Fourteen years ago today my world changed. Your world changed. The world changed. Period. The sense of safety and security we had was ripped from us when terrorism struck the Twin Towers in Manhattan, forever changing not only the iconic landscape I grew up with, but forever changing the landscape of our hearts, shattering the beauty of trust and serenity and leaving behind a gaping hole of sorrow and fear.
I realized today that no matter how many years go by, I will always find myself waking up on the morning of September 11 with a tear—or two, or three, or four, or a hundred—falling from my eyes. I don’t think there is anyone who doesn’t pause and reflect on this day. I don’t think there is anyone who doesn’t stop, even for second, to recall where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news.
I was still living in mid-town Manhattan and life was already in the process of changing for me as just a few months earlier I had lost my boyfriend in a jeep accident in Africa. My heart already had a gaping hole in it. I no longer held my top editor’s position at the magazine in which in a way I grew up in, having joined when I was only 23 and spent a good decade at. I was now a freelance writer taking uncertain, scary steps into ministry. It was those steps that led me out of Manhattan early that dreaded morning to attend a clergy meeting in New Jersey at an American Baptist Church in which I was now working in as part of my exploration to see if God was indeed calling me into ministry.
As the meeting began, one cell phone went off. Then another. And another. And yet another. It was as if the room broke out into an ominous symphony of phones, playing a tune of impending doom. Something was clearly wrong. All the ministers quickly dispersed back to their churches to assess what was going on. When my minister and I arrived at our respective church, we were greeted by a sobbing secretary filling us in on the latest news. It was then my legs felt as if they were going to collapse underneath me and a wave of terror washed over me. I felt so vulnerable that it was frightening. I have never felt a moment like that before nor do I care to ever feel that again.
Suddenly I got mad at myself for here I was standing in a church, preparing to enter ministry, where was my faith? Where was the knowledge that no matter what happens around us, we are all held safe and secure from all alarm (as that great hymn, “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” reminds us)?
Yes, we all have stories of where we were that morning of September 11. But today, on this 14th anniversary, I find myself thinking of where we are now. I find myself reflecting on how that day, so horrific that I don’t think I will ever comprehend it, has changed not just the world, but also each one of us. I think of a dear woman in my former congregation in rural Upstate New York who lived and worked just blocks from the Trade Center. Every year at this time she would share her story with me, a fellow Manhattanite, who traded in the bright lights of the big city for rural America.
As we sat together in her chic living room filled to the brim with books that spoke of her previous life as a lawyer, of a lover of fine art, of a wanna-be master gardener and cook (which she had become as her flowers she grew were beautiful and the extra food she would make and give to me, a newbie pastor who had the reputation of serving the kids at church raw chicken nuggets due to my own ignorance in the kitchen, easily put ten pounds on me!), she would speak of the smoke that stung her eyes, filled her lungs and made her apartment unlivable. She would relay all the emotions still so raw.
She would then get quiet and, as her eyes gazed to some special memory only known to her and her alone, she would give a smile that held in its curve both gratitude and sorrow. Looking out the window of the old farmhouse, out beyond the lemonade-ready front porch, out beyond to the rolling hills and fields, out beyond her massive garden, her fruit trees, her beautiful barns and other out buildings—she would say, “And this is how I got here.”
I wouldn’t say a word in reply. There was no need to. For I understood and she knew I understood. I would just join her in a smile that held in its curve both gratitude and sorrow. Out of tragedy and despair and the darkest moment in life, this is how we got here to the place where we both found our hearts healing.
God led her to finally take that step of faith to buy a farmhouse up north in need of some tender loving care. But I think it was the farmhouse that gave the tender loving care to a woman who needed to be restored.
Out of tragedy is hope. Always. Hope might not seem to be there at that moment, but it is. We just need to always hold on to the promises of God, that no matter what happens we are held safe and securely. God seeks to restore what is lost and to rebuild what has been shattered.
May this September 11 be a day to not only reflect and remember what was and what happened, but to smile a smile that in its curve holds gratitude and sorrow together and give thanks for the promise of a hope that never fails.