I was a college junior. It was a Tuesday morning and I was getting ready for school. I remember looking out my apartment window to a beautiful blue sky as I flipped through pictures of buildings I’d have to know for my architecture history test later that day. Today was my friend’s twenty-first birthday and I was undecided about going to the ice-skating party that night.
The phone rang.
Caller ID showed that it was my mom. “Hi, mom! Happy thirtieth anniversary!” I was kind of surprised that she was calling me in the early morning on her anniversary. Isn’t the call supposed to go the other way? Me calling my folks to say happy anniversary?
There were a few brief greeting phrases and questions, but her voice was tense. Then she said, “Have you heard?”
“Heard what? Oh, about Ed McCaffrey’s broken leg? Yeah, I saw that last night. So sad!” I’m not a big Broncos fan, but I always loved Eddie Mac. But let me come back to him later.
“Um, no honey. Turn on the television.”
I was confused but picked up the remote. I didn’t have to switch to another channel. I was immediately confronted by an image of the world trade center towers, with angry black smoke pouring out.
I was so confused. “What happened?”
“Planes few into the towers.”
“What?” Only three years earlier, my family had taken a trip to NYC and ridden to the top of the WTC. We ate pizza on the observatory floor and enjoyed the view. “How could a plane fly into the towers? Can’t you steer around and avoid them? How do planes fly into both buildings?”
“Honey, they did it on purpose.”
“What?” I still didn’t understand. This wasn’t an accident? Why would anyone purposely fly a plane into a building, let alone two planes into two buildings? In my mind, I saw tiny Cessnas. I didn’t even think of commercial planes.
At that moment, the picture on the screen changed as the first tower crumbled.
“Mom! It fell down! It fell down! One of the towers fell down!”
And I fell to the floor, clutching the phone, tears streaming down my face. All I could think of was all those people who were dying there on my television. Right now. The people in the towers, the people on the street who would be crushed by the rubble. All those people.
I still couldn’t wrap my head around someone doing this on purpose.
And I looked out the window at that beautiful, cloudless blue sky that gave no indication of the turmoil happening beneath it.
The day was a blur, as I’ll bet it was for most people.
I remember printing up a dozen quick signs on my printer: “Prayer service today, 5:00PM at the fountain.” I hung them around campus. I didn’t know what else to do, but I knew that God had to be a part of this.
A hundred people showed up to the fountain at 5:00. I had no plans. No idea what to do. My campus minister was there, and I asked him what we should do.
By that time, the news (or rumors) came out that there was a Middle-Eastern terrorist group behind this. There was a woman in a headscarf there in the gathering. My campus minister asked her if she wanted to come forward and pray. She did. In coming months and years, those dressed like her would be treated very poorly. To this day I am so thankful that he chose to bring us all together like that – to remind us that the actions of a few extremists are not representative of all people in religious groups.
Then he asked me to pray. I stepped into the center and remember turning slowly on the spot in the middle of the crowd, praying aloud so all could hear me. I don’t remember exactly what I prayed beyond, “God, we’re hurting. We don’t understand why this happened. But we know that You are good. Please help us.”
Then we all stood around quietly, hugging and crying.
* * * * *
I saw a photo online or in a paper a day later (which is impossible to find now because there’s so many photos from that event). It was the ambulance bay of a NYC hospital with a dozen health care workers crying, leaning on each other’s shoulders, and waiting with empty gurneys. They had snapped to attention. They remembered their emergency training and were mobilize to accept and treat the survivors. Yet the gurneys remained empty.
I remember blood drives being held everywhere. And we were going to do… what… with all this blood? That was one of the things that struck me, thinking that there were few “survivors” of 9/11. The hospitals didn’t fill up with injured victims. Instead, cemetaries filled with new graves.
Over the next weeks, we were bombarded by the media with photos and videos and stories. As we learned more about the other planes that hit the Pentagon and Flight 93, I was sad that so much focus was on New York and the other grieving communities seemed to fade to the background.
I remember sitting in the living room with my roommate flipping through the seventy or so channels on our TV. Every. single. station. was playing something about the plane crashes. Or had a blank screen with a sign that they were off the air out of respect. Even the annoying home shopping networks were down.
That’s very considerate, but Katie and I needed an escape. We needed to think of something else. Finally, we found that Cartoon Network was still running regular programming. We’d never watched Cartoon Network before, but sat in silence listening to the drawling voices and silly sound effects.
* * * * *
Ed McCaffrey broke his leg on September 10, 2001 during Monday Night Football, the Denver Broncos versus the New York Giants. The game was played in Denver, which meant New York fans two time zones ahead had to stay up late to watch. It was a serious, compound fracture and the game ended up being a bit delayed because of the injury and carting Eddie Mac off the field.
Later I learned that some New Yorkers reported they stayed up late to watch the Giants’ game finish. And as a result, they were late to work the next morning. And as a result, they were not in the towers when they fell.