Many in their lifetime has witnessed catastrophic events unfold in the nation where they live. Those living in America are no exception. America has had its share of those events but some of the events that took place pale against the events surrounding those of “911”. The price paid in human lives has been unequaled (prior to that event) for this type of occurrence. This was a terrorist act and such an act of this magnitude may or may not ever be repeated again in America. Yes; there have been events that carried great burdens in human toll. The nature of them expected great losses of human life. We’ve had wars and skirmishes on America’s soil that have inflicted deep wounds but the bigger ones were inflicted on America by Americans. Some (such as the Revolutionary War) were honorable and necessary. Others (such as the Civil War) were dishonorable and probably unnecessary. You can take whatever view you choose to take but the former conflict mentioned above (The Revolutionary War) ushered in positive change and accomplishment. The latter conflict accomplished little; may have set the nation back years; exacted a staggering death toll and was of little benefit to those who initiated it. America has mostly taken wars to the soil of other nations-avoiding the possibility of causing death and devastation on its own soil. In the act of 911 foreign elements brought the battle to America. The event was unexpected and grievous.
I had just entered my office space in the building located on 6 Harrison Street in downtown Manhattan. It was a bit shy of 9 a.m. It wasn’t unusual for me to arrive before my official starting time; although I was not on a strict time schedule. I had vowed that once I got my college degree I would not punch a time clock again. That didn’t always turn out to be my lot-on several occasions after college graduation I had to punch a clock-this wasn’t one of those occasions. Shortly after entering my office space I was called to the window that gave a view of the twin towers. The location of my office was just blocks from the twin towers. Walking out the door of my office building; turning right and proceeding one block put me in full view of the WTC which was probably five blocks south of Harrison St. When I went to the window another employee pointed out the plane that had just hit one of the towers. We were trying to figure out what could have happened. Did an aircraft just fly off-course and smash into the tower? We could see the hole and the smoke billowing from where the plane hit but we hadn’t figured out the cause of its encounter with the tower. After standing there for a brief spell trying to figure out what happened, another employee arrived. He was a union attorney and suggested that (based on preliminary reports) this occurrence may be headed in an unexplainable direction. While standing there and jawboning about that plane’s impact, we saw another plane circling towards the other tower and right before our eyes we witnessed the 2nd plane making impact with the second tower. Our common sense and common logic told us this was more than a coincidence or accident. At that point the union attorney suggested that we leave the building-not knowing where these recent observations were going. I collected my briefcase and any other everyday gear I traveled with, went down the stairs and exited the building. I walked west on Harrison Street to the corner of the next block that leads South down to the Twin Towers. By the time I and the other individual with me reached the corner events surrounding the World Trade Center were in high gear. Moments later we began to hear the wail of sirens from police cars, fire trucks, ambulances, the FBI, private security operators, public safety operatives and anyone who could conceivably be in the business of investigation, law enforcement and rescue. The events were unfolding so rapidly and the spectacle of things swirling around the towers kept me virtually glued in place. My glance was fixated on the twin towers. As I stood in place the crowd began to swell and swirling around the gathering crowd (at a rapid speed) was the type of vehicles that said to you there was something of major proportions taking place. The cars were black and occasionally of other colors. They were marked and unmarked. They also came on motorcycles. The cars bore tinted and un-tinted windows. Some occupants wore uniforms of law enforcement; some work suits; others as could be seen through the car windows were in shirt sleeve. All were rushing into the bowels of an historical event. From time to time the crowd would begin to surge backwards-even running away from the happenings around the towers. When the people at the head of the crowd-closest to the towers-began running away from these happenings those farther away were prompted to move backwards out of harm’s way. From time to time I moved backwards and forwards; depending on the gravity of the scene unfolding. Some people were screaming; some were yelling; others were crying and others just stood in stark disbelief. None seemed able to put his arms around the things unfolding so we stood and we stared. The day was very clear; the view was unobstructed and the surrounding events were unbelievable in light of what was going on.
Moment by moment we watched the fires take hold and the flames grow brighter and brighter. We watched the smoke billow up and down the towers. We watched as it engulfed all sides of the buildings. On occasion and more frequently than many (I’m sure) care to remember we saw a body flying from the buildings in an effort to escape what must have been an atmosphere of intense heat. The bodies flew out like large birds seeking to land somewhere. They were flying out of upper floors from which they had no chance of survival without a safety net to catch them. I guess the choice was burn to death or fall to your death. I’m sure some held out hope of falling into a rescue net and maybe that did happen for some. I was too many blocks away to witness the ground activity. I’m not even sure that with the rapidly unfolding events there was much time to put nets in place.
