It is hard to believe that it has been 19 years since we lost the World Trade Center and so many lives in NYC. As I get older and as the multiple sclerosis advances, there are so many memories that are not as vivid as I would like. But September 11, 2001 is still vivid as the day as it was 19 years ago.
Skip and I had been dating just shy of 6 months. We were both still in college and we had driven to campus together that day. He had an early lab and I needed to go to the computer center to finish a paper. I dropped him off and drove around trying to find a parking space. Then I hear breaking news on the radio, that a plane has just hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center. I had also just found a parking space and quickly headed to the Fine Arts Center. The secretary in the Theatre & Speech office was always listening to NPR in the morning, so I knew she would know what was going on. When I got there, she was on the phone with the music department secretary down the hallway. She had a TV in her office, so we all headed there. We walk up just as she finds a local news station and just as the second plane hits. My heart dropped out of my chest and I feel numb.
Just the year before, I was in New York City. I was there for an internship in costume design and stage managing at Stage Door Manor, a prominent youth theatre summer program just outside "the city". Many of those I worked with in the summer of 2000 remained in New York City, working other jobs, and honing their craft when they could get a gig. Some got job offers from the summer and were working at other theatre companies during the Stage Door off season. I was offered such a position but chose to come back to Chattanooga to finish my degree. One year later, and I might have been there.
But my mind was fixed on those that were there. My roommate from the previous summer worked in the North Tower as a receptionist. I loved Kat and loved reading about her adventures in NYC on Myspace & BlogSpot. Living with Kat, I loved her ability to sleep through anything in the morning. It meant that I could get ready in the morning without tiptoeing around. On 9/11/01, that attribute likely saved her life. She slept through her first alarm and was running late. She missed her normal subway train and had to wait for the next one. She did not even make
it to her stop when they evacuated the subway in NYC. She was 2 stops away, so about 8-10 blocks from her usual stop. When she emerged to the surface, planes had hit both towers, but the towers were still standing. Even so, she immediately
turned her back to the towers and started walking back to her apartment in
Queens. (For those of you who go to St John UMC, that would be like starting from our parking lot and walking to Cleveland city limits.) She remembers hearing a deep rumbling sound and being beat by ash and falling embers. Not unlike Lot fleeing Sodom, she never looked back. She told me of seeing people that did stop to look back and many stood frozen in their tracks, completely immobile. So she just kept walking.
Skip was still in his class and they were not supposed to have phones out. I couldn’t reach him and I couldn’t take my eyes of the news. I sat in the University Center, just watching and trying to reach Kat in New York. After I could not reach Skip by phone or text, I started instant messaging him through Google, since I knew he had his email in front of him. As soon as he responded on IM, he told me to stop blowing up his phone in class. I told him to check the news, that the Towers were gone and part of the Pentagon. He first thought I was joking or misinformed. No one wanted to believe this type of tragedy was possible.
As soon as Skip’s class was over, we went back to my apartment. I still had not been able to reach Kat at that point. There was no way I was going to concentrate in my class, and I had never finished that paper anyway, so I skipped it. Back at my apartment in North Chattanooga, my roommate Sarah was frantic. She had never really talked about what her parents did for work. I knew she was from the Chicago area and her parents were analysts of some sort. That day I learned they worked for the government. Sarah knew that they were scheduled to be in Washington, D.C. that week for work. She knew that usually going to D.C. for them meant at least a couple of meetings in the Pentagon. She had been texting with her mom as soon as she saw the news about NYC, mostly to see if they would still go to D.C. She had learned that they were already in D.C. but had not heard anything since 9:30. Flight 77 hit the Pentagon at 9:37.
We both sat on our couch and watch the news replay everything over and over. We hit redial over and over trying to reach our loved ones. We worried. We cried. We had become Lot’s wife.
What I do not remember is praying. I do not remember just giving it all over to God. I remember trying to figure out what I could do to fix things. At that point in my life, it was not as easy for me to give it to God and let him use the situation for His glory. In fact, nothing at all got better for either one of us, until we turned off the TV & the radio & the news websites. We took a breath. We put down our phones. Of course, making sure that the ringers were up loud and close by, but we put them down. There was nothing we could do. Skip made us eat dinner. Sarah finally heard from her parents about 4pm that afternoon. Several cell phone towers were down, and the circuits were overloaded with people trying to make calls. I finally heard from Kat about 8pm. It had taken almost 6 hours to make it back to her apartment in Queens from the streets of Manhattan, and NYC was having the same issues with phones.
It was very emotional and difficult for us in the moment. We are grateful that we did not suffer loss that day. I grieve for those that were hit much worse by those tragic events.
Now 19 years later we find ourselves again in tragedy. A tragedy with some similarities and with many differences. 2020 has not been just one event that happened and then we dealt with the aftermath. 2020 has been event after event, new scary thing after new scary thing, adjustment after adjustment, and we are still in the middle of it. So today I pause and ask: How would that day have been different if I had prayed more and worried less? How would the tragedy of what is happening now be different if we prayed more and worried less? How would things be different today if we came together like we did 19 years ago?