Posted by: ritagone | September 15, 2010

Being in New York: October 2001


Our country just celebrated – if ‘celebrated’ is the right word – the ninth anniversary of 9/11, a day that has become as infamous to Americans as Pearl Harbor or D-Day are to the Second World War.

My girlfriend Judy and I had already scheduled a trip to New York City in October of 2001, and so after some deliberation, we had to decide whether or not to go after the terrible incident occurred in September.  After all, what had happened didn’t make getting on a plane and flying anywhere something to be undertaken if you really didn’t have to do so, if you had any discretionary choice in the matter.  Which we did, because we had planned this vacation as a fun trip many months earlier, staying at the timeshare Michael and I owned in mid-town Manhattan, with theater tickets and dinner plans and such.  Something that could be easily abandoned if we were worried and frightened.

But we decided to go.

It was a decision that I will never regret.

In fact, Judy and I were talking on the phone just yesterday and reminiscing about that trip, which we do often.  We were discussing how the images we saw were indelibly imprinted on our minds, not only pictures but scents, the odors of burned metal and oil and human flesh.  We remembered coming up out of the subway downtown near Battery Park and being so overwhelmed by that odor, one that neither one of us will ever forget.  You could watch television forever and never know that aspect of the tragedy like we knew it, a smell that was unlike anything we had ever smelled or ever will smell again, hopefully.  We remembered the buildings that were still covered in a thick patina of dust and ash, still being cleaned and washed.  People still in a daze, emergency service vehicles still stridently moving downtown with sirens blazing, chain-link fences bearing notices of missing friends and family members.  New Yorkers hugging us because we were “brave enough” to come to their city when so many others had cancelled plans to vacation there.  Thank you’s.  Smiles. Tears.  More hugs.  Flowers on the ground and stuck in windows and wherever they would hold in fences and doorways.

We had dinner in downtown Chelsea at an outdoor restaurant, the air still not normal, dust and debris still to be seen, people still dazed and stunned by what had happened to them.  Klieg lights were everywhere, helping workmen to continue their search for bodies and anything else that could still be salvaged.  Ground Zero was in shambles, huge pieces of metal parts of the Twin Towers jutting out in very weird sculpture-like forms.  It was all very surreal.  We didn’t talk much, Judy and I.  (That in itself was very unusual.)  You were literally rendered speechless by all that you were seeing and hearing and a part of.

What I was most struck by was the comfort that people were giving to one another, strangers offering words of solace and arms of grace for those who needed uplifting for a moment or two.  For a city that prides itself on its cool, calculated disinterest, on its ability to take things in stride, to brush past one another without making eye contact so that you can get the job done, move through the city without having to touch anyone else, New Yorkers were suddenly transformed into the most loving, compassionate, sensitive people around.  Tragedy will do that to you.  Terror has its horrible side, but it sometimes brings out the most noble aspects of human beings.

And Christians rallied to be Christ-like.  If, as Thomas Cahill says, “the purpose of the gospel is to comfort the afflicted,” then there were many afflicted who were comforted during those horrendous days following the downing of the Twin Towers.  So many lives lost, so many families torn apart, so many who would never be the same, and followers of Jesus stepped in with words and water and whispers of courage and encouragement.  Churches and their members came and ministered to firemen and policemen and port authority workers.  It was a time for believers to show what they were made of, and they didn’t disappoint.

So when the anniversary of September 11 rolls around, as it does every year, I remember a trip to New York a month after the horrible events of that day, a day or two in October when my friend Judy and I witnessed firsthand what tragedy looks like up close, and what it smells and sounds like.

And I always stop and thank God for the opportunity I had to be there and to share a bit more closely in what happened so that I can pray a prayer for the families of the hurt and damaged.  And I always try to pray for the families of those who inflicted the damage also.  At first I couldn’t do that.  But I kept trying, because I knew that that was what Jesus would want me to do.  And I’ve gotten a bit better at it.

And I hope the rest of your week, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, is a week filled with God and His joy.


Regards,  Rita



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