As the fires progressed along with the accompanying smoke, structural components that could be seen from a distance began to buckle. After a period of time that flew by much too fast one building began to “pancake”. That event evoked a loud scream as if the crowd’s favorite team had just scored a touchdown. However, they weren’t screams of joy-they were screams of anguish; screams of pain; and screams of the daunted and the broken hearted. Not too long thereafter and following on the heels of the first “pan caked” building came the fate of the second one. They were each reduced to piles of rubble. Surrounding those piles, underneath those piles and even on top of those piles rescue workers were frantically searching for those who may have been blessed to still be alive. Any survivor only survived at the hands of God. The events were so large and had such an impact on a human frame. After the second building was reduced to rubble the crowd began to disburse and take time to reflect on what they had recently witnessed. Most seemed still in disbelief and were not yet able to put together the pieces that explained what had just happened in their beloved America. The event was bigger than life; bigger than all of our lives and bigger than the life of this nation Such had never shaken the foundation of this nation before. It was still in the throes of disbelief.
As I Reflect
As I began to drift with the crowd (away from the scene) I began to think of others in various parts of the city and the other outlying boroughs. I thought about family and my dear friend who was in her classroom with little first graders as these events were taking place. I thought about their safety and well being. I thought about others who may have been working in the towers or visiting the towers when this event was taking shape. My friend and I owned a house in Brooklyn and I lived in an apartment in Queens. I wanted to get to my apartment in Queens to sit down, rest and reflect on what I had just witnessed before my very eyes. When I got to the first subway, I discovered that all subway lines had been brought to a halt. There was so much confusion in the city that, buses didn’t seem to know whether to go or where to go. I couldn’t get to my apartment in Queens so I began to ponder how I could get to the house in Brooklyn. The only possibility was to walk. The route of travel would be from the west side and over the Brooklyn Bridge. After that I would need to weave my way through the streets of Brooklyn to our house. I had no doubt concerning my ability to make the trek. That was eleven years ago. I was in peak walking condition. I had been an avid walker all my life and had walked many of the streets of the main boroughs-many times. I started out and after about two-hours I reached the house in Brooklyn. When my friend finally arrived from her school she was happy that I was okay. There had been some concern because she knew I worked in the area where all these disastrous events had unfolded. She said she had told others she was conversing with “Donald is gonna get home”. She knows the determination in my spirit and she also knows the grace of God.
As I look back I think of the many times I had gone into the Twin Towers. I think of the times I went there to the NYS Department of Taxation and Finance to pick up forms. As I remember the department was on some floor above the 80th. I think of the times I went there to Chase Manhattan Bank to drop off the mortgage payment. From time to time I had gone there to pick up a card or a sandwich. On various occasions I went there to catch the Path Train into New Jersey. I can still see the faces of the couple I would encounter on the No. 7-Flushing line who would get on about the same time in the evening and from their conversation I surmised the man worked in the WTC. After 911 I would see her board the train alone with a sad countenance. I didn’t know them so I asked no questions. I still own a pair of beautiful white loafers I purchased in a Florsheim Shoe Store in the Towers. I have an artistic rendering of the Twin Towers that I paid an artist to draw for me. It depicts a plane embedded in the first tower hit. One of my dearest memories is of my trip to Windows on the World. My classmate from high school came to visit from California and I took him and his wife there for dinner. They had never been there before and never got the opportunity to go again. It was said that nobody on that floor and above got out alive-how tragic. I sometimes stopped off at the towers before work to pick up something. It was like a city in there. I often went there at lunch time to get something. Wasn’t it strangely-fated that the events would unfold around the 9 a.m. hour? Why not 11:30 a.m. or 2:21 p.m. or 4 p.m.? If it had happened during any of those hours the death toll may have been much higher. At the time it happened, many had not yet arrived for work. In spite of the tragedy and the loss God was still in charge.
When I look back in reflection on the events and movements of the city afterwards, I think of the names and pictures posted in the 14th Street subway station asking if anyone had seen those still-uncounted for loved ones. I think of the brother from my church that was said to have gone back to lock the safe for his company-he died there. I think of the brother who used to push his disabled wife into the church in a wheelchair, he also died there. I think of all the brave firemen, policemen and rescue workers who died there. Some did help; some thought they could help and others wanted their moment of fame trying to help-not taking consideration for their own well-being. I think of those who couldn’t complete the journey to safety because they were burdened down with the baggage of weight and couldn’t go any further. Should this latter circumstance be a wakeup call for like-minded individuals?
In the aftermath of all this we cried; we prayed; some turned to God; some dismissed God for not preventing their loss; some made vows and resolutions to be different and do differently. A group on my job started a Bible class-they felt a need for God. However, as the dust began to settle, human nature began to turn to business as usual.
One thing we all should realize is that God is steadfast in who He is and where He is. He saw all of the above events and what He did or didn’t do was His (as a sovereign God) to do or not to do and He still sits on the throne.