I wasn’t going to write this – because I don’t like to talk about it anymore. And because the voices of those who lived the hardest stories are so much louder in my soul, so I’d rather sit reverent in their remembrance. As the dust continues to settle, it’s only harder to look back. But tonight everyone is already posting and unwittingly it comes back. All the vivid awful beautiful horrible electric details. When you remember these specks, you remember the need to wake and fight. To care. To say so. So…while I don’t have it in me in year 17 to wax poetic, I can leave a sampler box of what I remember (what I’ll never forget), and let the bits speak for themselves.
• Watching the South Tower (surely it didn’t just fall) on TV with a room full of New Yorkers, the sky left with a hanging column of smoke so no one knew until the smoke began to clear and there were…holes in the billowing. Holes. Where the building should have been there was…nothing. The permanence full of people – people I knew – replaced misleadingly by blissful blue sky. And the news anchor said, “We have…we have….what do we have?”
• The face of a sister re-dialing her brother who worked in the Towers, black office landline receiver held in both hands, when I told her the building collapsed.
• The stories I’ve told too many times, of the multiple car accidents and fighting – panic, skyward glances, into sky, adrenaline. And the opposites – strangers hugging desperately and randomly. Everyone…helping. We were human again. Horribly wakened into humanity.
• The ticker in Times Square ran a message you wouldn’t usually see in the heart of the city. Weeks later, I caught in on film. 35mm. There were no digicams, smart phones, picture texts. It said: In God We Trust.
Update: Just now discovered! I have had, stared at, shared, stored, resurfaced and copied this photo for 17 years. Only tonight did I notice the seemingly impossible “coincidence” that the TIME this was taken in Time’s Square on the 27th of September…was 9:11. I’m struck by God’s timelessness.
• Street vendor carts were abandoned and marked in yellow wax pen with the intersection where they’d been found. “Corner of x and x…” The donuts were still in them, and the holes were full of dust.
• Everything was (full of dust). The Godiva window displays of cookies and candies were like a Pompeii exhibit. The wafflegrate covering over walk/don’t walk signs were still half filled with dust…one. year. later.
• That night, after leaving the house near midnight to find food, we tried to feel normal picking up a coffee and a coke from the corner bodega, and we almost tricked ourselves into calm, but when we left…no traffic on Avenue of the Americas (6th Ave – 6 lanes – at 46th St.), usually one of the busiest at any hour…coming towards us on 46th slow and silent was a single firetruck. On the massive lip of the truck, a piece of the Trade Center was stuck. The trademark Trade Center grid made it unmistakable. The mind couldn’t process it. “That’s not supposed to be here” on 46th street tonight with two people getting beverages. It was supposed to be downtown with 110 floors on top of it. Oh my heart, who was driving that truck so slowly through the night – what did they see, what did they have to do, who did they lose. Lord catch us.
• My dearest friends were ok, as in alive. What I didn’t know is how long it would be for one particular family I love to “be ok” years later. So many are still trying to be.
• When I first made it to Ground Zero I got lost. But not because I didn’t know the area. The area was no longer what I knew it to be. I’d even checked the touristy Directories on the street corners which said I was in the right place. When I asked a man standing next to me “where the World Trade Center was” (the wording was stupid, but habit – he knew what I meant), he looked at me with universal sorrow for what he was about to reveal. Without taking his sympathetic eyes from mine, he said, “this is it.” But there was nothing. I was at the foot of what the Trade Center used to be, and it was gone. I had imagined at least a shattered shell of the massive tower, like remains of world wars past; a battered and beaten base of a building. But there was nothing. Not only was there nothing…there was a hole. The nothing kept going.
The donut holes full of dust. The holes in the smoke filling with blue sky, absent the lives there a moment ago. The hole in the ground, wide and deep enough for the world to disappear but nowhere near large enough to hold the sorrow, the souls, the why, and the what now.
There were 17 minutes from one tower being hit to the second – 17 minutes we were allowed to believe it was an accident – 17 minutes before everything changed. And now it’s been 17 years, during which we have forgotten everything we learned after 17 minutes. Forgotten what happened, who we lost, what we learned, and who we learned to be. We were mothers looking for missing sons who loved our unknown neighbors so much we put down our missing posters to dig a mask out of our purse to help a stranger first. Then, we were a people who ran UP the stairs facing death. Now we won’t cross “the aisle” even for balance. Then, we had everything in common – we wanted to live. We loved each others’ loved ones. Like redwood roots that hold one another up with tangled entwining. When forced to pick up the broken pieces, we discovered how much they all looked the same, then we traded pieces. We traded peace. We carried one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2); some so long and so heavily their boots melted to the girders.
I’m right now listening to videos of communications from that day. Walkies, 911-Operator calls, voicemails. I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to write any of this. Oddly (just as I wrote the above sentence), the video playing now just said, “the phone rang and it was Amy,” and a mother described a call from her daughter. That Amy lived. So did I. Perhaps I should be doing more with that.
Another voice says, “George have them mobilize the Army. We need the Army in Manhattan.” We need the Army mobilized now. Not speaking militarily, but the Army of us. The Army of grownupness. The Army of character, boldness, humankindness, strength, raising children, protecting neighbors, killing pettiness, and strangling unto death this new fad of cool hate. Starve our ugliness of oxygen. We need the Army in the island of man. I have hope, but it’s covered in a familiar, growing layer of dust, and it’s getting hard to breathe.
It’s time indeed for a new year. This year, Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) ends on Tuesday September 11th 2018 – and yes, it falls on a Tuesday, just like the first one. There’s something there. A new year on a 17-year-later-actual-Tuesday when we can seek the making of all things new. (Revelations 21:5). We have the same taped and stapled hearts shoved back in our chest and barely beating from the weight of hate, misinformation, disorientation. Directed again to a confused darkness by one who daily deceives (Matthew 13:19…etc). The New York Times published the forecast for Tuesday morning, 9/11/2001 as “perfect”. Bundled in the night and delivered to every borough. Every floor of WTC. By midmorning, the forecast of perfection and the paper it was printed on, burned and fell to earth in cinders. Could we redeem it? Could we make the “perfect” Tuesday count for something in this very long run?
I have, on past Anniversaries, expressed love here. I have always waved, unabashedly, a banner of God’s love over us (Song of Solomon 2:4). The entire premise of the book Be Still America was just that. It was an assignment, not initiated by myself, and the task was to publish the positive answer of the circulating question ‘where was God on 9/11′ – to answer it with proving stories of hope. Not just happy-ending stories, as even those with devastating loss were able to share God’s hope and strength; His “peace that passes understanding.” (Philippians 4: 27). The “biggest losers” were some of the greatest champions of hope. Those of you who know me, know I can upsell in the deepest dark. I’ll turn over any rock and find Romans 8:28 there among the worms. I will be unexpectedly honest here (unexpected even to myself…I’m realizing only now while writing this): This year, I can’t find it. I want to call us to care, yet I’m blinded by how much we don’t. I have unwavering faith in the power of God – His omnipotent ability and a sure eternity; the end of the story. But I’m losing faith in us. So I’m quiet this Rosh Hashanah. This one more new year. This 17th 11th. I’m quiet…but I want to hope that what I saw in the eyes of every man in the fall of 2001 on every street in Manhattan, is still there. That loving one another – real love, which means real work – is still there. Is still possible. While we’re still here.
But come what may, with or without it…in God I trust.
(Daniel 3:17-18, Job 13:15, Habakkuk 3:17-18)