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Sept. 11 widow trying to forgive
By Norma Love, Associated Press
PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — The anniversary of her worst day on Earth is just around the corner, but Cheryl McGuinness is trying hard to forgive.
"I won't let the terrorists win the war for my heart," McGuinness told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday. "I will do everything I can to keep them from winning the war for my children's hearts, too."
Tom McGuinness, 42, was the copilot of American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston's Logan International Airport, the first one hijacked, and the first flown into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.
But as the approaching anniversary rekindles anger and outrage in many Americans, Cheryl McGuinness sees forgiveness as essential to her own healing.
"The world is filled with wounded people who refuse to let the guilty person go, only to find that they are the ones in bondage," she said.
"I don't want to be remembered as an angry, resentful, bitter person. Unforgiveness keeps me in that place."
McGuinness, 41, believes the entire nation eventually must forgive.
"That's where we need to go if we want complete healing," she said. "People won't believe me if I say I forgive them, because I don't. I'm trying to. Maybe I will by next September 11."
McGuinness' effort has nothing to do with having somehow escaped emotional devastation last Sept. 11. She still remembers her fingers freezing on the television remote and plunging into a nightmare that left her feeling broken, her heart disintegrated.
Televisions around the world endlessly replayed the moment when Tom's plane crashed into the trade center's north tower.
"I was so broken. I would cry out, `God, I can't do this. I can't go on,"' she recalls feeling in the first days afterward.
This Sept. 11, she will speak at a special service at the Bethany Church in Greenland. It will cap a year-long journey of helping others all over the country by showing them how her faith in God lifted her from darkness.
"I'm not there anymore and my children are not there," McGuinness said in a recent interview at her Portsmouth home. She elaborated in a telephone interview Thursday.
The television images still hurt when she sees them, but they don't send her back into the nightmare. She isn't obsessed with wondering what Tom's final minutes were like.
"At one point, I did ask what happened, but I've been able to move beyond that," she says.
She isn't consumed with anger.
"I am angry our country was terrorized, but I don't have the anger and rage in my heart. I believe I've worked through that."
The government asked if she wanted access to the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged in the United States in connection with the attacks. She did not.
"If I follow the trial of this guy in great detail, I am not sure how that will help me heal," she says.
By chance, she met a man at her church last fall who heard her speak about her feelings and her faith after the attacks. He invited her to speak at prayer services after a business convention in January.
She did it and soon found herself traveling the country to tell her story.
Shy before Sept. 11, McGuinness says prayer gave her the strength to speak in front of thousands of people. One of her two children usually accompanies her. Sometimes Tommy, 15, also speaks.
"It's personal what I share. It's my life. It's my heart. ... In time of pain and suffering, it's a message of how to get through the trials we have in our life through trusting God," she says.
She has speaking engagements booked into 2004 and this Sept. 11 will begin selling a CD of a talk she gave in Las Vegas in April. She calls it "Beauty from Ashes." She made the CD after receiving more requests for recorded copies than she could handle otherwise, she said. It will be available through a Web site she established earlier this year.
Groups that invite her to speak pay her expenses and a negotiable honorarium. But McGuinness says she is not trying to make enough money to support herself, Tommy, 15, and Jennifer, 17.
"I do many things just because it's a good cause to do it," she says.
She plans to talk about her healing journey as long as people want to hear it.
"I know I have a purpose in this life," she says. "It's because of September 11 that I can encourage many others."
Meanwhile, she and her children are adapting to their new life. On Memorial Day, they planted a maple in the back yard as a tree of life in memory of Tom. Cheryl would like to add something to it every year, maybe a birdhouse one year, a bench another.
When things start to overwhelm her, she walks alone on the beach.
She's received money from several of the funds established after the attacks and has applied to the federal victim's compensation fund. She doesn't know what the government will offer her to not sue, or if it will be enough to keep things stable for Tommy and Jennifer. She gave up her job as a human resources manager when the family moved from California to Portsmouth two years ago.
"I'm 41. I haven't been able to think about going back to work. I can't
think beyond September 11," she says. "It's hard to look ahead. I can only
look ahead so far. When you're grieving, and I am still grieving, it's hard
to say what the future holds."