The following is an account of my trip from Hartford, Connecticut back home at the end of The Latino Leadership Design Team meeting at the Sheraton Hotel at Bradley Airport. The Latino Leadership Design Team meeting was held to plan a national gathering of Latino clergy and lay leaders in Los Angeles in 2002. With me in attendance was the Rev. Butch Gamarra, Diocesan Missioner for Multicultural Ministries, Canon Lydia Lopez, Assistant for Communications and Public Affairs, the Rev. Roberto Maldonado, rector of St. Simon's, San Fernando and Silvestre Romero, Hispanic Missioner of the Diocese of Spokane, in Yakima, Washington.
The Latino Leadership Design Team meeting had ended and I had walked Daniel Caballero, the National Hispanic Missioner, to his gate at Bradley Airport when we were informed that his plane had been cancelled. We went to the ticket counter as instructed to get a new reservation and it was there where we heard the news of the disaster. Information was sketchy at first, and the agents offered us tickets for first thing the next morning, believing that things would be back to normal soon. Then I returned to my room and saw the images of the World Trade Center in flames and the demise of the second tower. I knew in my gut that what I had just witnessed meant that I was not flying out the next day, nor maybe even in a few days. I called home to let Guadalupe know that I was okay and that I would call later with more information.
Those of us who had not flown out that morning gathered in Daniel's room to watch, to pray and to support one another. We checked the travel plans of all our members to make sure they were not on those fateful flights. We knew that some of our folks, like Lydia Lopez and Butch Gamarra, were airborne and we prayed for their safety.
We did what we could for one another as we sat glued to the TV screen before us, but I needed to do something tangible. Roberto Maldonado and I talked about some of our options and then decided that the best course for us was to rent a vehicle and drive cross-country. I liked the idea of being behind the wheel of a car and having a sense of being in control of my life. But that was easier said than done. The car rental companies were not allowing one-way rentals. However, I did not give up hope and finally on my last call I was able to make a reservation with Hertz. Silvestre Romero, who lives in Washington State, decided to come along as well since we were all headed westward.
Within a few hours Roberto, Silvestre and I were headed home; it was now five in the afternoon. We knew that we would need some provisions and so after dinner in Pennsylvania, we found a 24 hour Wal-Mart and bought some essentials: a charger for Silvestre's cell phone, a road atlas, some water, cheese crackers and a blanket and pillow. We were all set now. We drove across Connecticut into New York and headed towards Chicago, thinking that we would then go to Denver and on to LA. About midnight Daniel called to give us the latest update and informed us that Butch and Lydia were stranded in Little Rock, Arkansas. We took out the atlas and reviewed our plan. Arkansas wasn't in our plan, but we were all in this together and if there was some way that we could give our colleagues a hand we were going to do that. So we headed south through West Virginia into Tennessee and on to Arkansas. Twenty-three hours later we were reunited with Butch and Lydia. It was such a great moment. We shared our stories and shared what we knew about the rest of our colleagues.
A few hours later, having taken a much-needed shower, a good meal, great fellowship and renewed spirit we were on the road again. California here we come! For the next day and a half we continued shared life experiences, we listened to the news, we prayed and read Scripture, and we laughed heartily and sang loudly. At times we drove in silence though our minds were searching for answers and understanding.
When we drove through Oklahoma, we stopped in at Oklahoma University in Norman at three in the morning to visit my son, Jon, who has just started his freshman year there. It was a very brief and obvious unplanned visit, but one that both Jon and I appreciated. The next day we took a much needed break in Flagstaff, Arizona for dinner where we ate some great Texas barbeque. Fifty-eight hours later we rolled into Los Angeles. It was a holy experience in a moment of terror. Just like the falling of the twin towers had shattered our lives so had this journey brought us together in ways that we could never have imagined. I truly believe that in every bad situation something good comes of it. For me it was the deepening of my friendships. I thank God for Roberto, Silvestre, Lydia and Butch my travel companions, our godfather, Daniel who took care of us through his constant phone calls and for cell phones.
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