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Jeremy Glick’s widow writes of life with a 9/11 hero

As the nation reflects on the third anniversary of September 11, there's one name we'll probably all remember: Jeremy Glick. He was, of course, one of the brave passengers on United Flight 93. After that flight crashed in a Pennsylvania field, Jeremy was hailed a hero. He and fellow passengers stormed the cockpit, throwing a wrench into the hijackers' plan. Lyz Glick, Jeremy's wife, wanted their 3-year-old daughter, Emmy — and the world — to know that his final day was only a small part of his life's story. With the help of journalist Dan Zegart, Lyz has written "Your Father's Voice: Letters for Emmy About Life With Jeremy and Without Him After 9/11." Glick was invited to appear on “Today” to discuss the book. Here’s an excerpt:

Dear Emmy,

I remember the morning after your father died.

When I awoke, I was upstairs at Grandma and Grandpa’s house in the Catskills, a big, old, white clapboard farmhouse. I was in the brass bed and you were in your crib, right next to me. The first thing I saw when I opened my eyes was a pile of your daddy’s clean clothes in a wicker basket. On the night table were a couple of his favorite CDs. I just started wailing. I could hardly get my breath I was crying so hard.

I sat up, put on my robe, trembling. The bedroom door was closed. I hoped I hadn’t woken up the whole house. It was very early. Light was pouring in, the golden light of the sweetest part of the morning.

A close friend who lost her mom and dad in childhood had called the day before with advice: Get up quick, she said. Don’t lie around in bed…thinking…remembering…crying….

It was good advice and I’ve followed it ever since, but I never counted on seeing so much of your dad’s stuff lying around. So I managed to swing my feet onto the flood and wobble over to the railing of your crib, but I just kept crying harder and harder, because the daddy who loved you so fiercely as any man ever loved his tiny baby girl, was gone forever.

As I looked at you there, tucked under your little blue blanket, a mobile of white lambs turning slowly above your head, I was sick with anxiety, thinking you would know only a sad mother. I didn’t want to imagine what it would be like for you to grow up without ever knowing your father. I felt like you’d truly lost both your parents the day before.

You were still tiny, just three months old. Born prematurely, you were small even for that age. So small! Who would protect you? Who would make you grin like your daddy did?

You lay on your back, eyes closed. Just then, from the bottom of a dream, you let out a delicate sigh, as though finishing a thought. Your cheeks crinkled up and you smiled ever so slightly at me. I cannot explain it, but at that moment I felt the power of something higher pulling me into something bigger than my pain. Your little shadow of a smile just took me over — like the sunlight from that window had gotten inside and warmed me. Like your father’s energy was burning through the window. Your smile made me feel good enough to believe that maybe life could be good again. And then I remembered that the last time your father spoke to me, he said that for him to be at peace he needed us to be joyful.

By the time you’re old enough to read this, everyone will know the story of the men and women who tried to take back United Flight 93 from a gang of assassins who had already murdered people on the airplane and were bent on using it to kill a lot more people on the ground. What your father did in his last minutes of life made him a legend. You’ve heard that legend. Now I’m going to tell you your daddy’s story. I mean the whole story of your very own father. Not just the ending, the part where the rest of the world found out about him. Because the truth is, the ending wasn’t the best part or the worst part, it was just an ending.

I know your daddy wanted you to have his story. Pieces of it were scattered all over the place, as though it were inevitable that someday I’d go out and find them. Some were scribbled on legal pads in his room at home, or were tossed into the bottom drawer of the desk he had when he was a little boy, or were imprinted on film at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Some were little secrets his friends knew about him and never would have told me if he hadn't died. The world is seeded with traces of him. And in the year since he left us, I’ve been piecing it together, sometimes just by sitting here on our front porch thinking, like I’m doing now, looking out over Greenwood Lake while you sleep in your crib. And sometimes way off in places I didn’t know even existed.

Since you’re still too little to understand this, I’ve put these letters into a book, like a birthday present you can’t open for a long time. This is the master’s key, a gift of meaning. Here is your daddy’s story.

As the days rolled by after September 11th, I told myself that I’d done the hardest thing already: I’d said goodbye to your father, my soulmate, the only man I’ve ever loved.

I’ll tell you more about our last telephone conversation later because its meaning will change once you know the whole story. But I can tell you that when your father called from Flight 93 and told me it had been commandeered by some “bad men,” we knew exactly how to speak to each other, and we kept our heads — except for when he said, “I don’t think I’m going to get out of this.” He started sobbing so quietly that only I, who knew him so well, would have known he was crying. It made me feel terribly helpless because, except for the night you were born, I’d never heard your father cry.

Emmy, what I need you to understand is that your daddy and I managed to say enough to each other in 20 minutes on the telephone to bring our life together to an orderly conclusion. It didn’t matter that in the few moments I had been awake I’d learned that airplanes were being rammed into the very center of government in Washington and the tallest skyscrapers in New York in an attack orchestrated by bloody-minded fanatics; or that four of those men were on Flight 93 and we both suspected, though we would never admit it to each other, that your daddy was probably right and would not survive.

Later, reporters asked me how we were able to help each other so effectively when we should have been paralyzed by fear. I told them I didn’t know, and I didn’t. Maybe now I have a better idea. I know that the most important thing about that last telephone call wasn’t the information I gave your father about what happened in New York and Washington, although your daddy needed to know those things before he could decide whether to try to break into the cockpit and kill the hijackers; it wasn’t even the few minutes we were able to spend talking about you and the future we would never have together. It was a few words said over and over, like a chant we repeated until it hung like a frozen rope between us. We said, “I love you.” We said it so many times, I hear him saying it still.

I think your daddy always suspected he had a higher purpose. I don’t believe it was any accident that Jeremy Glick was on Flight 93, although an accident — a fire at Newark airport — put him there, rather than on the flight he was to have taken the day before. It wasn’t mere luck that an airline passenger with precisely the right physical skills to abort one of the 9/11 terror missions happened to be on the only plane hijacked that day where there was an opportunity to do so. There were four, five, six, maybe a dozen other passengers who fought the terrorists on Flight 93, and they all had plenty of nerve. Only your father had been taught the art of hand-to-hand combat from boyhood. To put it crudely, he had been trained to kill.

Emmy, your daddy was 31 when he died, had been married to me for just five years and knew you barely three months, yet I consider us blessed. He and I left nothing unsaid or undone and your father managed to give us everything we’ll need to live out the rest of our days.

Of course, you’ve got to have a little luck. That’s what Glick means in Yiddish — luck. I should point out, however, that the Yiddish doesn’t specify what kind. But if you meet the love of your life in high school, like I did, you’ve started off on the right foot.

Excerpted from "Your Father's Voice: Letters for Emmy About Life With Jeremy and Without Him After 9/11." Copyright 2004 by Lyz Glick and Dan Zegart. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of St. Martin's Press.