I was not anywhere near the tragedies of 9-11…at least not physically. We watched the events unfold on television while sitting on a couch in our tiny apartment on a seminary campus just north of San Francisco. Like most of the country, we sat dumbfounded. No one spoke. Everyone cried, including my newborn son. It was a lot to take in. Clearly the world had changed. I’m certain I will never forget that day…and yet I do. We all do. It slips in and out of our thoughts as we Americans seek routine and demand normalcy. And then, we remember again.
My mother-in-law, Karen, woke us up with the news that day. Given the three-hour difference between New York and California, my husband and I were still sleeping. Karen was helping to care for our newborn son (she had been up feeding the baby) and held him in her arms when she came into the bedroom. I remember her voice, mostly a whisper, saying, “You have to see this,” as she ushered us into the next room. It didn’t take but a moment for us to realize that this was not good news. Over the next few hours we watched news coverage of our country being attacked. Like a bad movie, it all seemed so surreal as report after report showed one plane crash and then another and another. Time stood still.
Eventually, there were phone calls. Lots of phone calls. While the East Coast was under attack, it didn’t take long for family and friends to try to reach out to one another…making sure everyone was accounted for. Living in the Bay Area, it occurred to us that San Francisco could easily be on a target list. I tried to put it out of my mind, but looking at my baby, Sean, I remember thinking THIS WASN’T THE PLAN! If you know me, you know I have these random (and possibly irrational) thought outbursts. Sean and I had already been through a bumpy pregnancy, a scary delivery, followed by two hospital stays and he wasn’t even two weeks old yet. I cried. What kind of a world was this?
Panic is an interesting emotion. It builds upon itself and opens the door to sadness, fear and anger. Nothing seemed right. Immediately, I prayed for those at the scene. I prayed that there would be survivors. I prayed that help would arrive on time. I prayed for justice. I worried about kids who were at schools and people on the freeway trying to get home. I especially prayed for those in the air. Eventually, we learned that Steve’s uncle’s flight was diverted to Canada. My mother informed me that large passenger planes had been forced to land at the small airport in the tiny, Kansas town where I grew up. Everyone was on heightened alert. And this is where we stayed emotionally, not just for the day…but for days and days which eventually stretched into weeks.
There is another memory that I will forever carry with me about this particular time in our nation’s history. On the way to church the next week, there were armed soldiers on the Golden Gate Bridge. Dozens of them. The beauty of this national landmark and the breathtaking scenery surrounding it took a backseat to the reality of life in the United States at that moment. My heart sank. Would it always be like this? Could we find our way back? Would anything ever be the same? I know I was not alone in asking these questions. Yet, it’s at times like these where we find our faith and ultimately our strength. That Sunday we praised, prayed and sang to an all-powerful, loving God. This, I will always want to remember.
America is a great nation, founded on wonderful principles that continue to fill its people with a sense of pride and purpose. Our country rallied. We made plans, sought out ways to ensure the safety of our people, and moved forward. Some would say that THIS IS the American way. The days since have not always been easy. The threat of terrorism has become the new normal. And we’ve had to adjust. The world is different and we are different. A swell of nationalism permeated every part of our country during those times. Many laid aside their differences as we came together in prayer and resolve. In the following months and years much was sacrificed to apprehend those responsible for this unbelievable tragedy. The events of that one day dramatically affecting every part of American life.
Unfortunately, in the years since the attack we have seen that sense of unity erode. Nowadays, America is known for its political infighting. Activists of all kinds have sought to divide the people in countless ways. Those spewing hate have managed to turn neighbors against one another. Agendas have created word wars and many have been hurt…even killed. All of this within our own borders while the threat of terrorism still looms large. I hate what happened to our country on 9-11, but in remembering the tragedy itself we can find hope. Today (on the anniversary,) in every way and shape imaginable WE REMEMBER. Today, at every turn we recall the significance of this day and remember the lives lost. Today, we seek to honor and recognize the true heroes among us. Today, social media is filled with symbolism and pride as we cannot and will not forget what has happened. Surprisingly, I find comfort in this type of remembering.
I’m certain I will never forget that day…and yet I do. We all do. It slips in and out of our thoughts as we Americans seek routine and demand normalcy. And then, we remember again…lest we forget.
When pain is to be borne, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all. –C.S. Lewis