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Clear Blue Skies

Lessons learned from an unusually vivid dream I had one late summer morning in 2001.

By Michael KinnalyPublished about a year ago 17 min read

Clear Blue Skies

Have you ever had a dream that was so scary and so intense, and so vivid… that you can still remember it, in great detail, many years later? A dream that was so real that when you woke from it, you felt as though it really happened? I know I have. I’m sure most of us can probably say yes. When you wake up from that kind of dream, and you realize it really wasn’t real, you feel relieved… don’t you? But what if that dream… was more than just a dream? What if the images and events that our subconscious minds had just played for us… were replayed in real life? Perhaps as a sign of things to come? Or maybe even… in the real and present time? Maybe, just maybe... these kinds of dreams are trying to teach us something valuable. If only we'd take the time, in our busy and hectic lives, to stop and think... what can I learn from some of these dreams?

It was late in the summer of 2001. I was 23 years old and at the time, I was living at home and in between jobs. These were in my pre-trucking days. I did not have a commercial driver’s license and quite honestly, a career on the road was not even on the horizon. I always figured I’d be a teacher but, unfortunately, success at the college level had eluded me to this point in my life. I was doing the best I could at the time, gaining experience working with kids through my employment as a before and after school provider at a daycare center… while trying to formulate some type of long-term plan in which I could balance work responsibilities while making progress towards a college degree.

Unfortunately, by the time the month of August rolled around, work responsibilities alone began to become too much to handle. A combination of short staffing and poor management led to some built up frustrations. On Friday the 17th of August, feeling burned out… I called out sick, essentially allowing myself a three day weekend in which to relax and recharge. The hope was that I’d come back on Monday readier than ever to take on the challenge. But, it didn’t quite materialize that way. This week would be even more overwhelming than the previous several weeks combined, in fact. On the morning of Friday the 24th, I called out again. But I didn’t call out sick this time. Instead… I called out quit.

I began the new job search the very same day. I had a couple interviews and even received a tentative job offer the following week. Same exact job, but with a different employer. I had to wait for my start date though; and it wasn’t easy. I’m naturally not a very patient man; especially when I have no money coming in. Tension… was mounting.

About two weeks later, I was sitting at the computer in our basement to do a quick check of my email and a couple things before my mom and dad were to return home from work. They were both employed by the federal government and both worked in the same place (but in different departments)… at the Library of Congress in Washington DC. And with the same hours, they’d commute together and would arrive home at the same time. Most days, that is.

Shadow was the name of our German Shepherd dog, and she was about 7 or 8 years old at the time. She had to be separated from the other animals in the household, due to an anxiety disorder she was diagnosed with at a very young age. So she was down there in the basement with me.

I should have known to wrap up my time on the computer earlier, but I guess I got immersed in something I was reading. Shadow was very hyper, and would always become frantic between the time she heard the front door open until mom finally came downstairs to tend to her. I just wasn’t in the mood for the “hyper” or the “frantic”. So I took her by the collar and locked in her kennel, while I wrapped up what I was doing on the computer. When my mom came downstairs, she asked me what Shadow was doing in her kennel. I can’t remember exactly what I said. It was somewhere along the lines of “that dog was out of control and maybe she should have been trained better!” or something like that. I don’t really know for sure, but it wasn’t really what I said… it was how I said it. I was irritated and angry; and hostile too… and I guess I didn’t really hide it very well. Whatever I said, it was inexcusable. It wasn’t the first time; as a child, I always had quite the fiery temper and I could really be downright cruel at times. It was, however, the first time in several years that I’d lost my cool like that. I wished I could say that I recognized immediately how hurtful my words and tone of voice had been, and apologized right then and there. But I didn’t. I logged off the computer and went upstairs, without another word.

I had some difficulty getting to sleep that night. Of course, I still had so much on my mind. And it was still a bit warm and muggy outside (as it had been for most of the summer) which didn’t help much. Thankfully, summer was winding down though. Fall was right around the corner and, in fact, the weather forecast for the next day was calling for dramatically lower humidity and a much more pleasant temperature. I think I even remembered the phrase “clear blue skies” being mentioned. Having lived in Virginia practically all my life, I knew it was not unusual to have dramatic swings in the weather such as what was being forecasted, particularly during the month of September. I tossed and turned for a while, but eventually I went to sleep.

By Andrew Palmer on Unsplash

I woke up to the sound of the jet engine roaring overhead. That sounds way too low, I thought. I jumped out of bed and went to the window. The plane, which appeared to be a commercial passenger carrying aircraft was flying very low over in the area where the shopping plaza was located… on the other side of the trees behind our house which (for the majority of the year, except during winter) blocked the view of the commercial establishment. It was turning around, then it began to fly back in the direction of our house… coming in very VERY low! It whizzed over the roof again, then disappeared from view.

