If I had been keeping a journal in 2001, I wonder what I would have written on this day 14 years ago.
No doubt, I would have told the story of how our flight landed on Long Island on Monday, September 10th. I would have written about walking to the hotel restaurant for breakfast to find a crowd of business men in black suits standing around a small television, and how we–the businessmen, the restaurant staff, my family–watched as the second plane hit and the towers collapsed. How my mom excused herself to the bathroom, mostly to cry. I would have written about exiting the hotel just as a caravan of ambulances raced toward Manhattan, how it seemed like every ambulance on Long Island. I would have told about how my cousin had a job interview scheduled in the towers that morning at 9 a.m., and the relief we felt when we finally learned that it had been postponed at the last minute, and she was safety at home.
I might have written about how my 7th grade self was wearing a black tank top that day. It said “New York” across the bottom in glittery letters and had pictures of 2 NYC landmarks: the Statue of Liberty and the Twin Towers.
I wonder if I would have remembered to write about the smell: how even an hour away from Ground Zero and days later, a strange burning smell hovered in the air.
I might have written about when we finally decided to drive our rental car home to Florida a few days later, my mom asked us to pray as we drove across a bridge out of New York. I don’t know if I would have written about hugging my teachers when I was back at school, this strange sense of relief I felt with each person in my life I knew was safe.
That’s my story of being in New York on September 11, 2001. Those are the images and smells and events.
But looking back, what I remember most is the fear: the “this shouldn’t happen here” conviction, the uncertainty of what else might be coming, the realization that things we take for granted (like driving across bridges) might not be safe after all. And how that fear lingers: on this anniversary each year, I check news sources frequently, wondering if some terrible thing might be happening somewhere. And I am reminded that the same sense of fear I felt on that one day, one week, fourteen years ago is the same fear other people live with every single day of their lives–Sudanese and Congolese and Iraqis and North Koreans and Ukranians and Syrians.
Ian loves his Giant Book of Things that Go, and this morning he asked to read the page about emergency vehicles. And I stopped reading and told him he should know that the men and women who drive those police cars and ambulances and firetrucks are courageous people who run to help, regardless of how fearful they may be. Of course, he just made his little siren noise and asked me to read the page again, but maybe this will be something I tell him every year on September 11th, and maybe one day he’ll understand.
I’m not particularly moved by the hashtags and American flag graphics, but I know that we are each just trying to remember, in our own ways. We want to remember and not in a far-removed, academic, bits-and-pieces sense. We know that we don’t remember Pearl Harbor the way our grandparents do, and our children won’t remember 9/11 the way we do, and that seems like a loss, somehow. So we try to remember, in a real way. I guess writing this here is my way. I write and I pray, and I remember.
Today I pray for families who mourn. Be to them a God who comforts.
I pray for our government leaders. Be to them a God who lends wisdom.
I pray for pilots and policemen, EMTs and firefighters, and our armed forces. Be to them a God who protects.
I pray for teachers and students and our children who don’t remember. Be to them a God who gives understanding.
And I pray for myself and the rest of us. Be to us a God who gives both courage and compassion, in a measure we can’t drum up on our own. Remind us that fear and love can’t exist in the same space together, and help us move always further and further toward love. Amen.