9/11: reflections

It's been thirteen years since 9/11, and four or five since I asked people to write their memories of that day for a project that I was doing in college.  I had been struck by what a vivid and vulnerable topic it remained to so many other students; the event that first caused us to really be aware of the world.

Many people wrote on similar themes: where they were and what they were doing when they first heard the news; how hard it was to believe it, to reconcile what was happening with what we believed about America; how life changed in the days after yet remained oddly normal; how they saw God's hand at work.  And through it all, grief and hope.  Many said that they had never written about it before, which didn't surprise me -- it came up in conversations often in college, but it was almost taboo. It was a memory that still hurt.  But many who wrote also expressed the importance of remembering and seemed glad to have a way to talk about what had happened and to reflect on ways that it had changed their world.  So here are a few pieces of responses.  I'd love to hear your thoughts and memories, too.

I was in Bible class and I overheard someone just mention that the towers had collapsed and I laughed out loud-- thinking, I can't believe someone would believe that! (oh jeez.)

I didn’t understand completely what was going on, they were talking about a terrorist attack, and showing video of smoke and fire from the 1st of the trade center towers. In 6th grade you don’t know what terrorism is. I saw an unfortunate accident of some kind unfolding in New York City. Next period [our teacher] had the same channel on. On my way from one class to the next in those 5 minutes someone had crashed another plane into the 2nd of the towers. I was beginning to understand the meaning of terrorism.

I have never written anything about 9/11, but I did commemorate it in different ways.  Days after the attack, I secretly took newspapers and magazines talking about the attack and what was going on, making a folder of news clippings and a magazine to keep for myself as a little time capsule, to never let me forget.  

I guess it did make me see America as a bit more vulnerable than I had previously thought it to be. I mean, I grew up feeling like we were completely secure and like most kids my age, believing nothing bad could happen on American soil.

This did make the world seem small and very intertwined.

I sat down at the small, black and white TV in the kitchen and watched, horrified and disbelieving. Occasionally, I had to look up from the TV and check my surroundings to be sure I was awake and that I wasn't just watching a terrible made-for-TV movie...

Tears ran down my cheeks and my stomach clenched as I watched frantic people call from upper floors of the towers and finally become so desperate as to jump to their deaths rather than face whatever horrors were going on behind them. I at once felt my own helpless impotence and profound thankfulness that my loved ones and I were safely away from such horrifying scenes of death and destruction.

     When the towers fell, when the Pentagon reports came, when the plane crashed in a Pennsylvania field, I watched but I couldn't comprehend it. This sort of thing did not happen to us, to Americans. We were immune, weren't we?
     I knew, of course, that we as a nation, as a world, were changed forever, though on that day my mind was too stunned to realize it consciously.

I remember being in a kind of shock... it was all so surreal in a terrifying way and I really didn't know how to cope with it. The result is that I ended up burying a LOT of memories from that day, which is why my description is kind of... well, short and vague.

Those following days were also striking visually for me. I love to look at the sky and I was struck by the absence of jet trails and the quietness of the heavens, as if they finally got a break from the screaming engines.

The picture of the planes were on the television.  I sank in a chair and could only remember that it was not long ago that I was working in that tower.  The many men and women that had been laughed with over a luncheon...in discussions with over details of work needing implementation...rode up and down the elevator with...were suddenly flooding my mind as I realized that many of them were now gone!  

Mom was giving the girls instructions and laughing with them about something. "Hey honey," she said as Dad walked in.
   "Have you read the news today?" he asked soberly.
   "Well, I can see that. If you had, you wouldn't be laughing." I remember those words as clearly as though it were yesterday. But it was just one little moment of interruption. I was a happy, naive eight-year-old and I was so far away from all of that. I didn't see a picture of it, or news coverage or anything until years later.

After 9/11 the world became a more fearful place. Nobody's safety can be guaranteed. Of course, that was already true before 9/11; we Americans just didn't think that way about the world. We believed in American exceptionalism, an unexamined faith without foundations. Now we must think another way.

We rushed to our friend's house and sat with her and prayed as first one tower then the other collapsed. I caught her before she hit the floor in total and utter despair. We watched, we cried, we prayed. And then the phone rang.
It was her husband. He was safe. He got out before the tower he was in fell.

Every anniversary of nine eleven has been moving and what touched me the most were the volunteers that helped.

That night I began to realize this was a time the world would never go back to what it had been before - that things would never feel as safe as before.

I saw in disbelief as we watched the towers fall.

Went home.  Normal everyday things continued to happen.  Homeschool, hanging laundry, etc.  But everything seemed surreal and in slow motion.  I went to work the next day, but only stayed a short time.  There was too much angst, and it was more important to be home with my family.

Probably the best thing that came out of this really horrible situation was that this was the first time I had ever really been faced with a life situation that had the potential to drastically change my life-circumstances and even possibly lead to death.

It humanized people globally for me.

I’ve reflected on that question I asked myself early on during that morning of 9/11 – what kind of a world will my kids grow up in?  Ultimately the answer is the same as it was before 9/11 – a fallen world being redeemed by a holy, gracious and loving Father.  The Bible talks about the creation groaning as in the pangs of child birth.  Those pangs were especially strong that day – but we know that those pangs are the precursor to the birth of a new heavens and a new earth, where Christ shall reign in glory and power for ever and ever.  For me, that hope was intensified on 9/11, and so I pray with renewed fervor – “Amen.  Come Lord Jesus”.


  1. I think it is hard to know how to think about this all as it seems largely unresolved...


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

When Evening is Overwhelming

Plans Can't Keep Up With Changes (especially during a pandemic)