The day the world changed forever…
Each of us has a story, an awful memory, a huge void in our souls from the pain and horror. No matter if you lived in Manhattan, N.Y. or Manhattan, Kansas, the lasting images from that day will remain seared upon your memory forever. It’s personal and shared, this experience.
Friends and family of mine live in both New York and Washington. They were there. They can too easily recall the fear, panic and sense of helplessness that overcame all of us. How do you put into context something so unthinkable, so evil? How do you reconcile the loss of so many innocent lives lost, of countless families torn apart forever that day? It’s utterly incomprehensible.
For my college roommate, a firefighter in Jersey City, the memory is there every day. He lost so many brothers in those buildings that morning that it’s impossible for him to ever forget. I remember him telling me how he spent what seemed like a month waking up every morning, putting on his dress uniform, and going to two or three funerals. And he said that although it numbed him, it made him stronger, more determined and more grateful than ever. But he carries an unspeakable burden, almost a survivor’s guilt, over all his friends that he never saw again.
For my sister-in-law, who has lived in Manhattan for almost a decade, it’s the memory of that airplane flying way-too-low over Times Square, where she was on a photo shoot that morning. Then, just a minute later, what seemed like every fire truck in New York City was heading south, sirens blaring, on their way to an awful assignment. She told me that following weekend that what unnerved her the most was the silence of the city in the following days. Manhattan is not meant to be so quiet.
For me, it was driving across the Delaware Memorial Bridge that following Friday, September 14th, on my way to my brother-in-law’s wedding the next day on the Jersey Shore. I passed a convoy of volunteer firefighters with South Carolina tags. Every rear window of those vehicles had mottos written on them; "9-11-01 – NEVER FORGET", "South Carolina Loves NYC", "Coming To Help Our Brothers", "God Bless NYC and All of Us". I had not cried until then. But my heart swelled and the tears flowed for at least the next ten miles or so. Tears for our loss of security, for a war I knew was coming, for my young sons and the world they would inherit, for all the lost mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers. Tears for our incredible strength as a nation, one where absolute strangers from the South would be called by patriotism and duty to help their fellow citizens in the North. Tears for a world none of us could have imagined as children.
I remember spending the following week in Ocean City, Md. on vacation with my young family. Every night that week we’d sit on the beach and look at the stars. There were no airplanes to see or hear. There was just the pounding surf, the cool ocean breeze, and plenty of time to contemplate what had become of humanity. Where were these events leading us? How could any of us comprehend this type of insanity? Was there any appropriate response?
Six years later, I don’t think there are any firm answers to those questions. Regardless of the actions our government has taken. But I’m not going there, ever.
Perhaps the most poignant and personal reminder of what that day ultimately meant happened to me a month or so later. We visited my wife’s grandparents in Summit, N.J. My wonderful wife’s Aunt Nancy wanted to take our family on a train ride to another town for lunch. My young boys were excited to board a train and go get some milkshakes and grilled cheese sandwiches. Summit is an easy commute via train to Manhattan, and many businessmen who worked "in the city" lived in the area. As we rode that train, at each stop I’d look at the parking lot. It was a Saturday, and there were an unusually large amount of cars in some of those lots. After about the third stop on our trip, I asked Aunt Nancy if there was some event taking place in New York. Why were there so many cars in some lots? She replied, "They’ve been parked there since September 11th. They never came home."
Today, as you make your way home, say a little prayer for all those men and women who never made it home that awful day.
And hug your children and your spouse and tell them just how much you love them.