I remember it well – the phone call I received from my mother on the morning of September 11, 2001. At first, the conversation was like any other when we wanted to share news with one another. “You aren’t going to believe this,” she started. “A plane just hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center.” Both she and I assumed it to have been a small piper plane whose pilot made a terrible error. In the next few seconds, she began her now-famous, “Oh my stars, oh my stars!” She left me hanging for a few moments while she was digesting what was happening before her eyes. “What???” I exclaimed, wondering what could possibly have happened. “There’s another one!” I learned later that my mother had poured her morning coffee and turned the news on to start her day, and heard the “big news” of the day. It has just occurred minutes before, but already the Today Show was reporting on it… and, quite literally, while she and I were on the phone the second plane hit the tower, and the whole nation became aware that we were under attack. Stunned and somewhat in disbelief, I looked around my office quad to see if anyone else had received a phone call from home or was aware what was happening. No one was. For a few moments, it seemed I was the only one in my office who understood the gravity of what was happening. Slowly, other people in my office received phone calls from loved ones, telling them to turn on the news, and began comparing notes on the details we knew.
We gathered in a conference room equipped with a television to understand the situation. Overwhelmed by the sight of what was happening before my eyes, I felt as if i were watching the scene from behind a movie screen. I somehow felt disconnected. It was all so surreal that I thought it couldn’t possibly be happening. Yet there i was, along with the rest of our beloved nation, in the midst of unprecedented chaos.
Over the next few hours and days, we saw horrible visions of people jumping out of windows to their certain death. In the first few days and weeks after the attack, our nation turned to God for answers. Churches left their doors open just so that people could come in and pray. Companies changed their advertising signs to ask for prayer. For a moment, it seemed as if our country was coming together as one, both to console each other as well as form a unified message to our enemies that we would not be broken. For a moment, we put aside our differences, our political views, our party affiliations, our religious opinions, and came together as One Nation Under God to humbly ask for help and healing.
As time wore on, we evolved into the “new norm.” Although wars continue to be fought, and citizens continue to lose their lives for the cause, it seemed complacency replaced compassion. Slowly we returned to focus on our differences, our political views, our party affiliations, our religious opinions, divided for our own agendas. For all practices, it seems as if the world goes on….until I visited the Ground Zero memorial during a mission’s trip to New York City this past summer. As I walked down the road toward the memorial, I was overwhelmed by a flood of emotions, remembering the pictures I had seen from the day that brought such a significant change in our nations’ history. Vivid images resurfaced from deep in my memory of people running down the streets of New York covered in ashes from the devastation that once was a symbol of strength in our country. While I thought the original experience sixteen years ago was surreal, I underestimated the emotions of being in the presence of the place in the midst of the people who had personally experienced unthinkable evil. Solemnly, my fingers traced the names on the wall, recognizing families who lost multiple people simultaneously. Though I knew none of the victims personally, I felt, in a strange way, that we were connected.
In fact, we are connected, one with another. As co-members of humanity, we are sewn together with a thread that connects our souls to one another. Indeed, we emerged from the ashes of that horrible morning, however we are splintered. With all the compassion of the world, I long for a time when, without tragedy, we would recognize the connection we have to one another and be able to set aside our differences in favor of loving support and encouragement to one another.