20 Years Later

To honor those who died or were directly impacted by the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, I’ve started reading The Only Plane in the Sky, an oral history of the day compiled by Garrett Graff.

The events of that day changed our country (and the world, but I’m less familiar with that) forever, but what I like to focus on when reflecting on 9/11 isn’t the global political ramifications or how that day changed the Bush administration or raised up Rudy Giuliani’s name awareness, but the actions of regular people.

First responders noted that civilians were directing traffic in lower Manhattan to help clear the roads for them to get to the Towers.

Another was the story of the evacuation of John Abruzzo. John is a quadriplegic who uses an electric wheelchair. A number of men—I think I read eight or so—took shifts in four-man teams to help carry John down in his evacuation chair from the 69th floor. It took 90 minutes. Those men could have ran away, leaving John to fend for himself or only with one or two people to help (the chair was designed to only need one person to assist). They didn’t. They stayed and worked to ensure he could reach safety despite putting themselves at risk longer.

The passengers on Flight 93 are well-known. When they realized that they were the fourth plane hijacked, the other three had hit the WTC and Pentagon, and they were heading back toward Washington DC, they fought back forcing the terrorists to crash into an empty field, aborting their attack on the Capitol.

There are countless other stories like this. Regular folks in various ways stepped up to help. Not because they were trained to do it nor paid to do it. But because we’re people and people help each other. We take care of each other.

2020 and 2021 have been hard years, not in a small part because it feels like we’ve lost some (a lot?) of that willingness to subject ourselves to each other, to be in service.

septemeber 11, 2001

Today in the blogosphere every website seems to be posting reflections upon the events that took place five years ago today.

When the planes hit the two towers of the World Trade Center, I was outside in the parking lot of Hirschi High School practicing the marching set in band. We finished our practice and moved ahead to our next classes as normal.

My next class happened to be Studio Band, so I didn’t need to move to another class. Mr. Smith, one of the assistant band directors, entered the main hall and turned on the television. Both towers had been hit. As we watch, the news broke that a plane hit the Pentagon.

The first tower fell. We switched classes.

I was in Mr. Novak’s health class. For whatever reason, Mr. Novak was one of those teachers that felt their subject was the most important subject anyone could learn. Perhaps it was because it was a required class so he wanted to ensure that we took the material seriously. In either case, he pushed through while having the TV on mute behind him.

The second tower fell. We tried to stop his lecture and point out that the second tower fell. He replied that they must have been just replaying the fall of the first tower. I think we all wish he was right.

The rest of the day was simply a blur. Classes continued as normal, although the material discussed changed to current events.

This morning I woke up and watched the reply via CNN’s Pipeline of the live telecast from that morning. I’m still in awe of everything. News reports were very wrong in some cases: the AP reported carbombs outside of the State Department, a fire on the Washington Mall. In other cases, they were very right. The concept of terrorism was mentioned moments after it was clear that it was a plane that hit the second tower.

The sound of amazement in the anchor’s voice when he announced that the FAA grounded all traffic still strikes me. I’m still amazed and impressed with how quickly the FAA responded to this attack.

I read a couple of stories about life today, including an article about the kids born after 9/11 to fathers who were killed on that day. One family has the son let go of a balloon on every September 11 and when it flies up into the clouds out of sight, the son responds that the doorway of heaven opened; “Daddy got my balloon”.

Let us pray that peace finds us- in our hearts, in our neighborhood, and in our world.