For many of us who were there that day, we can close our eyes and imagine seeing the bright blueness of the sky, feeling the cool breeze, and sniffing the last bit of fresh fall air. For at least one month after the planes hit the Towers, the only smell in Manhattan was a smoldering burn we breathed in day and night.
As I settled into work, fellow colleagues started to shriek and cry as we began to hear the news. Sandra’s cousin worked in the World Trade Center Tower that was hit. This is how I learned about the first plane. Once the second Tower was hit, it was no longer an accident. We were a terrorist target. Engulfed in fear and uncertainty and with no cell phone to call my husband, I picked up the phone and dialed home to Kansas. I needed my dad. Through her tears, my mom handed him the phone. When I heard my dad’s voice, the sobs started. What was happening? What could he tell me? I told him I didn’t know where my boys were. My father offered me his love and his confidence that everything would be okay and he was sure Bob and Max were safe. In retrospect, I imagine it was probably the hardest call he ever had to take from his daughter.
The towers fell.
I looked out my window and saw huddled masses of dust-covered New Yorkers silently walking up Park Avenue South. I stepped into the eerie silence of a shocked and broken city as I went in search of my family.
I worked 2.3 miles from what would come to be called Ground Zero.
Although I had lived in NYC for close to ten years by September 11, 2001, I was always a proud Midwestern transplant. Growing up in Kansas City, Kansas, I had a respect and love for cultural diversity that made me fall in love with New York and our nation’s immigrant history. But I never pretended to be a New Yorker. My husband and his childhood friends were the ones who bore that identity with pride. That changed for me on 9/11.
Once I found Bob and Max, we pushed Max in his stroller around the empty streets of our neighborhood trying to find something to do. Some way to help. One of the tragedies for the survivors that day? There was nothing we could do. As the fighter jets flew low over the East Village, we congregated at Tompkins Square Park with our friends. The kids played as we stood in shock, deeply aware we were now raising them in a world that had changed forever.
The most we could do was to bear witness to the lives lost. That is what I took pictures of those days…the memorials. I have a photo on my desk of a Buddha statue in the midst of flowers, candles, cards, notes, and mementos marking the tragedy and the simple sacred response of bearing witness.
Ironically, the overwhelming feelings for me following the tragedy were ones of great love and peace. I cried for the losses of that day, but tears also sprung forth every time I saw people around the nation and the world gathering in community to remember and to pray for those in New York City, D.C., and the people on Flight 93. The love of the world poured itself out onto the streets of my city. I felt our oneness with the entire planet.
For once the great United States of America was in need; it was this shared vulnerability with other citizens of the global community that offered a powerful possibility to give birth to a new world, filled with peace and justice for all.
Sixteen years later my greatest memory is what that day felt like – a deep sense of communion.
Every step I took was on hallowed ground.
Every breath a union with those who had died.
They became a part of me.
Isn’t that what Holy Communion really is? To honor the sacrifice made and to know in every aspect of our being that we are one.
Boundaries and division gave way to oneness.
I continue work towards the possibility of peace and justice for all.
All you holy men and women, Saints of God, pray for us.