Yesterday was tough.
My husband Dennis did his annual thing of watching footage from 9/11 and I joined him for parts of it. I still cannot stomach sitting through the whole hour-plus of live footage of the event, even though neither of us knew anyone in New York at that time.
Defining moments in a generation
Before 9/11, my parents talked about how certain things can become defining moments in a generation. For my grandparents, it was where they were when Pearl Harbor was attacked. For my parents, where they were when JFK/MLK were assassinated or even later, what they were doing when the Berlin Wall fell. I was alive for the latter but too young to remember it with any detail, let alone understand the significance of it so it’s not something that’s lingered in my mind.
But 9/11, that was a defining moment, one that I’ll always remember. It was a Tuesday morning in September.
I had just graduated from HS that spring and this was my first school term at home. I don’t think I had enrolled in community college at that point. For some reason, I wasn’t at work either. Mom was home, down in the basement doing laundry. I was in their tiny bedroom on the first floor, watching the news on their tiny box tv, sorting out socks (I think) and watching one of the morning talk shows, like GMA, something like that. And then there was a breaking interruption, and the WTC was in flames.
I found out later that the WTC had been hit before by terrorists (I hadn’t known that) but this seemed, by everyone’s accounting, to be a freak accident. I remember watching it, watching the WTC on fire, and seeing the second tower unscathed and thinking, “This couldn’t have been an accident.” I called Mom to check out the footage. It was something like 18-19 minutes before the second plane hit when it confirmed that indeed, this was no accident. It was an intentional attack.
We all had questions
Watching folks try to make sense of that first hit, before we knew there was a second plane, I had this earlier understanding that no, this was an attack, and I kept repeating, “Where’s the second plane? There’s two towers, where’s the second plane?” I don’t remember whether I prayed for the souls in danger. I hope that I had. I don’t remember. I didn’t rejoice seeing the second plane — it was a horrifying fulfillment of a sense I’d had, that this was a coordinated attack, it had to be. But for the love of God, how extensive was this plot? When did it end? How were things going to change now? This was going to change everything. We all had questions that needed to be answered.
Re-watching the footage, this rush of emotions and questions came flooding back into the forefront of my mind and Dennis and I voiced what we’d been thinking out loud:
“When the Pentagon got hit, I remember feeling like, “Oh God, how extensive is this? What’s next?” As Dennis put it, there was a mental ellipsis, a ‘…’ to an unanswerable question — are we safe now? Are we next?”
When the towers fell
You couldn’t make up implosions like that. When I was a little girl, my father took me to an old factory that was being imploded to pave the way for new development. My father is in construction and assured me how organized it all is. In professional implosions, they look at the structure of the building so they know where to place things at the weakest spots. It’s closed off at a wide radius for folks’ safety. They make sure that there is no-one in the building when it goes down. And watching it fall, it’s sort of awe-inspiring that man can build and man can destroy. It likened mankind in a way to God. God is a creative Being, but He is also capable of destruction on a vast scale.
But 9/11, this wasn’t a professional implosion. This was an act of terrorism and spite by folks who hated America and hated what our nation stood for. The buildings weren’t being imploded to pave new ground for construction, the buildings hadn’t been emptied, there wasn’t a wide radius set apart for folks’ safety…
When the towers fell, it felt surreal, watching the island of Manhattan be engulfed in plumes of dust and ash that coated every surface, like something out of a bad disaster film, you know, one of those volcano flicks. It felt like the end of the world. Certainly, an end of an era of security in our country collapsing with the falling of the towers.
Where was God in all of this?
And then later came the stories of courage. Of responders going up in the towers when everyone else was desperately trying to get down. Of the brave souls of flight 93 who foiled the terrorist plot to wreck more carnage on American soil, although it meant their own deaths. And, I’m a Christian, but I couldn’t help but wonder, again, where was God in all of this?
God knew 9/11 was going to happen. I don’t know what His plan was, how to make something good come from all that darkness caused by folks who hate our country, but I have to believe that there was and is still a greater plan and knowing that He is the God of all comfort, that He abides with, and continues to be the Comforter for, all those who are still grieving the loss of their loved ones on that day.
So yeah, yesterday was tough. Like most other Americans (probably) did, I shared something 9/11 related on social media. We watched the footage and we waited (again) as the events unfolded leading up the twin towers collapsing and wished that this time it would turn out differently. We prayed for all of the families affected by this national tragedy.
Then, heading to work, I noticed that the rainstorm the previous night had made our American flag become entangled upon itself by the battering winds.
I untangled the flag so it could, once again, fly free.