Monday, September 12, 2005

Thoughts on 9/11, Part II

We continue with what was written in September 2002, a year after the 9/11 attacks. I had just gotten back from NYC--and Ground Zero--a month prior.

Thoughts on 9/11 Part II
“This poem makes me feel like my daddy is speaking to me.
‘I give you this one though to keep, I am with you, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow, I am the diamond glint on the snow.
I am as sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain when you awaken in morning hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush of quiet birds in circled flight,
I am the soft starts that shine at night.
Do not think of me as gone,
I am with you still in each new dawn.’ ”
--Brittany Clark, 11, reading a tribute to her father who was last seen helping a handicapped woman on the 88th floor of Tower 1.

We had been in New York City for eight days now, and were two days from heading home. The trip had been tiring, exhausting, but so rewarding and such a learning experience. I hate clich├ęs, but that’s really the only way to describe it.

On this particular day, we had one task at hand. We had been scheduled to travel down to Manhattan to the First Nazarene Church, where we would meet up with the pastor and get some information on the Festival of Life. The Festival of Life was an upcoming (then it was, it’s already passed now) festival with musicians, speakers and the Gospel of Christ being shared. All we had to do was to take a handful of fliers, which were just postcards with info on both sides, and hand them out around Ground Zero and Battery Park.

For those of you unfamiliar with the area, as I was, Battery Park is the southern tip of Manhattan, close to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, across from Staten Island. Right above Battery Park is the financial district, Wall Street and the Stock Exchange area. To the northwest was the World Trade Center, both towers, and the seven other buildings that make up the WTC. Just so you know, the two towers were only part of the Center itself. There’s your history lesson.

"I was so overwhelmed that day that I couldn't watch anything... My aunt was in NY that day on business... that day they were in the building across the street. The smoke and heat and debris of the first crash literally pushed them out of the building. They were running down the street with t-shirts covering their faces. They looked back to see people jumping out of the towers before they got to Battery Park. This too will be a day to live in infamy. This is our Pearl Harbor. I still haven't figured out what that means for me yet.”

--Kasie Moser, Samford University

We arrived in the Trade Center area, which was weird, because there was this big patch of open clear beautiful blue sky where I know some buildings should have been. I had on my backpack, Erin had hers, we all had a handful of fliers ready to hand out. But as we got closer to the site, it became apparent to me that fliers weren’t even something I was going to be thinking of.

Going to Ground Zero… it didn’t necessarily excite me. Maybe it made me anxious, because we live in Alabama, and though we saw everything live on television, it still seemed like a world away. As we walked closer to the site, I began to recognize stores and shops that I had seen on TV, on specials, in pictures. The Century 21 Department Store building, the Famous Pizza sign on Broadway, things like that. The first thing we saw was the Memorial Wall, a fence that circled a church, a fence covered in things… I began to walk a little faster, ahead of everyone.

The area known as Ground Zero is surrounded by a maybe-seven foot fence, and most of the fence is covered in a black tarp. There are holes in the tarp, apparently where someone had torn through to see, but you still couldn’t see much. On the eastern side, however, is a platform with an uncovered high chain link fence set up for people to view the site. Because you can’t see Ground Zero, or the land itself, from the direction we were walking, the first thing that is noticeable is the high buildings around it, one of which, I am guessing One Liberty Plaza, is completely covered in a black tarp. I’m talking maybe 50 or 60 stories, covered in black. On the far side is another building (Dow Jones, if I’m right) which looks to be in use, with a roof that looks heavily damaged.

I was way ahead of everyone in our group, but it didn’t matter to me. I was ready to see this area. I somehow almost felt like I needed to see it, to piece together what I had witnessed on television to real life. I rounded the corner and came to the viewing platform to see Ground Zero, the site of where the two tallest buildings in the western hemisphere had once been. It was awe inspiring.

"I was, of course, in the best place to be, at church. Still in shock but comforted at the same time. Quietness was in abundance and time for reflection also. I don't think anyone in the office thought anything of any of us stopping to weep and pray for those families and rescue workers who were directly affected. I know that we have all been indirectly affected by the 9-11 attack and that life as we knew it is forever changed. [But we are reminded] God can take anything and use it for His glory."

