Tribute in Light: Two beams of light represent the former Twin Towers of the World Trade Center during the 2004 memorial of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Photo: Derek Jensen/Wikimedia Commons

I am once again preparing for a cross-country flight to visit my grand-kiddos, Luca, and Nova and the rest of the Marszals.  If someone had told me that at a certain age, I would become the flying “Ammie,” aka grandma, I would have thought it inconceivable. 

Yet, most of what has happened in my life — the mountain-top experiences as well as the deep, dark valleys were unexpected and inconceivable. Blame it on being young and naïve, but I believed life didn’t change that much.  I would marry and have children. I bought into the whole white picket fence-husband-kids scenario that was so much of the “Father knows Best” culture of the day.

That reality was quickly replaced with a new reality.  After my sons, Greg and Jeff registered for school, I decided I wanted a career. I enrolled in college at night and held a part-time job during the day. Exhausting but fulfilling. 

My then-husband George and I advocated for our sons. We encouraged Greg and Jeff to pursue new experiences and think outside the box. Some parents complain their kids don’t listen to them. Ours did. They moved across the country.  The fantasy that my kids would always be physically near was smashed into smithereens.  

The “until death do us part” moment came swiftly for me and George — much earlier than we could have ever imagined. Then a repeat performance years later when Sweet Frank became ill after seven years of marriage. 

That’s part of my story.  Gentle readers, many of you can tell your own  story.  If your life was clear-sailing, you are indeed lucky. But perhaps like me, life  may have given you unexpected pain.  You may have learned things the hard way.  Felt the sting of regret. Perhaps you experienced unexpected joy and you danced with elation. 

Tomorrow will mark the 23rd anniversary of the terror attacks of 9/11.  There is no doubt in my mind we share this story.  The shock and the unreality of watching innocent victims jumping from the burning towers to their deaths still haunts many of us.  

I was living on Staten Island at the time.  After settling my dying husband George, I arrived at the woman’s center where I was employed.  Entering the building, instead of the usual hustle and bustle of our facility, it was eerily quiet. My staff was crowded around a small television in the waiting room. The second plane had just crashed into a tower.

We closed the center and each of us  went home with the horror of knowing that  some of our neighbors and loved ones were employed in the twin towers.  I arrived home to find my sister, brother and a very weak George watching television.

The total number of innocent souls that were reported dead was 2,996. Staten Island was hard hit, losing 275 victims in the attack.  I shall always remember the sounds of jets flying over our home, the National Guard trucks thundering on our main roads,  and the flying paper from the towers that littered our streets. 

 In the weeks to come, the sounds of tolling church bells,  announcing  yet another funeral, was sobering.  Soon after,  the church bells tolled for George. Collectively we cried many tears that year.  Tears of grief, rage, disappointment,  and fear.  Tears of gratitude for those who were sacrificing so much for our sakes. 

We were united as a country back then.  We learned how resilient we were. What happened to that spirit of unity? Nowadays, we are not the United States of America, we are more like the Divided States of America.  For me, this is unconceivable. 

 The  unexpected joy of becoming Ammie is replenished daily.  Despite the distance, my family remains close,  dispelling my earlier  fears.  Flying across the country frequently  has become something I simply do.  

Many  of us are no longer sure what we will be doing a year from now.  We can plan, but I suggest you use a pencil with an eraser. For me, my eraser mind is a complete about-face.  

I am not the same person I used to be — and thankfully  so.  Perhaps neither are you. We know that life is inherently unpredictable. 

Writer and cartoonist Allen Saunders wrote: “Life happens when we are busy making other plans.”  

His words speak to me. Embracing the unexpected —the good and bad —  is  to become impervious in the face of change.  We can find a way to thrive,  despite life’s hurdles,  and land on solid ground. 

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Celia Iannelli is a native New Yorker enjoying a second career — in 'retirement' — as a freelance writer. She lives in Jamesport.