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Charles Dickens was right: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

Some of the worst occurred on September 12 as I walked along New York City sidewalks, which were plastered with pictures of missing people. I struggled to maintain my composure as I looked at thousands of faces taped to every available inch of fence, lamp post, mailbox and store window. “HAVE YOU SEEN…” was emblazoned across the top of each poster by relatives or friends desperate for news. The never-ending gallery was heartbreaking.

Late in the afternoon my photographer friend cruised past police barricades to shoot Ground Zero. I walked home with her daughter, Shane, when suddenly the unmistakable hum of an airplane engine buzzed overhead. Without thinking, I pushed the child up against a building and shielded her, while staring upward. People around us on the street also stood frozen with fear…each one thinking, “No, not again.” It turned out to be a military plane, our military, but the incident left us shaking and anxious. The horror was still too fresh.

That evening, I joined Barbara and her daughter at a prayer service in their synagogue. I might have been raised as a Roman Catholic, but that night, I understood Hebrew.

When we returned to their apartment, I made the first of many calls to US Airways to see about retrieving my suitcase, which had been impounded at La Guardia. After hours on hold, an airline employee asked for a description of my bag in order to locate it.

“It’s black,” I began.

“And I bet it has wheels and a pull-up handle,” she said.

This didn’t look promising.

She tried another approach. “Okay, if I open your suitcase, what will I see that tells me it’s yours?”

“Well, I have a pair of black slacks, a black turtleneck…and, um, a black skirt.”

I was in New York for Fashion Week, for God’s sake. Editors wear black, not Hawaiian prints. But I learned a valuable lesson: Something in your luggage must be easy to identify.

Miraculously, the airline found my black-wheeled-suitcase-with-handle in the impounded baggage. However, when I returned to Michigan, I marched into “Frederick’s of Hollywood” and bought the loudest leopard bikini panties – with a strategically placed red heart – that I could find. For many years, they were the final item I packed on every trip. I wanted to be sure that if another airline employee ever asked, ‘If I open your suitcase, what will I see?’ I’d have a much better answer.

Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of The Anchor Clankers and Anchored Together.