20 years ago today, I was attempting to grapple with a coming new reality. It wasn’t expected, wanted, nor bound to be easy. While simultaneously thrilled and overwhelmed with the thought of soon raising another child, it never ever occurred to me that the plan for my life would include a son with a perilous heart defect and potentially special needs, too. The number of thoughts swirling in my head and the pace at which they swirled were far more than I could comprehend.
Three days later, hiding in my home somewhat, preparing to soon somehow balance all the ‘new’ on my plate, my friend, Cathy, called — knowing I never turn on the TV in the morn — emphatically imploring me to turn it on now.
The North Tower had been burning for several minutes, with American Airlines Flight 11 crashing into floors 93-99, killing everyone on board and still hundreds more inside the building.
Succinctly said, it was impossible to make sense of what we were seeing.
I walked out of the room briefly (since two already born toddlers also needed tending to). Soon then United Airlines Flight 175 slammed into floors 75-85 of the South Tower, also killing all on board and hundreds more inside.
That made comprehension harder, as now we knew this was not an accident.
The President spoke 28 minutes later, identifying the scene in lower Manhattan as an “apparent terrorist attack on our country.” Innocent people were intentionally murdered. All in the name of evil.
Our eyes remained glued to the TV. Still trying, yearning, aching — something — trying to somehow make sense of it all. That’s the problem; isn’t it? Evil makes no sense.
Still sobered by our senseless shock, rumors were flying of additional attacks. The Pentagon was hit — American Airlines Flight 77. There was talk of the White House and the U.S. Capitol building being next. Some 3,300 commercial flights and 1,200 private planes were quickly grounded.
And then perhaps, when we had mistakenly concluded our shock could swell no more, at precisely 9:59 a.m., the South Tower of the World Trade Center began to crumble.
I remember watching as it was happening — seemingly in slow motion… increasingly aware of the gravitas of the moment… still carrying that single, new life inside of me… while other lives were dying. As much as I had my own fears swirling up inside, it did not compare to what I was witnessing on TV.
In the days and years past, I have oft reflected on that time — again now, as my son approaches the twentieth anniversary of his birth. I can’t help but remember all the compounding emotions of the season.
Of course, there was continued horror on the actual day… United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Western Pennsylvania… and then again, at 10:28, when the remaining tower returned to dust.
In our reflection, no doubt there is still so much to learn and glean… so much embedded within the unforgettable, awful tragedy…
One, evil exists on this planet. It existed in 2001; it exists in 2021. There are people who desperately want to kill the innocent. There are people who deeply desire to rid the world of persons unlike them — persons who don’t think like them, believe like them — sadly, in our country, even vote like them. Stop it, friends. That’s pure folly. Unlike thinking does not equate to evil.
Two, life is bigger than self. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our own experience — or the experiences of those closest to us — that we become incapable of seeing the bigger picture. While I was pretty rocked in my own emotional world going into 9/11, there was far more going on than what was happening to me. Life will never be defined by a sole set of circumstances. 9/11 made that painfully clear.
And three, it’s important to keep the main thing the main thing. The bottom line of September 11, 2001 is that the militant Islamist terrorist group al-Qaeda deliberately attacked the U.S., killing 2,977 people. Our country responded by invading Afghanistan to depose the Taliban. That’s part of what’s made recent weeks so incredibly frustrating; it’s not that any “war on terror” needed to be re-waged, but how we exited Afghanistan and who we left behind was once again horrific. Terrorists remain housed there — including al-Qaeda. How we are proceeding? Who are we trusting? We need to remind ourselves what the main thing actually is.
And so I sit here on the eve of the twentieth anniversary of the deadliest terrorist attack in human history…
Very aware of and thankful for life…
Very aware of innocent lives lost…
And still, very sobered… even 20 years later.