Bloomfield, NJ: Sept 11, 2001
On September 11, 2001, my four children and I were getting ready to go to our homeschooling co-op. It was to be the first of thirty-six weeks of Tuesdays studying Western Civ, American History, literature, science. Like school, only not. I was packing lunches in the kitchen when my husband called from work. “A plane just flew into the World Trade Center, “ he said. “Turn on the TV.”
So I turned on the TV and all the channels had the same thing: The WTC burning, big black plumes of smoke. Horrified, the kids and I all watched. It was a plane. How could this happen? A plane hit the WTC.
I stood there and felt my feelings, but eventually realized there was nothing I could do to be helpful to anyone. What a horrible accident. I prayed for them, for the emergency workers, but then…? So I went back into the kitchen to continue preparing lunches, pondering the situation, while the kids watched the WTC burn.
My oldest son Jeb, 17 years old, called from the living room, “Mom! Another plane just hit the other building!”
I ran into the living room and stared at the TV. “No, it’s probably just that they’re showing you footage of the disaster,” I said. “How likely is it that the same thing happened twice?”
But he was right. I realized instantly that this was not an accident , but a premeditated act of evil. And that’s what brought me to my knees. I wept aloud. I pulled the kids down with me onto the floor and we prayed together. What did we say to God in those moments? I don’t remember. I think I prayed that He would restrain whoever did this from doing more evil.
But when we were finished praying, and we were staring at the set, and hearing it again and again, I bestirred myself and thought, What to do?
What do you do when there’s nothing you can do to help? These people were twelve miles away. They had my sympathy and my attention and my prayers. But there was nothing else I could do that would make a whit of difference to them right now. If I got into my car and drove over there in hopes of rendering aid, I would only be in the way. And what would I do with the children?
So I got the kids into the car and off we went, up the Garden State Parkway to the church where we meet in Hillsdale. Just past exit 159 we looked South over the Saddle River and saw the column of black smoke rising upward.
At co-op the teachers all wondered what to do. I think we felt like huddling together and crying. But we decided to have classes for the younger kids, to make things feel a little more like normal. We turned on the big TV in the youth room and let the teens watch news coverage. It was ridiculous to think of insisting that they focus on Western Civ today. They knew this was not normal.
Later I realized that people I knew lived and worked in the city, even in that neighborhood, and we waited to hear from them. Eventually we made contact and found to our relief we had lost no one. I have the luxury and the privilege, therefore, of looking at the tragedy somewhat dispassionately.
Two thousand and nine hundred ninety-six people died in the attacks. Many more tragedies occur around the world on a daily basis which claim more lives than this. Why does 9/11 continue to shock and appall? It would be easy to say that it is because these were our people who died. They were Americans, like us. Or maybe we could say it was because of the way they died, sudden thundering down on a routine day in a safe place. Probably those things are true. But I think what changed things for everybody, as it did for me as I stood gaping at that second tower burning, was the realization that evil is real and wants to kill and destroy, and you don’t know when it will break through to kill and destroy your very own people, or even you. It reminded us, if we forgot, that not everyone holds these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We’d like to think that everyone is on the same page with this. But they’re not. Sometimes we’re not even on the right page. There is evil out there, there is evil in here. God help us.
Sept 11, 2001 forced us to embrace a new normal. Mankind is not getting better and better, more and more evolved, civilized, rational. Science has not solved all our problems, as the Victorians, flush with promising scientific discoveries, had hoped. If WWI and WWII and Vietnam didn’t prove that, 9/11 should have. I just hope we don’t forget.