I remember it so clearly. I remember waking up thinking nothing of the day to come. I remember going to school…I remember sitting in my math class at Harrington Middle School taking a quiz. I hated math then, and still do. It was the fourth period of the day, just after 9am. But more than the quiz, more than getting to school, more than waking up that day, I remember suddenly feeling cold. It happened so fast.
An aid ran into my classroom screaming franticly “GAIL, turn on your radio!” The sheer terror in her voice silenced even more an already quiet room. My teacher did exactly as demanded. Chills ran through my body. Tears of uncertainty and horror and brokenness ran down my cheeks. I felt cold.
Sirens. So many sirens. So many screams. So much confusion.
First we were told it was a car bomb in NYC. Then we were told bombs were exploding all over Manhattan. But very quickly we discovered a gruesome truth, which at the time was still not exact. Several planes were hijacked from Newark, and Boston and other airports in the Northeast. They were used to crash into major buildings for the government all over the metropolis of the United States. Though eventually the truth was more accurate with how many planes and where they came from, but in those moments of listening to the radio in my 4th and 5th period classes, one thought struck me in the heart.
At the time he was a pilot. He flew out of Newark International Airport (now called Newark Liberty International Airport). I knew he was on call that day, that terrible Tuesday, but I had no idea where he was. Frantically I ran to the office at some point, not even sure when, just to try to call home to find out where my dad was. Lines were jammed. I tried and tried but to no avail, my calls could not and would not get through to my house, my church or anything else.
The thought crossed my mind that my dad could have been one of those pilots in one of the planes that crashed in the various locations. I had no idea. Throughout the day, I went to each class. In each class, every teacher had their radios on, every ear striving to hear over the screams and sirens so we could gather a bit more information. All the while, I sat praying silently, maybe even audibly. All I could do was pray. Pray for those voices I heard screaming, not able to imagine their hell. I prayed for those in the planes. I prayed for those in the buildings. I prayed for our President and our country. I had to pray to keep from yelling at my peers that were so apathetic to the tragedy we were facing, even without all the details. I had to pray because I knew kids in my school and district had parents that worked in NYC. I had to pray to keep from completely breaking down.
Prayer was the only thing that got me through that day.
When I got home from school that day at around 2:30 pm, I ran inside, first to be home. Alone. I had no idea where my mom was, or my dad. I knew my sister was at the high school. Had she heard? I tried calling the church again. Nothing. Just silence and a continued misconnecting call. For half an hour I sat weeping watching the news, weeping watching recapped footage of people jumping from the towers, the buildings collapsing, the Pentagon getting hit, and a the plane crashing in PA. I wept because I had just seen the Towers in all their glory a few days before the attacks. I wept because I knew thousands of people had undoubtedly perished. I wept because I knew the loss was only the beginning. I wept because I feared for my friends whose parents worked in NYC.
I broke because I knew that this was a tremendous loss that broke the heart of God. The loss that day wasn’t just in the physical. With the thousands that died, there were probably so many that didn’t know Jesus truly. Yes, I do believe, however, that God works in ways that we don’t understand and I believe he could have revealed himself to those in the Towers that day. But regardless, I believe that the hate that birthed the attacks that day broke God’s heart. I also believe that God was so proud of so many that day as they courageously laid their lives down for others, the greatest act of love.
When my sister walked through the door that afternoon, she had barely known of the events that took place. Somehow her school had been pretty good about keeping the attacks hushed for the sake of the students. As she and I sat and watched the news, for what seemed like hours, she broke down and cried. From what I can remember, that was the day she decided her life’s path. She was already in JROTC at the high school. But as she watched the news and as the information became more and more clear, she knew we, as a nation, we were going to go to war for this. Though I don’t remember her exact wording or manner in which she said it, she confidently knew that as of the attacks on September 11th, she would be a chaplain for the soldiers that were inevitably going to war. Now more than a decade later, I sit so proud of my sister who currently in the military with the very soldiers she promised to serve, for the purpose of loving and caring for them in their brokenness, loss, and struggle.
Sometime around dinner, my parents walked through the doors both having clearly been crying. A family friend was supposed to have been on the observation deck of one of the towers. They spent the whole day with his [now ex] wife trying to console her while trying to get in contact with him. Miraculously he got caught up at the hospital nearby as the towers were attacked. He still has a story to tell, one of survival, but not one of complete tragedy. Others from our church were in the towers. One man survived. His story is in this blog post: “Lunch with a Survivor”.
My parents, pastors at our church, had been at the church all day trying to contact people and be with those who were broken. That night as we all sat in sadness and brokenness, we all knew, though unspoken, things were going to change, that this nation would never be the same.
I knew I would never be the same.
For me, years later, much has changed, but this is for certain: I cannot forget 9/11. Every year, sometime usually around the holidays, I try to make a trip to NYC, where I take a few moments at the memorial site to pray for the survivors and families of those killed. Its part of me. It has shaped how I view my country. I am patriot, but more, I am someone who loves the LORD and I believe that watching the loss of 9/11 sparked a determination in me to love people. Not just superficially, but deeply, like that of my Savior. A love that, if necessary, I lay my life down for the sake of another. It shaped how I look at loss and how I treat those who’ve lost. The images from the day, the sounds from that day, are forever marked in my memory and on my heart. I never want to become apathetic to loss of any kind. I never want to become numb to pain or brokenness. I want to be compassionate and loving to everyone, no matter who they are, no matter the cost.