Curious to see what was going on, I grabbed my binoculars and climbed up onto the roof. Which was quite astonishing because, in the nearly 10 years of living in this house, I’d never even attempted to climb to the roof from my window! I didn’t even think it was physically possible! But yet, there I was! I could see the plane out to the west; and it appeared to have gained some altitude and was climbing. Suddenly, it began to descend again; banking sharply as it did so. It was turning around again! This pilot must be really lost, I thought. Either that or I was dreaming. We weren’t really anywhere very near an airport. There were two airports in our region, both about 30 miles away in different directions. It wasn’t unusual to occasionally see a plane flying overhead on approach to Dulles; to the northwest of us. But they were never as low as I’d seen this one fly! The questions really started to go through my mind. Was air traffic control constantly diverting the plane back and forth between Dulles and Reagan for who knows what reason? Or was this pilot just completely lost and totally clueless? How on earth did I manage to climb up on the roof? And how did I find my binoculars so quickly? I thought I’d lost them months ago!

By Erik Mclean on Unsplash

As the plane got closer, it appeared to be flying even lower than before. So low, in fact, I felt as if I had to duck to get out of the way as it came roaring over again. It skimmed over the trees as it passed, then began to climb again. Then another hard bank to the right… circling all the way around before beginning to drop once again. This time, it was headed straight for the water park across the road just a little to the south of us. As it did, I noticed a man standing at the entrance to the park. "He’s gotta get out of the way!" I thought to myself. That plane was heading straight towards him! A closer look through my binoculars revealed that this was no ordinary looking man though. He looked exactly like a cartoon character! An animation really, like someone from one of the old Looney Tunes series. I’d never seen anything that weird before, ever! What happened next was even more bizarre.

This “man” (or whatever he was) bulged his eye out of its socket, seemingly staring down the pilot as the plane got closer, and then put out his hand as if to signal STOP before lifting his other hand and pointing up to the sky. Incredibly, the plane came to a near halt in mid-air just as it reached the park entrance and then shot straight up… climbing, once again. It continued its ascent back towards the west until it was almost out of sight but then I could see it begin to bank sharply again. It circled all the way around until it was heading back in the direction of our house… and then it began its descent again. I no longer felt safe on the roof and as such, I made my way back down and into my bedroom. I could no longer see it approaching, but I definitely heard it loud and clear. It came over the house even lower than it had before; swiftly disappearing behind the trees. I could hear the explosion as it hit the ground, and I saw the huge fireball come up over the trees. And then, just like that, I woke up.

I looked at the clock. It was somewhere around 9:40 to 9:45. I managed to sleep in a little, after the rough night I’d had before. My thoughts turned towards the dream I’d just woken up from. I was so glad it was just a dream! It was quite terrifying though. Very vivid and clear. And I felt a rather unusual sense of grief and sorrow… as if I could feel what those passengers on the plane in my dream had been going through before they all perished. I went over to look out the window, just to make sure I really was awake and not still dreaming. No evidence of a plane crash anywhere nearby. No giant fireball hanging over the trees. It was a gorgeous and spectacularly sunny morning; not even so much as a cloud in sight. Nothing but clear blue skies.

It wasn’t the first time I’d ever had a dream about a plane crash… but I’d never had one that was quite this animated. I never liked to fly. In fact, the last time I was on a plane (just three years before… in 1998) was only the second time in my life I’d ever flown… and the first time I’d ever voluntarily boarded an airplane. My mom and I both travelled down to Atlanta and then back. We were both scared of flying, but agreed we’d try and overcome that and go somewhere. So we did. I may have conquered my fear of flying, but I still didn’t like it. In fact, I kind of hated it. It wasn't quite as scary as I'd imagined it, but it was rather uncomfortable... especially during the landing phase of the flight.

I began to ponder that flight, and then my dream, a little more. I remembered what I had said and the way I’d acted last night… and how much that must have hurt not just my mom, but dad too. I wondered more about the dream and how it ended in a plane crash. Was that my subconscious mind’s way of telling me… that my attitude could have really created an irreparable rift between me and my parents? Destroyed our relationship, in much the same way the plane in my dream was destroyed? It seemed to make sense, anyway.

As I exited my room and headed down the hall towards the shower, I noticed my mom had stayed home from work that day. I heard her talking on the phone, which was not unusual. What was unusual, however… I could hear the television was on. I don’t think I can ever remember a time when mom had the TV on in the morning. A little later on as I was sitting down to eat breakfast; I witnessed something else that was completely out of the ordinary. My father had just parked the car in the driveway and was walking up the sidewalk with his briefcase in hand and still in his business suit. It was only a little after 10:00 in the morning. He never came home from work this early! As soon as he came in, my mom came up the stairs to greet him. She seemed very relieved to see he was home. Becoming concerned about all these unusual things going on, I had to ask. “Is everything alright? Is there… something wrong?”

Mom answered me, but I was not prepared to hear what I was about to hear.

“There’s been a terrorist attack on our country” she said. “Two planes crashed into the World Trade Center; another one hit the Pentagon.”

