The Stories that Bind Us


We are holed up here at the house on the lake awaiting Irma.  The patio furniture has been tied down. The boat tied up. The cars have been moved to an open clearing. Water has been put into zip-lock bags and bathtubs.

And here it is 9-11 and the most inarticulate president to ever serve this nation is hosting a memorial service at the Pentagon.

The Pentagon.

I can’t see it without thinking of my friends Hubert and Lillian Champion.

They were sitting in their home in Pine Mountain, Georgia, that morning, watching the TV morning shows as was their usual routine. They witnessed, as we all did, the towers falling, the people jumping, the heroes rushing in to help.

Hubert and Lillian, like all of us, were concerned about their loved ones who lived in New York.  Their granddaughter, Amanda, has just moved to New York.

They had no fear in those early moments about the Pentagon.

It was while Hubert and Lillian were watching the morning shows sixteen years ago, that they witnessed the death of their daughter.  Marjorie Champion Salamone worked at the Pentagon.  Her office was the point of impact for the plane.  In the hour prior, Marjorie had been able to speak to her daughter Amanda, to know that she was safe. Then, Marjorie called her husband Ben, who worked at the Department of Agriculture, and left him a voice mail, letting him know that Amanda was okay.

There would be no more phone calls from Marjorie to anyone.

Lillian says she knew in that moment.

The moment she sat in her home in Pine Mountain watching the morning news shows and saw that plane hit the Pentagon.

A mother feels these things.

I met Miss Lillian of Pine Mountain, Georgia after the publication of the memoir on my father. Lillian, also a journalist, told me the story of how she and her husband learned of their daughter’s death at the Pentagon.

If Lillian were here now, waiting on Irma to make landfall in Harris County, she’d be worrying about the pecan trees that lined her property. She and Hubert spent many a season harvesting those pecans. She’d mail me some during the holiday season. We’d speak by phone often, swapping stories about the neighbors. A journalist by trade, Lillian authored three books on the histories of Troup, Harris, and Meriwether counties.  Lillian knew everybody. And even if she didn’t know them, she knew a story about them.

I loved swapping stories with Lillian.

She’s gone now, with her beloved Hubert and Marjorie.

Lillian passed in June.

Were she still here, she’d be calling on all her neighbors, seeing if there was anything she could do for them.

I thought about Lillian as I joined with several people Sunday setting up a new evacuation center out on Benning Road.  I drove out to the Civic Center, where some 500 evacuees are waiting out the storm, walked in and offered to be of help.

“Are you a Red Cross volunteer?” somebody asked me.

“No,” I said. “I’m not with anybody. I just came to see if I could be of help.”

“Go over there,” a Red Cross worker pointed. “They are setting up a new evacuation center and they need help.”

I walked up to a man wearing a red vest. He gave me directions to the recreation center out on Benning Drive. I was one of the first five to arrive. The water trucks arrived within minutes and we got busy doing the things volunteers do.

By mid-afternoon, droves of volunteers arrived.  There was much laughter throughout the day. Everyone swapping stories about prior storms, trips to WalMart (always the best place for stories of the absurd), stories about fears and family, stories about pets and pet peeves, stories about vienna sausages and MREs (Meals rejected by Ethiopians, my friend David says).

Community. A feeling of fellowship with others.

Lillian Champion embodied community.

The folks at Frank Chester Recreation Center embodied community.

Even the tragedy of 9-11 embodied community.

May you find community wherever you go. May you be community to others wherever you go.

Karen Spears Zacharias is author of CHRISTIAN BEND (Mercer University Press).


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