As the wife of Captain Sullenberger, the pilot who landed US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River and saved the lives of 155 people, my life has, since that day, ricocheted from one emotion to another. The nation seemed to be celebrating in the aftermath of the events, but we were in shock.
The personal letters and well wishes that started to pour into our house helped us start processing our emotions. We have personally received over 20,000 emails, as well as thousands of personal cards, letters and packages. I joked with Sully that he has achieved Santa Claus status as many of the letters come without our personal address. They simply state Captain Sullenberger, or “Sully” hero pilot USA. And like Santa at the North Pole they show up at our door. One of my favorites was from Europe and was addressed to “Hero Pilot USA.” Then in a side note it said, “Dear Postmaster, I don’t know his address but I think you can find him. Please help me and forward to him.”
The letters are funny, sad and profound, but mostly they express an overwhelming gratitude -- that just when our country needed it most we had a collective feel good moment. And not just for the United States, but the world. We even received a recent letter from a young woman in Iran. Many of the letters stated that while Sully did not ask for this and is not seeking the limelight, we need a hero to feel good about, so please don’t turn away. And with that we feel a certain responsibility. As Sully likes to say, gratitude is a two way street. As the outpouring of support and gratitude came our way, it helped us to give back as well.
One young man wrote us early on and said his family had to cut back on gifts this year and were trying to be creative in gift giving. His dad was a huge fan -- could we possibly visit them? While that was not possible, Sully placed a call to their home, where the young boy answered the phone. I could hear the boy’s shrieks all the way across the room. After talking with him for a few minutes, Sully asked to speak to his dad. He told him what a thoughtful young son he had, a son who obviously loved him very much. I remember crying that night thinking how such a simple act on our part had made them so happy.
In all these months since the accident I can only recall three days when we had no mail regarding the accident. Just today we received a wedding invitation from an engaged couple who were on Flight 1549. Included in the invitation was a note that said, “Words cannot express how much we thank you. We now look forward to our marriage and starting a family.”
And so as I reflect on what my personal gratitude letter should include this year, I hardly know where to begin. But to those many people who wrote to us, my heartfelt thanks. And like so many letters say to us, thank you hardly seems enough.
Before January 15, 2009, Lorrie Sullenberger led a quiet—yet accomplished—life as a fitness expert, local television personality and suburban mom. With infectious enthusiasm, strength and candor, Sullenberger shows that the only way to make it through trauma is to point yourself in the right direction and take one step at a time. Currently working on a book on preparing for and making it through life’s challenges, Sullenberger empowers audiences by showing what skills are necessary to make yourself ready for whatever life throws your way.
A longer version of this post was first published in Woman’s Day November 2009 issue.