I watched a little coverage today of the memorial services and recaps of the attack on the World Trade Center. Watching the footage and seeing how certain people had aged, I was reminded that terrorist attack happened nine years ago. As this particular day actually passes the images seem like it happened yesterday, but most of the time it feels as if it happened a lifetime ago.
2001 was a very difficult year for me personally. I’d spent 2000 without a full time job and I carried the weight of my brother’s illness on my heart. I hadn’t recovered financially or emotionally then, 2001 began with my brother’s passing in January. Tropical Storm Allison flooded our city in June, and then, as I was beginning to settle into my third part-time job, 9/11 happened.
That day is still one of those occasions where trying to put words to how I felt that day usually fails, which is why this will probably be the longest entry on the subject I’ve written since I started blogging seven years ago (and there was that one September 11th that were preoccupied with Hurricane Ike).
I woke up at 9 a.m. that fateful day and called a co-worker to tell him I wouldn’t be coming in because I had a fever of over 100 and needed to rest. He asked me if I’d turned on the tv yet. I told him I hadn’t and he told me to stay home and that the building was empty because the other handful of pastors and associates were all out of town (Maine, Arizona, Nashville) and didn’t know how they would be getting back and he had to go to the hospital to be with one of our families who’s baby had decided to make her entrance into the world. I let all that information sink in, then I turned on the television.
After a few hours of watching people jump off the burning World Trade Center and watching replay after replay of the towers crumbling to the ground in dust, I had to turn the tv off. Over half of the hundreds of channels I had were covering the devastation. I was feverish, fatigued, and a little scared because my apartment was close to the tallest building in town, and it had been evacuated that morning. We just didn’t know what was going to happen that day or the days that followed. I didn’t want to go outside, but eventually, I had to leave the house.
Walking around the city the next few days was surreal. The skies were so still and quiet. I had never realized how much noise airplanes generate in my daily life until all flights in the United States were grounded.
My friends eventually got back to the city, two in the last rental car in the city they were in, the others also rented cars and one started his trip back from Maine – a long drive with a small child in the car – on his birthday, which he now celebrates every year in the shadow of the sorrow of this day. I learned of stories of those, who for some reason didn’t get on planes that day because they overslept, or were sick, and one cancelled her trip because she listened to that still, small voice inside that said, “cancel your trip. Don’t get on that plane,” and she didn’t have any peace until she cancelled that flight.
I think we all felt the weight of the towers on our chests for weeks. Eventually, though, America picked up and moved on, ever determined that hatred would not kill the human spirit, especially the American spirit. Still, every year, when that day in September rolls around, we all pause and remember that day our lives changed forever, the day most of us woke up and realized we were not safe from attack, not even on our own soil.
I pray that someday, after the new memorial is finished and the new towers stretch into the sky, that the pain for Americans will ease a little, especially for those who lost someone they loved in those attacks. I pray the pain eases, not enough to forget, but enough to be able to walk side by side with our Muslim brothers and sisters and not associate them with the handful of extremists that flew into our safety zone and hit us while our guard was down.
I wonder, if we ask some of our Muslim friends or others from volatile areas of the world who have immigrated here why they came to America, I wonder how many will answer that it was to escape countries where they had no freedoms, and where violence in the streets and explosions are commonplace. While what happened this day in New York was horrible and unimaginable, it is a rare, rare event for most of us, and there are places in the world where this violence happens every day. Let’s not forget that either.
As the beacons shine into the light sky from the footprints where the Twin Towers once stood, I’m grateful that I live in a country where violence of this magnitude is something that usually happens elsewhere. I wish it didn’t happen at all, anywhere, yet it does. So, on September 11, I will remember those who perished at the hands of blind hatred, and never forget how blessed I am to live in America.