Dear Military Personnel Patrolling the Skies above Manhattan and the Hudson River on this Evening of September 11, 2012 –

Thank you.

Sitting on a bench on Pier C in Hoboken, N.J. at approximately 8 p.m., I am basking in symbols of my country on the New York skyline across the river. The Empire State Building lit in red, white and blue. The emerging Freedom Tower, now known as One World Trade Center, also in our flag’s colors. The beams of light at the bottom of Manhattan reaching into the night sky, bringing my eyes up, up, up.

And then there’s you. Planes with one red light and one blue, one after another. Kind of subtle, but ever present. I guess as pros you know how to strike that balance. A copter that seems to be in an awful hurry cuts south and I shift in discomfort.

I’m not going to pretend I didn’t take you for granted before. I absolutely did. You and my freedom to move about in a country free of danger.

But now, well, I’ve been rocked to my core. While people like you were rushing to the danger zone 11 years ago, I was making my way back from Manhattan to New Jersey on a boat with some co-workers to get distance from it.

Not right away, but eventually, when the initial shock wore off, I got it. I got it big. I owed you big. You weren’t rushing into a life-threatening situation so I could write you a thank you note. You were doing it so I could be free to live my life any way I chose.

Now, this night, I hear you overhead while I sit on a beautiful pier that didn’t even exist a decade ago. It’s soothing, your presence. It’s allowing me to reflect on these years and what I have done to honor all that you do. It’s sort of a thank you note, but one that blessedly includes an accounting of very real, soul-level change.

In 2001 I had been given a wonderful opportunity to be a television producer, but truth be told I wasn’t very good at it. I was learning, but it didn’t quite line up with my gifts. A layoff just six months after 9/11 put me in a tailspin, but because of you – the collective you, the protectors – I had given myself a safety net.

You see, submerged deep within me was an altruistic side that hadn’t been paid heed. It was virtually ignored in favor of workaholism, material things, and an overall kind of surface existence. I wasn’t a bad person, but I certainly wasn’t going to win a prize for volunteerism or compassion for my fellow man.

But right away, that fateful day, the shift began. When I got across the Hudson River to Weehawken and started my walk home I finally reached my mother on the phone, but I cut the call short because I saw a woman walking near me who seemed to need an ear. Two days later, when I returned to work, a co-worker and me collected money and went shopping for items needed in the recovery effort.

When my company, Oxygen Media, had a ‘volunteer fair’ within weeks of the 9/11 attacks, I signed up to life coach a 9-year-old boy in Harlem for the entire school year. Through that volunteer training, I learned I was tapping into something dormant within me and soon registered for a coaching training program.

My life went from being Queen All-About-Me to a helping mentality. I don’t share this to be arrogant or boastful. I honestly don’t recognize myself even now. Years of turning within, paying attention to how people and world events mirrored my true self back to me, exploring spiritual paths, have brought me to a place of consistently reaching out and always trying to understand.

You, brave ones, have brought me here.

Not living some life of obligation or one with a focus on stature, but one that links my passion for chronicling life’s meaning through my writing with helping people. I venture to say even now most Americans wouldn’t consider my simple life a posh existence, but it is rich in ways I hadn’t even considered prior to 9/11.

For me, this is not about peace or war but something in between. I think more globally now, but what that has come to mean is a focus on extending myself on a more personal and local level. I’m more drawn to people’s purpose, their drive, or their unhappiness because they’ve been derailed from it. More inclined to listen. Less inclined to take things for granted. My life is in line with a universal plan. Most times I feel I’m in lockstep.

Yes, this is because of you and your honorable kind. I may have come a long way, but I still can’t fathom what you do. I think I understand what drives you, but to put yourselves on the line day after day, no, I can’t imagine it.

So this is what I can do. Share that I am one of many who experienced this horrific thing and took it to heart. I owed you. I continue to owe you.

As I walk back from the waterfront to my home this night, there is an empty car sitting in front of an open garage next to a high rise. The lights are on. It has clearly been left quickly in an illegal spot. I immediately go on alert in a way that we’ve only known in America since 9/11. A couple strolling by encourages me to call it in as suspicious. As I fumble with my cell phone to report it to authorities, a young woman comes out of the building and gets in the car. It turns out to be nothing.

This is our world now, the one you defend.

Thank you. I promise to continue to do my best to honor your service by living well.

Be safe.

In immense gratitude,

Nancy Colasurdo

Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is www.nancola.com and you can follow her on Twitter @nancola. Please direct all questions/comments to FOXGamePlan@gmail.com.