Flight 1420 Anniversary Memorial Dedication
June 1, 2004

A Voice
by Sharon (Angleman) Goodson

Before June 1, 1999 I was a strong public speaker. I had a voice and enjoyed being able to effectively present convictions, concepts and meanings. My training as a journalist allowed me to think quickly and weave together ideas and issues. It was rewarding to have a voice that could be heard, especially when it served as a voice for others.

I've since lost that voice, however. I've spoken publicly once since then, about three years ago when I presented a paper at a conference. It was a disaster. There was no continuity in my thought; my voice was monotone and technical. I met the questions that followed with confusion and stuttering. I had feared this, as I already knew my brain no longer gave up information when I needed it. Even today, ask me a spontaneous question as simple as what I did yesterday, and as soon as I can think of the word ‘minutes,' I'll probably ask you to give me a few so I can get back with you. Against my prior nature, I'm fairly quiet these days.

For me, the quiet began in the last moments of June 1, 1999 . But there was another voice with me in some of those moments, in those hours, and to this day, that voice resounds with others, it serves as many, and it serves as mine.

That night I found myself with about fifteen others on a swampy island some distance from a burning plane. I was cold and alone; the courage and leadership I had so prided myself on had simply vanished, as if it had never been part of me. Another woman there was also alone. She suggested we hold each other for warmth. She held me instead. I curled into her feeling worthless and childlike against a body smaller than my own. She asked that if I died that night, did I know I would go to heaven. The ‘no-info on demand' syndrome was already settling in. I finally answered ‘I haven't been walking right.' She held me tighter and said no one does.

I said I felt bad we were out here and not helping at the plane. She said we were doing everything we could and it was right to try and save our lives when that was all that was left. She talked about many things. She said she would quit working outside the home, she would change things in her life. I couldn't talk. It was exhausting and thoughts were fragmented. She talked for us. She asked me questions, my children's names, things like that. She kept me busy trying to focus on her voice. It was her voice that was important, not so much the words she used.

At one point there was a pause in her conversation. When I heard her voice again she was singing. For a moment her voice was the only sound in the swamp as the first line of “Amazing Grace” reached all of our ears. Then the rest of the group joined in. I mouthed some of the words, but little sound came out. That was okay, because still cradled to her bosom, feeling the power and vibration of her voice was more comforting than any signing I might have done.

When someone in the group saw rescuers it was suggested we yell on a three count so they could find us. I told her I couldn't yell, my throat was burning and I didn't have the strength. She said she couldn't yell loud either, but it was all right, the group would do it for us, in effect, they would be our voice. The group yelled and we knew we were heard when rescuers shined light in our direction.

I saw her later at the fire station, sitting on the floor with her legs out straight, eyes staring just above the floor. She was drenched and so small. I asked her if she was the one I was with out there. She stared at me lost for a moment then said, ‘Yes, I think so.' She began to cry and lifted her arms up to hug me. I hugged her back. I gave her my sheet and felt ashamed. After all she had done for me, a stranger, this was the best I could offer, an ugly green sheet already wet from my use. Her gaze returned to the floor and I walked away, knowing I could never earn the grace shown to me. I could have been anybody, I could have been everybody.

She said one particular and peculiar thing that night that I always remember when I think of our family, the family here today. She said, “I don't want to be one of the groups that come back every year.” She said this as freezing rain dripped from our hair, soaking further into our clothes and the ground.

I certainly didn't realize at the time, and maybe she didn't either, but she was keeping the future real for us in the field, and she was accepting an important role as one of the future voices for our family. Barbara Heard didn't want the task at hand, but she accepted it, that very night, as we were undeniable and forever separated from what some of us call the ‘non-crash' world.

I can't help but see the rich symbolism in the actions of that night and the many since to the gospels of Mathew, Mark and Luke where in a garden Jesus, in His own field of terror, asks His Father if the cup can pass from him. He prays so intensely that sweat falls from his head like drops of blood, soaking his clothes and the ground. His despair came not from fear of physical death, but from the impending separation from His God, His family. But God heard His prayers and answered them by giving Jesus the Grace – the Amazing Grace – and the strength to face his captors and do His will. Then through Grace alone, Jesus gave Himself so that man could be reborn.

I tell these parts of my own story because of the personal and intimate experience shared, but what I tell you is symbolic of the 1420 voice, and it is found in each and every one of our stories. We are here today because of the strong, untiring voices of many gifted and gracious individuals, none of who seek a voice of solitude, but seek one of unity, inspiration, compassion and love. And they are the voices of those gone, and of those still suffering. These individuals have given intimate, essential parts of themselves to become a single voice for those who have lost theirs.

If I may speak for us all, I wish to extend our deepest thanks and love for seeing us through, for bringing us together, and for seeing to it that ours is not a voice to fade away in the night.

 


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