Tucked in my fire safe among years of tax returns, beside the folder of letters from my then-fiancee-now husband, behind the program from my wedding, the file.
It contains these things. A newsletter from my former company showing our trucks delivering supplies to the Red Cross center at Ground Zero. A message from a pastor friend of mine that can only be described as an epistle of hope. An email from the then-president of my collegiate alma mater. A message from Jim Goodwin, the CEO of United Airlines that ends with a toll-free number for families and, in bold print 'All United flights worldwide are suspended until further notice'. I run across it every so often, I look at the contents, and I put it back in the safe.
I was reluctant to write this post. 'Everyone will write one,' I thought. And some have stories more relevant than mine. But I feel the burden of this anniversary more so than the others. Maybe because in the last 10 years I've immersed myself in a world that was previously foreign to me. I had no experience with emergency response. 343 was just a terrible number then. Now I can imagine a face to every number, a precious willingness to do what others could not. Now I stand in a shining and orderly station listening to laughter and the clang of tools, see work calloused hands boosting children into trucks and I know what was lost forever.
On September 11th, 2001, I was at work, like many others. We stood gathered around a small TV and watched the towers fall, watched black smoke billow from the Pentagon. The phones did not ring. It was a brilliant and beautiful Tuesday. I'm always struck by this; the day could not have been more perfect, which made the sky all the more empty as I drove home. My grandmother had left a message on the machine, "Just checking on all my chickens," she said. I watched CNN until I couldn't take any more in. I had to leave the house. I drove to church, thinking I could sit in the quiet, but when I pulled open the heavy door I found that 400 other people had the same idea. No one spoke. I saw how getting to that place beyond words was necessary.
In the documentary 'Seven Days in September' people gather in a park in the week following the attack. One particularly difficult scene to watch shows a man and a woman who seem to be on opposite sides of an argument about justice and blame. They are each shouting about what the other does not understand, and the man describes what he saw, having been close to the towers when they fell. The woman says "I saw it too!" He says, one more time, "You don't understand!" and then, his voice breaking, "I just don't know how to process this!" The argument is over. The woman says, "Well, neither do I!" Two people who were nose to nose yelling a moment before, embraced and cried together. Past the anger and the rhetoric was the thing that made the days after September 11th so unique and amazing to me-- we were united in our brokenness and, at least for a little while, we had clarity of purpose--and the question, "Who is my neighbor?" had a much larger answer.
There is one more thing in my September 11th file-- I was asked to write something to be read over the PA system in my office during the National Day of Mourning the following week. This is what I read.
"There is in people simply an urge to destroy, an urge to kill, to murder and rage, and until all mankind without exception undergoes a great change, wars will be waged, everything that has been built up, cultivated, and grown will be destroyed and disfigured, after which mankind will have to begin all over again. In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can't build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it all will come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again." ---Anne Frank
Eternal and Merciful God,
We ask your help today, a day of remembrance after a week of grief. Our heart as a nation is broken and words seem trivial in the face of so much sorrow. Yet we come to You with hope, in the confidence that comes from knowing You never forsake us. We ask that you grant endurance to the rescue workers. We ask that you sustain those searching for loved ones. Grant them strength and patience. Comfort families who grieve. Remind us that in the face of so great a loss You are yet a greater God.
It is still very hard for me to watch the documentaries and rememberances, to hear the sounds and see the images of that day. The loss is still incomprehensible and when I look at those pictures I feel it pulling as if every silenced voice has a weight. But I realize that I owe it to the brothers who walked willingly into that hell to keep asking "Who is my neighbor?" And to put my own hands to the largest answer possible.