It started out as an ordinary day: wake up, get dressed, and go to work. My commute in New York involved riding two trains and one bus. Strangely, while I was on the bus I heard numerous messages bombarding the driver. I thought it was odd and as I was getting off at my stop, it was announced that all transportation services were being suspended due to a plane crashing into the World Trade Center. WHAT???
It was completely surreal as I dashed into the building to tell my co-workers. We immediately headed over to a local shop where we could watch the news and make sense of what we heard. As we were sprinting over there, soot was lightly falling all over us and fear came over me unlike I had ever known. Once glued to the television and watching the Twin Towers crumbling, it seemed like my heart was breaking as well. A flood of thoughts were racing through my mind: Who would survive? Would I even make it home or see my family again? How could something like this be happening??
The next several hours were spent tirelessly trying to track down all of our family and friends who worked in Manhattan. Cell phone connections were terrible, which further contributed to feelings of anxiety and panic. Eventually, I learned that everyone I knew had survived by the grace of God. But the sobering reality is that was not the story for many people that day.
Public transportation began to run again slowly several hours later and as I commuted back to my town, an eery feeling came over me. Typically hustling and bustling, there wasn’t a car on the road or even a person out walking. It looked like a scene straight out of a western movie.
We waited for felt like an eternity for my father-in-law to come home. He shared how he stood outside for hours, in front of the hospital he worked at, handing out water to people as they walked into Brooklyn across the bridge from Manhattan. Covered in soot and debris, people were exhausted and yet, relieved to have escaped the mayhem.
I thought of my husband who was out of the country for business. Would he make it home safely? Days passed after his original expected arrival, his flight was the first to fly into the United States. He, along with all of the passengers, cried and cheered upon landing. As one of the busiest airports in the world, it was mind boggling to see JFK International Airport deserted and quiet.
Days after 9/11, I had to go to to a business meeting a few blocks away from in the the World Trade Center and I still remember being overwhelmed by the smell of decaying bodies. How horrifying and terrible that such an event could occur in the land of the free and the home of the brave!
Since that moment in history, every year following has been overwhelmed with emotion, especially as I teach my children about Patriot Day. With tears flowing, I get choked up and I’m hardly able to speak. So you can only imagine what was going through my mind when we decided to visit the Freedom Tower and the 9/11 Memorial this past summer. Typically talking up a storm and explaining the historical details of the site (the homeschool Mama in me), I suddenly became silent and turned pale. I tearfully walked through the museum, looking at items that had been salvaged and reading explanations of what the people in the Towers had to endure. As painful as it was, it was also surprisingly healing. Everywhere I looked, it was apparent that a great deal of thought had went into honoring every person involved and memorializing this tragedy. I felt the overwhelming sadness being lifted off as we ended our visit with the purchase of a magnet which says, “In darkness we shine brightest”.
15 years ago it was a dark time in our country. Senseless tragedy. Innocent lives lost. Diminished sense of security. But our mindset was not one of defeat. Instead, the people of our country pulled together in support and unity to rebuild and to remember. We were able to shine bright to the rest of the world.
“Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve. America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining.” (George W. Bush)
We will never forget.