Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering 9/11

I've sort of stuck my head in the sand as the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 approached. It's always been such an emotional anniversary. In years past, I've sat glued to the TV and watched every special that aired and really immersed myself in it. Probably beyond what's actually healthy. Over the last few years, I've realized that I just can't let myself get to that place. I need to remember, watch a little, and keep on moving.

I hope that doesn't sound callous. It's not meant to be. It's just reality for me.

I still remember that day ten years ago like it was yesterday. There are pictures in my head that I don't think will ever go away. Feelings, thoughts, images. They are all there. Trapped.

I lived by myself that year. It was my third year at Auburn, and in an effort to escape the craziness of dorm life, I had found a single apartment a few blocks off campus. I only had one class on Tuesdays that semester - Bowling at 3:00. So Tuesdays were a "sleep in" day.

The alarm went off and the radio hosts were talking about a plane flying into the World Trade Center. I thought it was a joke. They kept on, so I grabbed a blanket and turned on the TV in the den. I don't think I moved for the rest of the morning. I just couldn't believe what I was seeing.

I remember seeing the second plane fly into the building.

I remember seeing the first tower fall.

And then the second.

I remember calling my mom and asking her if she was watching. We just couldn't believe it.

I finally got a shower and went to class. The teacher couldn't believe anyone showed up. We basically spent the entire hour watching the news at the bowling alley. There were more important things than learning how to keep score in bowling that day.

Mom called me and told me stop and get gas. I stopped at a gas station about a block from my apartment and waited for about 45 minutes to get gas. There was a limit as to how many gallons we could put in our cars.

I sat in my apartment for the rest of the night and watched the news. I tried to study for an accounting test the next day. The professor sent out this really tacky email saying that we absolutely were having the test. She didn't see any reason to cancel the test. She was a jerk. I remember that my toilet broke that night. I don't know why I remember that. I'm telling you . . . everything is still there.

More than the events that occurred, I remember how I felt.

Scared.

Lonely.

Angry.

So emotional.

It was a long time before those feelings went away.

I can remember having this incredible urge to get in my car and start driving to New York. I wanted to help.

Instead I found things to do around campus. Ran the blood drive for two days. Lit candles. Attended a prayer service.

Fast forward.

In December of that year I had an opportunity to go to New York with a group from church. Our main goal was to distribute toys to children who lost a parent on 9/11. It was an incredible experience.

I had a pass that allowed me to go into the edge of "the pile."

When I got back to my room that night, I noticed the ash on my shoes. I thought I might never wash them again. It just didn't seem right somehow.

I met some folks at the Metro New York Baptist Association who invited me to come back for the summer.

That was a life-changing summer.

The city was so different than when I had visited over Thanksgiving the year before. It was quieter. The people were still grieving.

Our of our main ministry focuses was to the men at the fire station around the corner from our office / apartment. Ladder 35 / Engine 40. They lost 11 men on 9/11.

The first time I walked into their station house, I immediately noticed 11 pairs of boots, hats, and coats. Right where they were left on 9/11. The chalk boards from that day were still exactly as they were. There were still flowers and memorials just outside, near the front door.

These men were still deep in the throes of grief.

I remember one guy in particular - Rob. He and a buddy were planning a bike ride from New York City to Washington, DC in memory of their fallen brothers.

None of those guys that I met that summer knew Jesus. That was the saddest thing of all to me.

I remember walking through Grand Central Station and seeing the posters still hanging everywhere. "Have you seen _____? Last seen on 9/11 in ____." The worst were the pictures that were subsequently taped to the original "missing" posters. They said things like, "Baby Girl was born on ___." "We miss you!" "Happy Birthday!" "Your son graduated from high school."

Time continued to creep along.

I visited the FDNY Museum one Saturday afternoon. They had these books where people could write messages to loved ones or just general notes about 9/11. I wrote a message, wiped a tear, and stood up. A woman with a thick New York accent was standing next to me. As I straightened up, she just fell into my arms. I will never forget her sobbing on my shoulder. New Yorkers typically don't touch . . . much less hug and weep on a stranger's shoulder.

Brian and Lori were police officers that became special friends over the summer. Both found renewed faith as a result of the tragedy of 9/11. Both had tremendous health issues that stemmed from the stress of that terrible tragedy.

It's ironic. The first time I visited New York (on vacation), I felt like I could take it or leave it. Certainly not a place I would choose to go back to. After 9/11, NYC became a place I fell in love with.

Hubs and I had the opportunity to go on a mission trip to NYC this past summer. In some ways it felt like a continuation of ministry that began for me in 2002.

I think it's important to remember the past. But more than just remembering the past, I think it's important to remember that God is still God.

If we don't cling to Truth, then it's all for nothing. But if we cling to Jesus and use this as an opportunity to share the gospel with people who are hurting, God will get tremendous glory from this terrible tragedy.

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