A young Callahan employee reflects on how her heartfelt letter of gratitude to a 9/11 hero drew national attention.
Oprah Winfrey once said, “If the only prayer you say in your life is ‘Thank you,’ then that would be enough.”
As I look back on the tragedy of September 11, I see my 12-year-old self sitting in an English classroom, shocked and horrified. The attacks showed me just how quickly life can change — that so much can be lost within the blink of an eye.
We all have busy schedules that can prevent us from remembering the small things in life, including being appreciative of others. I know I've been consumed many times by my own life. But there is one experience that will forever remind me of just how important the words "Thank you" can be to someone else's life.
In the aftermath of the attacks, my teacher offered the class an opportunity to write letters to the firefighters and rescue workers at the Pentagon. At first, I didn’t know if I should write one. How significant could my seventh-grade words actually be to someone who was removing bodies from an ash-filled site? But something inside me said I should pass on my thanks, so I did.
A few weeks later, I received a package from Miller Stroud, a rescue worker from Tennessee who had joined the D.C.-area rescue effort. His letter explained how he’d carried my letter in his shirt pocket while he worked through the rubble. He told me that I was his hero during this difficult time. His words brought tears to my eyes and still do to today. I couldn’t believe my simple letter had the ability to touch someone I’d never met. Just by saying “Thank you” to someone, I was able to help them through one of the toughest challenges of their life.
Being the adamant 12-year-old that I was, I wrote to Oprah Winfrey, asking her to help me meet my American hero. Two weeks later, I walked onto her stage in front of millions of viewers and was able to give Miller a hug and an in-person “Thank you.” A month later, we were both asked to carry the Olympic torch for a stint in our home states: me in Maryland and Miller in Tennessee.
Throughout the years, Miller and I have kept in touch. We're truly bonded for life. Then, we reunited in person again for Oprah’s show in November of 2010 celebrating her 25 years of saying “Thank You,” meeting each other at the Pentagon memorial where the whole story began nine years earlier. I was speechless and ecstatic to reconnect with a person who truly changed my life. A person whose letter I have framed and hanging on my wall in momento.
Tragedy happens and there’s no way for anyone to control it. What we can control is how we react and interact with one another. We have the ability to touch someone’s life with a word of appreciation. We're so busy and forget the important things in life, but I ask all of you in the credit union community to take a moment and say, "Thank you." It can be to someone who has changed your life, the bus driver who got you to work this morning, or even a stranger who holds the door. You never know whose life you may touch.
Originally published on September 9, 2011.