--Lynn Nipp, Pastor’s Admin. Asst. Valleydale Baptist Church

The hole that was in the ground was indescribable. In addition to the two towers, also destroyed were the Marriott Hotel that sat between 1 and 2, and then World Trade Buildings 5, 6 and 7. So the land obviously had to be big enough for all of these buildings to reside on… and there was even a courtyard in the middle. But they all came down into this big hole, which was the “basement” of the World Trade Center, including shopping areas, restaurants and other office spaces.


The hole I stared at was at least 5 stories deep, and—I’m only estimating—a couple of football fields wide and long. There were 6 billion pounds of steel and wreckage when the buildings came down… it filled the hole I was looking at, and rose above it 7 stories. That’s at least 12 stories… 140 feet… high of stuff. Steel. Metal. Wood. Bodies. Computers. Chairs. Papers. Desk lamps. Counter tops. Pencils. Filing cabinets. Not only was it 140 feet high… the pile was probably a good ¼ to ½ mile in circumference. I never imagined it would be so big.

To be a fireman, or a rescue worker, going to the pile, pulling out stuff bucketfuls at a time… I can’t imagine it. I just can’t put it into my mind how they did it. Just seeing the emptiness of this pit, closing my eyes, and imagining what I saw on television actually being in a crater this size… it takes my breath away and breaks my heart into pieces.

Finally, I couldn’t look at Ground Zero anymore… it was just too much. I walked back towards the Memorial Wall, pulling out my fliers. I tried handing them out with very little luck… because I’m sure they didn’t want to be bothered, I managed to give out one for every ten rejections and pass bys I got. I made my way to the wall… and this is where it finally all hit me at one time.

“My AP physics teacher turned off the TV after a long time of watching, after the pentagon was hit, after hearing about the plane in Pennsylvania. He started to talk to us--mentioning that "if you're a Christian in this room right now, you need to be praying...” That was very bold to say in a public high school. Three girls grabbed their bibles and asked if they could have permission to go in the hall to talk - they went, I followed. I didn’t really know them. One simply asked, "You want to pray with us?" "Yeah." I remember getting tired of the people talking on the radio about it. I drove without any radio or music a lot of times after 9-11, just praying.”

--Tammy McLeod, Then a High School Senior

The church that sat in the middle… I don’t remember the name of it… I have been racking my brain, but I can’t remember the name of it… of this wall was closed. The sign in the front read something like, “This church was a command post and triage for the wounded during the attacks on September 11th. We are now closed to repair and make renovations following the attacks, and will reopen (it gave a date I don’t remember).” The fence that was around it was a tall, iron fence, and the church and fence made up the entire block.

"Working for the Red Cross, it was no time until our donor center was filling up with people wanting to donate blood. Here in Alabama, donating blood was therapeutic and gave people a way to feel like they were helping their fellow man. By lunchtime a long line had formed and people were patiently waiting to donate. As the afternoon progressed the line grew even longer. At one point the wait to donate was 5-6 hours but no one seemed to mind."

--Tad Roose, American Red Cross

I walked to the front of the block, the site of the first area that I had seen when I initially walked up, and began to look at the things on this fence. I was drawn to this fence… I put the fliers in my backpack (I’m sorry Fish, I didn’t do my job… please forgive me) and began to study this fence more closely.

There was a note from a little girl to her dad who had died in the Tower collapse. It said something like, “Daddy, I miss you.” And was written in crayon, laminated to survive the outdoor air.


There were thousands of paper cranes there. A school in Japan wrote, “The paper crane is our symbol of peace and healing. The crane was first created by a woman suffering from the effects of the bomb in Nagasaki, and throughout the century, has meant so much to so many people. We have made 7,000 paper cranes, one for each of your dead and your wounded in New York City.” And the cranes were everywhere.

There was a newspaper clipping of a young guy who had died, and how much his sister misses him

There was, of all things, a plastic mold of a seahorse, the kind you’d use in the sand on the beach. It sat in front of a ceramic angel, now faded and worn, chipped on the wings.
There was an Irish flag there, with the words “Ireland loves NYC! We are praying for you all!”

