As I sit here, despite the beautiful glow of the September sunset, there is also the darkness of this day.
This day…twenty years ago began with a similar glow of sunshine. This day people arose from their slumber not knowing the things to come, that things would change, that four planes would be hijacked and crash, that buildings would crumble. This day, millions of Americans woke up and went about their mornings. Many boarded flights, hopped on trains and the subway, rode the bus, hailed a taxi, drove their car, and walked. This day those millions of Americans had their world shaken. This day changed everything.
This day started much like many others but quickly and violently turned into one of the most catastrophic days in our history. All of those millions of people that went throughout their morning had no idea that terrorists had plot to destroy lives and make America fall. It was a plot full of hatred. It was a plot full of evil. It was a plot that though among the worst we had seen, it almost worked. Almost.
You see, for those millions of us that lived and watched the events of this day unfold, we also watched something else unfold. This day was a day of tremendous loss, shock, grief, heartache, and despair. Oh the despair. The agony so many felt physically and emotionally. But also on this day we saw a nation rise up. We saw the best of humanity step up against the worst. In the face of the great terrible destruction that was brought forth on this day, we saw people all over at the attack sites rise up from the literal ashes to bringing a helping hand.
It is so easy to to stare into the face of the destruction and just feel lost and hopeless. It is easy to be sad and angry looking back at the events of this day and rewatch the footage of the planes crashing into the Towers or the Pentagon. It is easy to watch the videos or look at the images of the people falling from the Towers. I grieve even still thinking of the horror that many had faced in those moments. I cry thinking of the terror so many faced as the Towers came crumbling down to a pile of ashes. It is easy to feel sad, angry, and grieved by those events. But what the terrorists didn’t count on was that humans, not just Americans, are resilient in the face of destruction and tragedy.
On this day, yes we were faced were catastrophe, but we were also gifted with the sacrifices and service of thousands of people. As United Airlines Flight 175 and American Airlines Flight 11 crashed in the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center, you had people immediately begin evacuating, assisting others, ascending the building to help people safely out of the building. Many were saved before the Towers fell because of the heroic efforts of the average Joe in those buildings. As people descended the buildings, there were also hundreds of first responders that grabbed their gear and willfully and faithfully served their community by going into the unknown. Of course no one had a clue the buildings would fall. But they also knew that they had to climb to attempt to save those stranded by the crash sites on the upper floors of the buildings. So they climbed. 343 Firefighters and 71 police officers lost their lives in service to those in need. When American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon, many military servicemen and women immediately jumped into action help those trapped and injured. People from all over the region rushed to Ground Zero, Shanksville and D.C. to do whatever was necessary.
The Great Boatlift is a phenomenal window of history on this day. More than 500,000 people were evacuated from Manahttan via various boats- fishing boats, tugboats, merchant ships, ferries and more, roughly totaling 150 vessels. It is noted as the largest boat evacuation in history. Then you have the heroic sacrifice of the passengers of United Airlines Flight 93. The passengers learned of the hijacking and a few were able to make calls to their families. Todd Beamer was one of those passengers that made a call. During his call, he learned that their flight was bound for D.C. to possibly the White House or Capitol Building. He and the other passengers learned through their calls of the three other crashes that occurred already that morning. While speaking with the operator, Todd then stated that he and some of the passengers were going to try to retake the plane. In his last known words, he stated to the other passengers, “God help me, Jesus help me…are you guys ready? Let’s Roll”. Those famous words echo the courage of those passengers who were willing to fight until their last breath and in doing so, probably saved hundreds, if not thousands of other lives.
As I said, its easy to see the pain and suffering and destruction of this day. But one thing I’ve witnessed and learned from the events to follow the destruction of this day, is that while some humans choose evil, many others choose to rise up and selflessly serve and even sacrifice if needed. Twenty years later we see the hope that rose from the ashes of darkness. We see the redemption of the stories of those that lived on. We see the stories of not just survival but resiliency to move forward and not let the darkness of this day be a continued victory for the terrorists. While I believe it is fundamentally important to remember what happened on this day, I want to also remember that the story wasn’t over. The terrorists had a victory to a degree…but we as a nation were not destroyed. We as a people were not moved. The best of us rose up. No matter what despair and heartache we face in this world, the story doesn’t end at that moment of darkness.
As Todd Beamer said in his prayer, like many recorded testimonies of some of the survivors… God does help. He is an ever present comfort in time of need. He comes alongside us and can bring peace. And while it is hard to understand peace while facing destruction, it is there. Much like the sun was shrouded in the dust and smoke of the horrors at Ground Zero, it was still there. It was present. It still brought forth light into the darkness. God is still there. Story after story of survivors share their hope, many being people of faith, who firmly believe that God was who helped them survive this dark day. Many have continued to share their stories in the two decades since attacks. And we can take the stories of survivors, of the heroes that sacrificed their lives, and the tremendous loss of those that died, and decide to live in a way to honor them. To be a people that love others. To be a people that bring out the best in others. To be people who strive to do good. As Christians, to point people to Jesus in our every breath. This day lives on not because of the horrors, but because of the triumph of those that didn’t let that be the end of the story.
We remember this day.
2,749 people died at the World Trade Center.
87 countries represented (at least)
84 Port Authority- 37 being police
23 NYPD (71 total law enforcement)
184 people died at the Pentagon
265 people died on the flights (including 19 terrorists)
3,496 people have died since the attacks due to illnesses or injuries specifically related to the terrorist attacks
The Four Flights:
American Airlines 11 – struck North Tower WTC 1 at 8:46am and collapsed at 10:28am
United Airlines 175 – struck South Tower WTC 2 at 9:03 am and collapsed at 9:59
American Airlines 77 – struck the Pentagon at 9:37am
United Airlines 93 – crashed landed in Shanksville, PA at 10:07 am after passengers tried retaking the plane