September 11, 2001: Horrific Loss Draws People Close
This isn’t a piece of history that you just forget about.
I was eight years old sitting in an elementary school classroom. I remember it being like any normal day in September. You know the kind. It was uncannily nice outside with a blue sky and fluffy clouds. All was well. The teachers started whispering, however, and somehow what was a beautiful day in New York was all of a sudden a horror show.
And we were all a part of it.
At the time, I only lived three hours outside the city. When catastrophic things change the atmosphere of one place like New York City, it not only has the magnitude to change one state of people, but an entire country. That capacity, then, has the ability to reverberate through time like a ghost. There are years I’ve forgotten the significance of today, but this year… For some reason the falling of the towers hits like the loss of a friend or the recognition of a dream come true.
I always hated learning about history in school. It always seemed rather boring to me. But then, having been close to one thing that has shaped our history as a nation, it all of a sudden spins color and humanity into a very real storyline I’ve been learning about since I started school, despite my obvious absence in those pivotal moments. People lived through those past wars I’ve only read about in books, but no one could have expected this.
The Twin Towers in New York City held office space for 30,000 people and 430 companies. They stood as some of the tallest buildings in the world and on a good day, the views would extend as far as forty-five miles out. Tenants of the building arrived in 1970, but the building was completed in 1973. The south tower was hit first on September 11, 2001, giving way at 9:59am. The north tower was second, collapsing about a half hour later at 10:28am.
To be so small and so close to this tragedy marked me in ways words cannot even begin to describe. My eyes were glued to the screen of our television after being sent home early from school. I watched on repeat as planes crashed into real buildings. I watched on screen as lives were lost and burned, falling to the ground by choice. Later, I would watch my sister — who was only 5 at the time — draw pictures of the horror she saw on the screen of our television. But I also watched as my parents held on to one another with their eyes plastered to the television in unbelief. That holding on was a beacon of hope for me, though, a silent art I learned to appreciate at a very young age as I silently asked “why?”
I’m sure most of the nation was asking the same question.
But it’s odd, isn’t it? In the wake of tragedy, humanity really shows its true colors. We begin to really ask what it means to come together and lift one another up. And we don’t just choose to stay rooted to the ground, we begin to take action. You see it peppered throughout television and movies when scenes of horrific loss draw people into hospital waiting rooms. In the midst of something so bad, nothing tears us apart and pain draws us closer.
I’ve noticed this every time there is another mass shooting in the news or tragedy that hits our nation like a ton of bricks and spreads like wildfire. Tragedy and pain bring people together in ways mundane everyday occurrences don’t.
Why does it take a tragedy for people to look one another in the eyes?
Why does it take evil to know good?
Why does it take something like this piece of history to bring us back to love, grace, forgiveness, and care — the only things that truly matter in the world?
What will it take to turn these questions into how?
How do we turn a tragic event into something that can teach?
How do we choose-up and look one another in the eyes daily?
How do we search for the good in everyday instead of waiting on the evil to remind us?
How do we recognize love and care right in the moment we have it?
How do we begin the process of taking part locally instead of being okay with just a hashtag?
People seem to always ask where the good goes, but I earnestly believe it’s everywhere. It’s found in people holding one another close and holding onto hope when it’s the last tangible thing we should even see.
Our lives are little blimps in the radar of this universe. Instead of waiting on a new tragedy or hurt to show us what is best, we should look for the good in the sky or in the shadows on pavement. We should look between the trees, in moments of quiet eye contact and laughter that we share together, connecting through a shared cup of coffee… We learn to hold on through these things when the world appears to be collapsing in.
How will we begin to hold onto those things even when the world is not?