“Do you know Jackie Pflug?” my friend Dianne asked me recently. “Have you read her book?”

The answer to both questions was “No,” although I recognized the title, Miles to Go Before I Sleep, as a line from my favorite Robert Frost poem. Once I learned the subtitle of the book, A Survivor’s Story of Life After a Terrorist Hijacking, and Dianne started telling me more about the book and the author, things began to click in my memory.

The memory was rather fuzzy, however, partly because it was so long ago and partly because I was a new – and sleep-deprived – mother of a three-month-old on the day in November, 1985, when a plane en route from Athens, Greece, to Cairo, Egypt, was hijacked by terrorists. After an emergency landing, the terrorists threatened to kill a passenger every 15 minutes until their demands were met. Jackie Pflug, an American working as a teacher in Cairo, was one of several people shot in the head at point-blank range, tossed down the stairs, and left for dead on the tarmac.

Miraculously, however, she lived.

Jackie’s book is not just about the hijacking, but about her long, painful road to recovery from both the physical and the psychological damage of the hijacking and the shooting. It’s an inspiring and uplifting story, especially when Jackie talks about finally conquering her fears and the limits now placed on her mind and body. That’s the point at which she became an internationally-known speaker, telling her story and talking about having the courage to succeed. Her talk focused on motivating and inspiring people to believe in themselves and to never give up on their dreams.

That’s the part that led my friend to ask me if I had ever read Jackie’s book. She and I have talked about the work I do, and she knows my commitment to helping others recognize and celebrate gifts and skills they don’t see in themselves. I loved reading the part in Jackie’s book that said, “There is greatness inside us all, waiting to be tapped and expressed. The challenge we all face is how to unleash the wonderful gifts we already have.”

Jackie lives in the Twin Cities, and is retired now from speaking. But she recently accepted an invitation to visit and speak at a book club that grew out of a Bible Study my friend Dianne belongs to. And although I wasn’t a member of the group, I was thrilled when Dianne invited me to attend the meeting with her.

I was awed and amazed at Jackie’s wisdom, her courage, her kindness, and her humor. Not to mention her graciousness and generosity of spirit, and her passionate belief in the power of forgiveness and understanding.

There’s no doubt that Jackie Pflug was a hero back in 1985, when her flight was hijacked and she was shot and left for dead. But even more heroic is everything she’s done since then, and the people she has helped and inspired through her story, her courage, and her determination.

And if anyone were to ask me now if I knew Jackie Pflug, or if I’ve read her book, I’m pleased and proud to be able to say that the answer to both questions is, “Yes!”

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on June 19, 2014.
©Betty Liedtke, 2014

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