I remember the moment that the news came over the radio on Sept. 11, 2001. I was a student at UW-Whitewater driving back to class after finalizing the details of a project that I had been working on for the past three weeks. I was frantically trying to get back to campus to turn in my work when suddenly time stood still and nothing else mattered. As I listened to the announcement hit the airwaves, I felt a nauseating pit in the bottom of my stomach as the realization came over me.
***Please note that this piece may be difficult to read and contains graphic content.
I remember that moment like it was yesterday. I could feel the horror, the pain, the agony and the fear from over 775 miles away. My foot let off the gas as I drove to school in shock at the tragic news. The deadline that I was trying so hard to keep was no longer a priority as I listened closely to hear the details. I returned to campus and found televisions set up through out the common areas and that classes had been canceled for the remainder of the day. There was a somber feel and a complete sense of confusion as I walked through the hall towards my professor’s office. No one was talking, no one was moving, we all just stood in utter silence watching, waiting, praying that this wasn’t really happening. I returned home and watched the news for the remainder of the day feeling helpless, devastated and empty.
A few weeks later, my poetry Professor had found a video of a documentary that was filmed that day and gave everyone in the class the option to opt out if they felt that the content was too graphic or emotionally difficult to view. I chose to stay and view the film and it has since been burned into my memory like a branding iron marks a bull. The documentary was about the NYFD and they happened to be interviewing firefighters at one of the first firehouses to get the call that dreadful day. At the time of the call, they did not know the severity of the situation and joined the brave men and women as they went into the wreckage to save as many lives as they could.
The sounds and scenes documented were piercing. You could hear the building groan and the screams of the people that were trapped above them. The chaos of it all engulfed them like a flame as bodies fell from the sky like rain. It was sheer and utter horror. The filmmakers were instructed to run as the building began to collapse. As the tower came down, the cloud of ash and debris had blasted down the surrounding streets and buried all around it. The camera man narrowly escaped being buried alive by some man who had seen him in the street and pulled him into his business for cover. The camera continued to film as the glass shattered and the dust covered the view. You could hear them breathing and the panic in their breath.
I can not begin to imagine the depths of emotional scarring that the events of 9/11 have had on those who were there that day witnessing these sounds and those lost as a result.
Two years later, in 2003, I visited Ground Zero and toured Saint Paul’s Chapel. It was peaceful and calming with photos, letters, flags, messages, notes and more for all to view. The scuff marks from the boots of the men and women who had laid on these benches seeking rest and solitude remained. They came here to pray, heal and honored those lost. I stood in silence tears streaming down my face as I read the messages including the one about how the chapel and tombstones in the yard had escaped all damage when all else had been destroyed.
After leaving the chapel, I walked along the parameter of the grounds reading messages from people all over the world. An American flag hung against a near by building and could be seen from any angle to remind all that we stand united. The messages continued on as I made my way back to the subway station and although they were in many different languages, the message was clear. “We Will Never Forget”.
I will never forget. Today I mourn those lost and honor those who survived. My middle school crush, Martin Niederer, was one who was lost that day and have included the link to his guest book for those of you who knew him as well. Martin’s Legacy
There is a great clip in today’s sermon below beginning at minute 16:54. She describes the view from the vicarage that over looks Ground Zero today, ten years later.