Today marks the fifteenth anniversary of the day the world stood still. The day all of our lives were changed, at least for awhile. Some have already forgotten. Some remembered for a few years, and then as America rebuilt, their memories faded. Some even foolishly decided that it was all a publicity stunt and that it never happened.
But many will never forget. They can’t. They were there. Or loved ones were. They lost friends and family. Their lives will never be the same again.
I remember where I was when it all happened. How I found out. How I felt.
I remember that morning so clearly. Like many of us, I had just gotten to work, had just settled in with my coffee. Then I heard all the voices, the far-from-normal raised voices that are so atypical of offices on a Tuesday morning.
Like millions of others I stood in our break room, coffee in hand as it got cold, as I watched the events unfolding before our eyes. We didn’t know at that time what really had happened. It was all speculation. But we knew it was horrible.
Terrorism wasn’t a common word fifteen years ago. But one thing I remember clearly as we watched on that television screen was one of our employees coming in the kitchen, as the announcers spoke of a second plane hitting the other building, and hinted at the possibility the attack had been planned.
That employee spoke a name, in disgust. Bin Laden. We didn’t realize how right he was at the time, but in my heart, I knew as soon as he said it.
One man, so filled with hate. One man had set out to destroy our country.
He didn’t destroy our country. But he destroyed lives that can never be rebuilt. And that is what I choose to remember today. Those that gave their lives not because they were serving their country, but because they were carrying out their activities of a normal work day, and most likely already thinking about what they were going to do when that work day ended. They had left home that morning, kissing their loved ones…husbands, wives, children…good bye and never knew it was their last morning.
People also boarded four planes that morning. Going on business trips. Visiting families and friends. Going on vacations or honeymoons. They had no idea what was coming. Until they were in the air and their planes were all hijacked. They knew then what was coming, and except for one plane, there was nothing they could do. Except to call loved ones on their cell phones and say a frightened and tearful goodbye. Pray. And wonder what a sure, fiery death would feel like.
And what eternity would be.
For many workers in the towers that morning, their workday started normally and ended abruptly, and they never knew what happened until they walked through the gates of heaven. They were the fortunate ones. They didn’t even know they were burned into oblivion in an instant.
They had no time to be afraid. Terrified. No time to cry out to anyone, including the Lord. They were incinerated.
Imagine the sheer terror, frozen fear, and feelings of total panic which must have been going through the minds of those still alive in the buildings. Put yourselves in their places. How would you have felt?
Racing to stairwells that were already filling with smoke, filling with other terrified people, running for their very lives and not knowing if they’d make it. Not knowing if they’d ever see their loved ones again.
Jumping out of windows, knowing they were only escaping one kind of death for another.
Making what they knew were final phone calls to loved ones and trying to express their feelings in a short thirty second message. Facing their final minutes of life on this earth, wondering what was next? What kind of pain? Wondering if they’d be mourned or forgotten? Knowing they’d never see their children grown and married, never see their unborn baby’s smile or hear its cry? Knowing they’d never have a chance to do all the things they’d planned for their future?
There were also many unknown heroes that day. Those who helped carry wheelchair bound coworkers down stairs when they could have left them behind and saved themselves. Those who helped coworkers down the stairs who just couldn’t walk anymore; who were too exhausted and scared. First responders who never hesitated to run into burning buildings, knowing the risks involved, but knowing they had to try. If they could only save one person…. Many of them perished as well. But they knew the risks and elected to do what they knew they had to do. Others came days later to volunteer to help the survivors, and many of them died years later from breathing the air that was filled with the ashes of the dead as well as the ashes from the burned buildings.
We’ve all heard the story about the heroic passengers on that plane which crashed in the field in Pennsylvania. They knew they were going to die as well, but chose to spend their last moments trying to prevent even more catastrophe by causing the plane to plunge into a field instead of a building. They sacrificed their lives, which were going to be ended anyway, and chose to do what they could to save others by preventing that plane from killing so many more.
As we remember what happened 15 years ago we must remember not only what happened to our country, but more importantly what happened to almost 3,000 individuals that day. And to their families. The lost husbands, wives, children, mothers, fathers, and friends. The weddings that never took place; babies that were never born; marriage proposals never made; books never written.
For those families not a day goes by that they do not feel their loss; that they do not remember the price innocent lives paid for another person’s hate.
On this anniversary of September 11, please remember not only what changed our country, but the families who will forever be hurting from that unprovoked attack. Our prayers can never take away your pain.
Please remember them.