I wish I could remember what my immediate reaction was to hearing those words. It was strange; I can still clear remember many of the details of the dream I had that morning, and I remember many other details of that day… but I couldn’t remember what my initial reaction was when I first learned of the news. It’s as if my mind momentarily went blank, and my memory failed to record those first few minutes of me knowing that our country was under attack. I do distinctly remember the exact words my mom had said to me though. “Two planes crashed into the World Trade Center; another one hit the Pentagon.” Those words still echo in my mind today, 21 years after the fact.

By Julien Maculan on Unsplash

I took my breakfast upstairs to eat in my room. I turned on the television just in time to see live coverage of the North Tower crumbling to the ground, disintegrating into an enormous cloud of dust. The South Tower, apparently, had already suffered the same fate just 30 minutes earlier. Both towers. Gone. Forever. I saw live coverage of the Pentagon on fire. The Pentagon, the military headquarters in Arlington, is only about 30 miles to the north/northeast of my home in Dale City… sitting just across the river from our nation’s capital. More details came in a little later about a fourth hijacked plane that was apparently on its way east towards Washington DC, but ended up crashing in a field somewhere out in rural Pennsylvania. A few hours later, it became widely speculated that the passengers on that fourth plane became aware of the attacks in NY and DC and fought back against the hijackers… who, in response, decided to abort the mission and bring the aircraft down right where they were.

While I may not remember what my initial feeling was when I first got the news… I do remember the range of emotions I experienced through the remainder of that day. Bewildered and confused at first… then uncertainty and fear… and then anger… not to mention a heavy overall feeling of sorrow and grief. Much like what I was feeling immediately upon waking up that morning after the dream.

Wait a second... the dream!!!

I’d put it to the back of my mind when I learned about what happened but suddenly, later that evening, I remembered the dream! A whole new series of emotions consumed me when I remembered the dream. It was particularly unnerving when I realized that I’d woken up that morning right around the same time the Pentagon was hit. So close to home. I wondered exactly where the fourth plane would have crashed if it had made it all the way… well, here! A second strike on the Pentagon to mirror the two strikes on the Twin Towers? The Capitol Building or White House? The National Monument? Or even… The Library of Congress? What if… the passenger revolt and the hijackers’ decision to bring it down happened just 10 to 15 minutes later than it did? What then? Our house? A friend’s house? My church? One of the many public schools in the county who probably had not yet released its students and staff for the early dismissal that was sure to come?

Then there was the biggest “What If?" of them all. What if it wasn’t over? What if there were more planes in the air that were under the control of the terrorists? And then how many more were there? For those of us who were alive on that day and who were fortunate enough to not have been in the wrong place at the wrong time (like the hijacked planes, the buildings that were struck, or the first responders who never made it home again)… it was many long hours of terrible uncertainty. Many days even, in some cases. And I haven’t yet even begun to mention the ones who did survive but knew someone close to them that they’d never see again.

A total of 2977 lives were lost on that day in Manhattan, in Arlington, and in Pennsylvania.

By Cristina Glebova on Unsplash

I still remember September 11th 2001… for the most part, very clearly. I still wonder, sometimes, why I had a dream of a plane crash that morning. Looking back, I don’t really think it was some kind of psychic phenomenon… but I wouldn’t necessarily discount the possibility, given the extreme magnitude of what took place on that horrible day. It definitely was not a premonition… it couldn’t be, as the attacks were going on at the exact same time. I tend to want to stand by my initial reasoning, based on the way I’d acted the night before. The plane in the dream symbolized the round trip flight I went on in 1998, which was the most recent time that my mom and I had travelled together. The crash represented the negative emotions I displayed on the evening of 9/10/01, and the potentially destructive effects those kinds of emotions can have. The fact that it all came together subconsciously the way in which it did while I slept in on the morning of 9/11/01… was just a very bizarre and rather untimely coincidence. Maybe it’s best to just not over-analyze it further, but learn from it instead.

My dear friends, I’ll close with this exhortation. Life is short. Hold on to those you care about. Cherish the times you get to spend together, and never take them for granted. I know it seems kind of hypocritical of me to say these next words but… don’t let negative emotions like anger come between you and your friends/family/loved ones. Don’t let it destroy a good relationship. If you argue, don’t go away mad. You might never get that chance to reconcile.

With a number as large as 2977, there’s no doubt that there were at least a few included in that group that either themselves went off to work or travel… or one of their loved ones did… and they went away mad. And they never got that chance… to reconcile. Because they never made it back home again.

By Alicia Quan on Unsplash


About the Creator

Michael Kinnaly

Welcome to my world.

I write stories and tell jokes.

I'll make you laugh, but also make you think.

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Comments (3)

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  • Vallez Beadnellabout a year ago

    Nice article, worth reading.

  • Ringler Kuceraabout a year ago

    Articles to look forward to

  • Cathy holmesabout a year ago

    it was a very sad day

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