Another September 11th.
Like everyone else over the age of 25, I will never forget that day. It was a beautiful Tuesday morning in September. The sky in Indianapolis was as clear and blue as it was in NYC. I had just dropped my youngest two children at a babysitter’s house for the day and my oldest two children at their elementary school for “dance club”. I was going to have a day to myself… maybe meet a friend for coffee and get my nails done.
As I was driving home, my phone rang and my mom was on the other end of the line. She was calling to ask me if I had seen the news. This was an unspoken game my mom, my sister, and I have played for years. “Have you seen the news today?” “Did you see who died?” “Did you hear what happened?” I don’t know why, but it is always satisfying to be the first one to inform another about tragedy.
That morning, mom was in the know. She told me that a plane had crashed into a skyscraper in NYC. As a lifelong news junkie, I rushed home and turned on the news. My husband had already been on the phone with a client who told him something was happening in New York… and completely out of character for my husband on a work day, he joined me on the couch.
We were talking about how tragic this was... and then I saw another airplane. I wondered aloud to Marcus,
"That's weird, do you think that airplane is carrying water to help put the fire out?"
He said, "I don't know, maybe it’s..."
And then we watched as an airplane crashed into Tower One. Live on television. We watched an airplane aim for, and crash into, a building in the middle of New York City. We sat there, and in real time, we watched all those people die.
Marcus stood up and said, "What the %&$# just happened?!!" *
I was in shock. All I could say was, “DID YOU SEE THAT!?!" Of course he saw that... he was now standing up and cursing.
From that point, I sat there and watched as unbelievable thing, after unbelievable thing happened. People were jumping to their death, to avoid being burned to death. Both towers collapsed, the Pentagon was attacked, a plane crashed in Pennsylvania. It was like I had been inserted into one of the disaster movies I so enjoy watching. It was surreal.
That day was the first day I ever experienced mass panic. I went to the bank to make a regular business deposit and the line was insanely long. Across the street from the bank was a gas station and the line for gasoline was 20 cars deep. I stopped inside the grocery to pick up formula for the baby and people were buying eggs, milk, and bread... just like they do when a large snow storm threatened the forecast.
I called Marcus to tell him what I was seeing. I asked him if there was something I should be doing... his answer set the tone for the rest of the day. He said, "Nah. Baby, people are panicking. We don't panic. What's for dinner?" My husband is awesome that way.
At the end of the school day, all of the parents gathered at the bus stop. As a group, we decided that we would not discuss the happenings of the day with our kids until we were all inside our individual homes. The school had sent out a message saying that they had shielded the children from the news, which we all appreciated. Parenting is a very individual thing and we all have our own ways of explaining tragedy to our children.
As the kiddos walked off the bus, my oldest daughter, a 4th grader, looked anxious and said softly, "Mom, what is happening?" I told her everything was fine and that we would talk at home. The other kids shuffled off the bus a little quieter than normal. Then my other daughter, a 2nd grader, came bounding off the bus and said, in the loudest voice ever, "HEY MOMMM! DID YOU HEAR THAT AIRPLANES CRASHED INTO BUILDINGS IN NEW YORK CITY AND THE BUILDINGS CRASHED DOWN AND A BUNCH OF PEOPLE DIED AND WE ARE ALL GOING TO WAR?!?"
I don't know how many of you are familiar with the children's book series, Junie B. Jones, but these stories are so funny and they could have been written about my beautiful, bold, precocious, inquisitive, assertive, and unfiltered daughter. As an adult, she has discovered her filter, but as a 2nd grader... the concept was foreign.
Many of the kids turned to their moms and said, "WHAT?" Anxiety was now fully etched on my oldest daughter's face... and one mom turned to me and said, "Nice, Bernie." , as she quickly took her child's hand and scurried home. The other moms and children left the scene as my daughter continued to loudly share all the information she had learned from school. Apparently her 2nd grade teacher, an ex-military man, decided to talk, passionately I might add, about the situation with the room full of 7 year olds. <sigh>
That evening, the children were pleased because every station on cable that was not live from the scene in New York, was playing a variety of cartoons and kids shows, with no commercial interruptions. It was Sponge Bob-palooza in our home that night.
All of the churches were full that evening, and every evening the rest of that week. I think I read somewhere that the Sunday after September 11th was the fullest the pews in churches in our country had been in decades. I was not a believer at that point in my life... but I remember feeling a pang of jealousy that I did not have anywhere to go, to "help me feel better". Friends invited me to their churches, but I felt weird leaning on a faith I didn't even understand. It seemed hypocritical to me to seek comfort from this "God" in times of fear and uncertainty when I did not seek him the rest of the time. I felt like I would be like that "one" friend, who only comes around when they need help moving. Therefore, I declined all church offers, prayer service invitations, women's gatherings at churches, etc.
That evening, they were announcing names of people they knew had died. Mayor Rudy Giuliani mentioned his friend, Mychal Fallon Judge. After the first plane hit, the Chaplain rushed to the scene to offer aid and prayers. When the first tower fell, a beam hit him and killed him instantly. His was the first body recovered and officially the first fatality of 9/11. A fire chief, standing next to the mayor said on television that evening, through tears, that God took the Chaplain first so that he could welcome all the other firefighters home to Heaven. For the first time that day, I cried.
Theology aside, it made me think about Heaven.
September 11th, 2001, was the first day I had ever given serious thought to God. Who was He? Was He real? This hallowed day, that is remembered for tragedy, I remember as the beginning of my faith journey. It was three years later, almost to the day, that I accepted Jesus as my Savior. It would be several more years before I would truly understand what it means to be broken, on your knees, and calling out to the Lord.
Now, 19 years later, I remember the tragedy of September 11th. However, I also remember the beauty of a seed that began to grow that day. God wastes nothing. In the tragedy of the day, there was light; in the despair, there was hope.
Even today, in the midst of a pandemic and a nasty election and hearts that are overtaken by racism... Hope still lives and his name is Jesus.
* "I Said The Word, The Big One, The Queen-Mother Of Dirty Words, The 'F-Dash-Dash-Dash' Word!" Ralphie, of A Christmas Story always seems to know how to sum up a situation.
** The first photo was taken at Ground Zero in 2005. During the clean-up, firefighters found this metal, in the shape of a cross.
*** The second photo is also from Ground Zero.