James + Reece + Lola + Jessica

James + Reece + Lola + Jessica

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten years ago...

I was a 16-year-old junior in high school who made her way into first period debate hoping to get some time to work on an assignment I'd put off for my next class.

As I stepped into the classroom, I was met by the stunned faces of my classmates, mouths open, tears flowing, hearts breaking.  I turned to find the source of the emotion and was surprised to see the small television in the corner streaming pictures of charcoal gray smoke billowing from two tall buildings.  I quickly identified the buildings as the twin towers in my beloved city of New York.

I didn't understand.  I couldn't process. All I could do was watch.

Was it an accident?  It had to be. But how could the pilot make such a mistake?  Could a small plane cause so much damage?  There's no way it could have been a commuter jet.  With passengers.  How could there be passengers?

And then the second plane hit.

This was no accident.  This was deliberate.  This was an attack.  This was an unimaginable horror playing out before my eyes.

Not long after, we watched the first tower fall.
I remember hearing the news anchor scream while at the same time identifying another scream -- my own.

And then the second tower followed, peeling like a banana.
Time slowed almost to a halt.  The world as I knew it before was gone. 

Ironically our debate topic for the year was "Weapons of Mass Destruction."
After the second plane hit, I vividly remember my coach whispering, "This gives a whole new meaning to the phrase."

At one point I remember turning away from the television, closing my eyes and clamping my hands over my ears.  But try as I might, I could not stop the images from rolling on a loop in my mind.  Images of people running, screaming, wiping soot and ash from their faces.  Images of those towers falling.  Images of the plane ramming into the South Tower and the explosion of fire and metal and paper that followed.

All around me, people were hastily pulling out cell phones, dialing the numbers of family members, friends and loved ones.  One classmate clutched her phone as she rocked back and forth, sobbing.  She'd just gotten the call that her uncle was presumed to be in the South Tower when it fell.

All I wanted was to be at home with my mom.  I borrowed a friend's phone and called her, and she answered the phone in tears.  I remember her saying, "Come home.  I need to be with my babies.  I need my babies home."

I hitched a ride back to my house and ran inside to find my mom on the couch, eyes glued to the television, sobbing.  I ran to her and let myself sink into her arms.  We held each other for what seemed to be an eternity.  I remember thinking I never, ever wanted to let go.

My dad was on a business trip and was scheduled to fly home that morning.  Reports of other hijacked planes were coming in from all fronts, and I was terrified for my father, terrified that I would  never see him again.  Cell phone lines were jammed across the country and we couldn't get in touch with him.  I prayed harder than I'd ever prayed before.  Prayed for the people in those towers.  Prayed for the people in the Pentagon. Prayed for the people in the four planes.  Prayed for the safe return of my dad.  Prayed that the world would someday feel safe again.

My dad and a colleague found themselves stranded at the Atlanta airport, but by some miracle were able to rent a car and drove home as fast as they could to be with their families.  On a day like September 11, 2001, you realize how much you need your family.

We were supposed to fly to New York for a family vacation on September 13.  We had booked four nights at the World Trade Center Marriott.

But on the morning of September 11, 2001, that hotel was destroyed.

I remember begging my parents to let me go to New York, despite what had happened.  I wanted to help.  I needed to feel like I was doing something.  I couldn't stand the image loop that raged in my head.  I felt like I was going to go crazy.

The real tragedy of the day's events didn't quite resonate until I sat with my family watching a musical devotional put on by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir that night.  The moment President Hinckley began to speak, I crumbled.  I let my mother hold me once again as I sobbed until there were no more tears to cry.

How could this happen? How could this happen?  How could this happen?

But as I listened to the following words from my prophet, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace:

“Dark as is this hour, there is shining through the heavy overcast of fear and anger the solemn and wonderful image of the Son of God, the Savior of the World, the Prince of Peace, the exemplar of universal love, and it is to him that we look in these circumstances. It was he who gave his life that all might enjoy eternal life. ... May the peace of Christ rest upon us and give us comfort and reassurance and, particularly, we plead that he will comfort the hearts of all who mourn.”


I traveled to New York with my family in November of 2001 -- two months after that terrible day.  The WTC subway stop was still closed, no doubt filled with rubble, so we got off at the nearest functioning station and walked up the stairs into the financial district.

I will never forget the ash -- covering the street, the buildings, the parked cars -- everything.

I will never forget the "missing" posters.  Hundreds, likely thousands of faces.  Faces of mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews -- real people -- plastered on the walls of subway stations, buildings, chain link fences.  Most of these faces -- if not all -- were never seen by their loved ones again.

I will never forget the silence -- New York City is a lot of things, but quiet is most definitely not one of them.  The only sounds to be heard when we emerged from that subway station were the sounds of construction vehicles and clanking metal.

I will never forget the faces of the people who lined the fence surrounding the site where those towers once stood.  In those faces I saw pain, disbelief, reverence, solemnity, shock.  Feelings that gripped our nation and the world.

My family stood with those people, holding hands, and watched as cranes lifted large pieces of twisted metal from the massive war zone that lay before us.  Two months after the planes hit, ground zero was still on fire.  We watched as firefighters sprayed the flames with giant hoses.

And the smell.  That horrible, horrible smell of gasoline, dirt and unfathomable material will be burned into my memory forever.


September 11, 2001 was one of the darkest days in American history -- the darkest I've been alive to witness.  But out of that day came a nation united.  For a little while, we were kinder.  We were more patient with one another.  We were more willing to serve each other and our country.  We stood together to show those who would hurt us that we would not be broken.

I will never forget that day.  And though it's easy to focus on the evil, I want my children to know about the overwhelming good.  I want them to know about the countless firefighters and policemen and women who rushed into those burning buildings to save people they didn't even know.  I want them to know about the people on Flight 93 who gave their lives to bring down the hijackers -- likely saving countless lives in the process.  I want them to know about the random acts of love and service that occurred between strangers.  I want them to know that I know that our Heavenly Father was with every single one of those 2,977 people who were killed, and that He continues to watch over their loved ones.  I want them to see how we as a country recovered and rebuilt.  I want them to be proud to be citizens of the United States of America.

(Photo: 2001 The Record  Thomas E. Franklin)


Angie said...

I wanted to write a meaningful post about 9/11 and what it meant and how it impacted me and how it changed our country and how it affected New York and how New Yorkers felt about the 10-year-anniversary. But I knew I wouldn't do it justice. Thankfully YOU did. You're an amazing writer and I loved this post. Love love love. Thanks for writing what I couldn't.