It is an anniversary–14 years ago today, September 11, our sense of peace and security was shaken to its core. There are few people in this country (born before September 11, 2001) who do not remember where they were on that Tuesday morning.
I can picture exactly where I was as news began to report the attacks in New York, the Pentagon and the plane crashing in a Pennsylvania field. Working as a chaplain in a large teaching hospital, I was always on high alert, prepared to respond to unspeakable traumas every day. This particular morning the routine had been normal — it was time for a cup of coffee, after making first rounds in my assigned units. Sitting with another staff chaplain, we begin to notice small clusters of people gathering to talk about airplanes crashing into the World Trade Center in Manhattan. Not in my wildest imagination could I have considered what was to come.
So many people tell a story of how his/her life was changed on that day. The natural response was to search out and contact love ones – to hear their voices or see their faces. On that morning we; myself, my brother and sister, were waiting for our parents to return from a two-week holiday in Paris, France. Their flight was to land in Newark, New Jersey sometime mid-morning. In the blink of an eye their return became a big and scary question. No one knew where these lethal planes had originated and waiting for that news would seem a lifetime. What could we do? How would we find our parents in the midst of such chaos? Mom and Dad had been with my aunt and uncle during those 2 weeks who were still in Paris. I called my uncle’s office, spoke to his secretary and gave her information on how to contact me when/if she received news from my uncle. I then called my brother who lived in Alexandria VA working as a chaplain at a private preparatory school. My sister-in-law answered the phone from their basement. The next exit from their house was the Pentagon. The ground around them shook as a plane crashed into the Pentagon’s walls. The noise of rescue vehicles and helicopters filled the air near their yard and home. Now there was concern for our parents flying around New York and for my brother’s family so very close to another attack. A call to my sister brought some comfort; she and her family were safe, alert and aware.
It was not long before we knew that the planes used for these horrific acts were domestic flights. They had left American cities on course to attack other American cities. Who could do these things? As the day unfolded news began to report that these actions were planned in middle-eastern countries, far away – by people known as terrorists (a term that would become all too familiar in the days and years to follow). Even hearing these details, the question remained — where were the international flights – where were our parents? It was late morning before my pager alerted me to a call from my uncle’s office with news. Mom and Dad would not be landing on American soil, not on that day nor many days to follow. Their plane was on route to an Air Force military base in Gander Newfoundland. Along with many other international flights they would land and remain in Gander for several days while they waited for clearance. A book has been written about this small town’s big heart telling of the important work they did as a part of the 9/11 rescue.
As the afternoon waned, the same chaplain and I met again stunned and confused by all that had happened since morning. We knew the long, difficult and emotional work began to recover all the injured and honor all who died. Feeling helpless, we talked about who might need our prayers and support at that moment. We soon found ourselves in a professor’s office at the school of medicine. He was a Muslim and he was sitting alone, feeling the enormity of this day. In silence, we shared prayers for direction and peace.
…where were you?
(revised and re-posted)