There was a poem there from a son to a father, who died in the crash

There was a letter from a wife to a husband who was aboard one of the plans.

There was a Mormon Bible there, inscribed to someone who was killed

There was a stuffed rabbit there, with a white coat, now brown from dirt and dust, from being outside so long. The fur was rough feeling, but the rabbit was very squeezable.

There were many I Love NY t-shirts, all with different things written on it, with signatures from California, Alaska, Mexico, Georgia, Japan and many other places.

And a fireman’s helmet, just hanging there on the fence. Nothing else with it, just a fireman’s helmet.

Crosses. Toys. Trinkets. Necklaces. Baby booties. Pictures. Frames. “Missing” photos. It was all there. I looked at a large wooden cross for several minutes, and then tears began to form. A light tap on my shoulder came from Fish, who was walking by. She saw me… I don’t know what she thought I was doing, but somehow I think she understood how taken in I was by all of this. She talked with me for a minute, asking me if I would go across the street to Office Depot and pick up a few things. She spoke very softly, very gently, as if not just in reverence for the lost lives represented on this wall, but almost seemingly out of respect for me, because she could see on my face that this was really hitting me hard.

Fish gave me a reassuring smile, a small squeeze on the shoulder and she walked past me. I turned back to the cross I was in front of, and a tear trickled down my cheek. I quickly wiped it away… was it okay to cry in front of all these people? I mean, some of these people were taking pictures in front of the wall, like it was tourist attraction or something (which totally inflamed me)… could I cry? I think it wasn’t a matter of whether I should or not. I knelt down in front of the cross, took my backpack and laid it under me, and placed my hands on the iron fence and on the curb. I began to pray, and I prayed for at least twenty minutes right there. And as I prayed, the tears flowed. For the families, for the little girls who lost their mommies, for the little boys who lost their daddies, for the parents who lost their little boys and girls, no matter the age… for the lost, for the saved, for the entire area. I prayed for the survivors and their families, and the victims not just in New York, but Washington and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

"[It didn’t hit me] until I was watching the news where all the people were crowding around with pictures of their loved ones, screaming for them, screaming for anyone to help them find them. Knowing deep in my heart that they were probably dead. That's when I cried. That's when I sobbed for 20 minutes or longer. I'll never forget their faces, or their urgent pleas. "My son, he was a window washer on the 102nd floor of the World Trade Center, Tower 2. If you see him, please call. . . ." "My husband. We have a little boy. . . please, please, if anyone has seen him, please call me." Here we are, a year later, and I know that I'll never forget the images I saw over and over again. I'll never forget some of those faces. I'll never forget President Bush's face when he found out, or the comforting words he gave out to the nation."
Stephanie Campbell, Atlanta, Georgia

Finally, I stood up and wiped my eyes. Behind me, I heard several people taking pictures… it would be arrogant to think they were taking pictures of me praying, but it’s possible. I didn’t even see anyone I knew, except for that brief moment with Fish, for another few hours. So I was able to walk the block… I was told to walk the block, from God I believe, and prayer walk. And so that was my afternoon… I won’t dive into that, because that goes into a whole other story…

I’ll stop now. I didn’t know quite how to end this, but I think I’ve found it. It addition to the comments Tammy McLeod sent me above, she included an excerpt from her journal, written on 9/11/2001. And it’s a fitting way to end this email, to end this letter to you guys.

"God, You are such a mighty and awesome God. I thank You for the peace You give me and everyone who trusts in You. I pray for the victims and their loved ones. I can’t pretend to know their suffering and pain. But You've not given me or anyone else more than we can handle. I’m glad that nothing surprises You. Thank You for the promise of working everything out for the good for those who love You. forgive me for all my ignorance - please stop me from making this simply an emotional time - I pray that I will be an effective Christ follower so that the people around me will see You in the midst of their uncertainty and questioning. I love you...”
Tammy McLeod’s journal

1 comment:

  1. WOW! This is my favorite blog so far! You are a very talented writer...I felt like I was right there and it made me think about that day deeper than I ever have before. Thank you for this blog..it's very moving. KT

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