I met Norma Cruz Kahn back in 1999, when we were working together for nonprofits located in Northern Virginia (about 15 minutes away from the White House).
Of course I had no idea I would specifically remember Norma every year on September 11. Why would I know?
Norma was a single mom juggling a full-time job and full-time parenting duties, with, what seemed like, total ease. She was in a groove. Meant to be doing what she was doing. (I know our mutual friends would agree with me on this one.)
I didn't have kids at the time (and over a decade away from being a single mom myself), so I don't think I appreciated how hard she must have been working. Again, this was Norma's fault. She made it all look too easy. She was always smiling and joking. And laughing. At me, sometimes.
When I first met the super proud Latina, she told me she was a "NewYorican," to which I replied: "¿Que? What's that?"
"You don't know what a NewYorican is?" she laughed, very ready to fill me in.
"No, I have no idea."
"I'm a Puerto Rican from New York," she explained. By the way she laughed out loud, I knew the lightbulb over my head must have gone off and been ultra bright as I said "Ohhhhh!"
None of us knew Norma was on Flight 77, the plane that crashed into the Pentagon that clear morning on 9/11. The next day, September 12, we found out that Norma was one of the victims of the targeted terrorist attacks on the United States. It was like a punch to the stomach.
On the day the terrorists struck, that sunny Monday morning in September, a small group of us went to the top floor of our work's parking garage, where Norma used to park, to look at the smoke coming up from Pentagon, located about 10 minutes away from us.
We were curious. And we needed to see it for ourselves. (How would we have known our friend had just died?)
A week later, it all came together. We found out Norma had to go on a business trip to California September 10. (They say the terrorists looked for cross-country flights, with airplanes with lots of fuel. Better for the explosion.)
She was supposed to fly out Sunday night,but bumped the flight to the next morning to have breakfast with her 13-year-old son, Imran, before her 5-hour flight for another long work week away from home.
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Norma wasn't political. At least we never talked about politics. She never complained about work either, but did say she was tired of the long business trips. She didn't want to leave her son that week in September. That's what she told our mutual friend (who was also her neighbor) the evening before her flight, when they chatted in Norma's front yard.
So many people lost their lives on that day – 2,977, to be exact. And they were just living their lives, like Norma. They were private people. Until evil struck.
Yet, because she was on one of the three flights taken over by the suicidal 9/11 terrorists, Norma was indirectly part of so many political debates and discussions from 2001 and on.
First, the country came together. The nation, and the world, loved New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani for being strong. He was the face and voice of New York City and the country.
I remember watching CNN for days (which, like other TV stations, didn't air commercials). I was analyzing and trying to comprehend why our country was under attack. I wasn't alone. All of us tuned in.
Then the politicians chimed in more, supposedly answering all of our questions about September 11. Who was to blame for 9/11? Al Qaeda? Osama bin Laden? What and who was that?
Things got complicated in the months and years to come. Our nation entered into a war in a far away place to honor the memories of those we lost, and to catch the people who did it.
Years later, talk show host Jon Stewart brought -- and is still bringing -- attention to the medical needs of the first responders who raised to the scene in New York City, in search of survivors who would never be found. Those who stayed and cleaned up the damage of the fallen World Trade Center have paid a hefty price.
And, all of these years later, Norma is still gone. And I'm not sure why the 22nd anniversary of this horrible day is just so much harder than the 21st or 20th anniversaries, but it is.
Bumper stickers remind us to "never forget" 9/11. There's no need to remind me. I can never forget Norma, who still makes me smile every time I meet a proud NewYorican. God, she was fun to know.