On the 20th Anniversary of 9/11

By Laura Joyce-Hubbard

September 11, 2023

On the 20th Anniversary of 9/11

I think of John Ogonowski, leaving his farm at dawn in his green Chevy pickup. John flew cargo planes in Vietnam, knew the Boeing 767 like creases in his palm. He held the yoke, ran checklists, calmly captained the takeoff of the first plane that would crash into the World Trade Center.

John had one hand in the air, another in the soil: plots of bok choy, taro, pigweed, Laotian mint. Sharing his land with refugees from Southeast Asia in a sustainable farming project, he lived a full-circle life. Cambodians—many who fled the Khmer Rouge—returned to farming on his family acres. He was their docent. Known to pop a pea tendril in his mouth, he’d offer blueberries to visitors. With his wife Peg, he raised three daughters, ladyfingers, pumpkins, fish cheek herbs, peaches, corn, hay, holy basil.

For twenty years, I’ve thought about how I slept in that Tuesday after my Boeing 767 crossed time zones, continents, jet routes. I’ve wondered how I slipped through the turnstile of chance—woke in my own bed, covered in yellow morning light. I dreamt, while John’s plane banked south, deviating from course—contrails like a finger tracing a white rip in a cobalt seam.

American Airlines Flight 11 flew into terror, invisible from the fertile fields below. When I try to name the feelings all these decades later, I return to the image: cornflower blue skies, a beautiful day betrayed, wrested from John’s hands, from the yoke of all we knew.



In remembrance of:
Captain John Ogonowski
AA Flight 11, September 11, 2001

The author wishes to thank NPR’s “Living on Earth” program for the feature with John Ogonowski. Through their work, Laura Joyce-Hubbard was able to appreciate John’s farming life, admire his dedication to helping others, and hear his cheery New England voice.


Laura Joyce-Hubbard is a writer in the Chicago area. She was a pilot in the US Air Force and at American Airlines. 

Image by eric fotos courtesy of Pexels

*This essay originally appeared in the Beautiful Things series on June 27, 2022.

comments powered by Disqus « Back to Beautiful-Things

Newsletter Sign Up

shadow shadow