I think you'd be hard pressed to find anyone in our country who isn't spending time today reflecting and remembering, celebrating and grieving, looking backward and looking forward.
Reflecting on the past has never been that hard for me. I've often found that, by searching my past and processing my experiences and motives in light of my present relationship with God, I can learn from my mistakes, grow, and move forward. But a day like today requires special attention.
Earlier this year, I collected some thoughts upon hearing the news of the death of Osama Bin Laden. But those were mostly a reaction to the death of an individual. This day is for remembering the almost 3,000 people who lost their lives as victims and heroes on that early fall day a decade ago.
Gosh. It hardly seems possible that ten years have passed...
I'll never forget where I was that morning. I was in my senior year of college, and I needed to finish an assignment for my photography class. So, knowing that there would be lots of interesting people and activities around, I walked down to the campus student center. I spent time chatting with classmates and taking pictures at the pool tables, never imagining that that day would be unlike any other. I can't remember if the TV was already on, or if someone came down and turned it on. But I remember my attention being drawn to the group of people slowly beginning to gather around it.
The channel was one of the sort that plays news 24 hours a day. As a result, I was drawn more to the group of people watching it than the actual news program. But it didn't take long for my attention to shift. It was being reported that something had happened (a bomb? an attack? possibly an airplane collision?) to one of the two World Trade Center towers in New York City. Footage began streaming across the screen of black smoke billowing out of the building as reporters began speculating what (or who) could be the cause of something so unusual. This was all sometime around 8:30am.
Slowly, confirmation is received that it was an airplane that crashed into the tower. I stand, camera in hand, with about ten other people and watch as camera shots are traded off from different viewpoints of the towers. These shots are mixed with ones of people standing in the street, looking up at NYC's monumental buildings.
Hardly anyone spoke as we stood and watched. How could we? It would be like people from the dark ages offering up valid commentary upon seeing an iPhone. We had never witnessed such a thing before. But, even in our amazed and awestruck state, none of us were prepared for what happened next.
At this point, the motive behind the crash was still unexplained. Obviously, it was tragic. But tragic accidents happen everyday. Pilot error. Instrument malfunction. It could be anything. Then, just after 9am, all of us watched as the camera, focused on the south tower, recorded the second plane crash.
The air was sucked out of the room.
That was the moment. That was the exact moment when we knew that this was no accident. We knew this was purposed. We knew this was evil at work.
People began to cry. Some exclaimed their disbelief with curses. Others stood, silent, mouths agape, unable to process what they had just seen. I, once again became aware of the weight and texture of my camera strap around my neck. Felt my hand twisting around the lens. Almost on instinct, I began to remove the lens cap. I should capture this, I thought. I should get people's reactions down on film. We'll never see anything like this again. This is once in a lifetime. But, as reflexive as it was for my hand to move to remove the lens cap, it moved again to replace it. No. This isn't for me to do. This is too personal.
People continued to be choked by the horror as cameras filmed people jumping from the towers to escape the flames. They would have rather die from the fall than from the flame. It was one of the most horrible things I've ever seen.
No part of me regrets replacing that lens cap.
Approximately 30 minutes later, a plane strikes the west side of the Pentagon. That's when we see the order in the attack. The planning. The calculation. Not only was this an act of evil, it was a carefully planned one.
This has all happened in an hour. 8:30am. 9am. 9:30am. There is order to the madness.
But that's where the order stopped.
The news cameras are still trained on the two towers. Some, at street level, film New Yorkers standing and watching. Occasionally, a reporter on the ground will comment on what they're seeing or ask a nearby local what their impressions of the scene are. Then, about an hour and a half from when its twin was first hit, the south tower collapsed.
No one spoke. No one made a sound. The only thing heard was the voices of the news casters repeatedly saying "dear God".
Thirty minutes later, the north tower followed.
Two buildings that had stood as a symbol for New York, as well as our country, were gone. As well as many, many lives.
The news broad cast were then flooded with images of smoke and rubble racing through the streets, chasing after people. Only the shot wasn't from above. It was from eye level. Reporters and cameramen were caught, along with thousands of New Yorkers in the cloud of building that had resulted from the destruction.
No one at the school was moving. Everyone was glued to a television of a telephone. I called my mom to see if she had heard the news. Others called their families in New York to see if they were alright. My friend, Al, called her father, who lived in an apartment in Queens. He was standing on the roof of their building. He had seen the whole thing from across the East River.
Our student body was gathered in Shortess Chapel. Our school administration addressed what had happened, led us in prayer for the nation, for our people, and for those lost, and then told us classes would resume, as scheduled.
We were all therephysically that day, but none of us were there emotionally. Nor intellectually. Nor spiritually.
As for me, I was haunted. Haunted by what I saw. Haunted by the loss of nearly 3,000 people at once. A loss that I had witness through the medium of television. And haunted by the incredible injustice I felt had been forced upon our nation. Our city. Our neighbors.
That day changed us. It changed us on a very deep level. Sure, air travel is now brought with necessary inconveniences. Sure, it's pricey. Sure, everyone's always on high alert. But that's not the change. That's just the symptom.
The real change occurred in our collective psyche. Up until 9am on September 11, 2001, we were invincible. We were proud. We were brash. After 9, especially after 10:30am, we were stripped of that pride. We were stripped of that entitled sense of safety. We felt vulnerable. We felt hurt.
In the days, weeks, and years that followed, Americans united. Once again, we responded by coming together in love, compassion, and community, to assist and care for each other. People from all over the country traveled to New York at their own expense to help in the clean up of Ground Zero and the surrounding areas, or to care for the injured, depressed, and grief stricken.
In the midst of so much terror, it was beautiful.
And, here we are: 10 years later.
I can't watch footage of the events of that day anymore. I've avoided most television specials commemorating the memorial for that reason. Seeing it once was enough. If I ever want to see it again, all I have to do is close my eyes.
Today, as I've spent time reflecting on this tragedy, I've been reminded of this simple truth: Tragedy will always happen. We can't control that. What we can control is how we respond to it. And, the longer I walk with God, the more I see that the only response, in pain or in joy, in tragedy or in comedy, in hurt or in comfort, is to run into the arms of Jesus.
In world changing tragedies, like 9-11, or in personal ones, like when a relationship that's precious to you ends, run to Jesus. Because it's only in the comfort of His arms, that anything can be understood or survived. It's where you were created to be...