for saying exactly what I need to hear when I’m having a hard time. She has a wealth of articles and talks on hand for any situation. She has a repository of beautiful music that she shares in moments of need. And she is the most thoughtful gift-giver I have ever met. (Who else gives you a book called, Don’t Throw Rocks at His Window when you break up with someone?) She is also a ray of positivity and full of laughter and life. I have never suppressed as many giggles in my cubicle as when I talk to her. And when we shared a cubicle hall (yes hall, not wall), LizTown USA was the place to be if you wanted happiness.

It is so easy for me to experience a trial and feel, if only for a moment, that life is unfair. But Liz took a horrible trial and let God into her heart. A few years ago, another co-worker wrote about how she is one of his heroes. She is one of my heroes, too. Thanks, Liz, for letting your tragedy teach me about faith, hope, and charity.

Love these articles about her:

LDS relief: Haiti Binds a Broken Heart
My Hero, by Howard Collett
Healing Through Service, New York Times

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