Today marks an anniversary many of us wish was never on our calendars. 15 years and the strange thing is it feels as if not a day has passed. And yet, so many have.
Moments fade into memories. On most days, I can barely fight to remember what happened yesterday. Today, I wrestle with the realness of 15 years ago. I hold it as much today as I did then but if truth were to be told it holds me even tighter.
I close my eyes and like a scene on a stage I see myself sitting on my bed. It was a beautiful September morning blue skies, warm sun and a gentle breeze. I was lucky enough not to be working at the hospital that day and was savoring every last minute of the morning that I could. As I sat on the bed reading over a devotion, the shrill of the telephone jerked me away from my quiet. My husband was on the other end telling me that a plane had crashed in to the World Trade Center, I grabbed the remote to turn on the television just as the second jet was striking the second tower. When I told him what I just saw, he immediately ended the call. There I sat dumbfounded by what was unfolding on the TV screen and not yet ready to let go of my quiet morning.
New York seemed so far away.
My natural response would have been to find myself lost in the news reports – traipsing from Fox to CNN to MSNBC. This morning it didn’t even cross my mind and gratefully so. I put the TV on mute and returned to my morning prayer time. I lingered there longer than I normally would and for that I am grateful.
It would hold me tight in the hours to come.
I vividly remember the moment when my windows in my home began shaking. We lived directly across from Reagan National Airport and often sonic booms would rattle our windows. However, this time it was different and I noticed. Minutes later, I would know why.
What visited New York came to DC.
The next time I looked up to the television I no longer saw pictures of a city hours away but a familiar shot of a building just across the river with dark black smoke billowing from its side. A place I had visited many times and the place where my husband was at that very moment.
Frantically, I looked for his business card and tried to desperately count off the rings and corridors to figure out where his office was in relation to the attack. Truly, I had no idea what I was doing. Geometry was always a puzzle and at this moment figuring out the Pentagon wasn’t going to happen. Yet it felt like I was doing something.
The minutes ticked away silently.
The military community where we lived was locked down. I couldn’t leave. Phones lines were jammed. I couldn’t call. No one was outside – kids were in school, people were at work and those who were home were glued to the newscasts.
It was wickedly quiet.
Looking back, I am grateful for the time I lingered in my morning prayers because in the deafening silence, I felt a peace and calm. I now recognize it as God’s presence and provision but then, it felt odd – different. Words could not define it.
A couple hours passed before my husband could call and tell me he was “fine” – as fine as one can be when evil comes knocking at the door or crashing through the building. After his call, I guess you could say we both were – “fine.”
It was hours – like 16 or more – before he made it home wearied, wet and smelling of a strange mixture of jet fuel and smoke. He wore first degree burns on the outside and deeper, much deeper wounds on the inside. Death and evil are not pleasant fragrances nor are they sights easily forgotten. I don’t remember many words at that moment as we hugged in our living room. To this day, we have trouble finding them when talking about September 11th. In that, I doubt we are alone. As a first responder on that day, he didn’t evacuate but ran toward the horror. He stood in swirling cesspool of hate when others were told to leave and for the next few months He walked that broken and burnt tomb daily. Smells trigger memories. I can still vividly remember the smell of his clothes each day. I hope I never smell that again.
On that day we lost neighbors – a husband and a new father; a young boy going on a field trip – just two of the many who left their homes that morning without an inkling of what was to come.
On that day, evil demanded payment and the cost was priceless.
We will never understand why my husband’s meeting which was scheduled to occur at the exact moment and place where Flight 77 impacted the building was cancelled at the last minute. We will never understand but we are grateful. Nor can we comprehend why innocent people paid such a high price.
There is no rhyme or reason to evil that darkens a heart and empties a soul.
Still and yet, on September 11, 2001 our God – the One True God – remained the same. This truth is what I seek to know and understand. On Him I can rest my weary and heartbroken soul. He catches every tear. He calms every anxious thought. He gives strength in the weakest of moments. As real as His Presence was for me that morning, it is for me today.
He never changed and gratefully, He never will.