Like most people, I am reminded today of what occurred on this date 10 years ago. Partly because it obviously was a moment that literally changed the world, and like those who remember Pearl Harbor, I will never be able to forget. But also because the reminders of the events of September 11, 2001 are everywhere: television, newspapers, internet, and conversations you overhear as you go about your daily routine. So even if you did forget, or weren’t alive at the time, you can’t help but know what day this is.
On that fateful day 10 years ago, I was at work at Meijer in Three Rivers, MI. That particular day I was scheduled in the cash office which, as one might expect, is somewhat isolated from the rest of the store. I remember vividly that I was not well at all with what would later be diagnosed as the flu. So, I was getting as much done as I could, and was going home early.
Shortly after 9am Sarah Sanders, one of the Service Department managers at the time, came into the locked room to tell us the breaking news that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Of course we were all shocked. I can’t speak for the others, but in my head I pictured a small single-engine plane at that point. It wasn’t until a short time later that we heard a second plane…a passenger jet…had it the other tower, that I finally understood what I had been told.
It was now almost 10am, and I had gotten as much work done as I could, and I got permission to go home sick. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Meijer, it is a store chain similar to Wal-Mart. I walking to the employee area, I had to pass by the Men’s department which at the time had mounted televisions that were tuned to ESPN. This particular day the station had been changed to the news, and a crowd of about 15 – 20 people were gathered, gazing silently at the screens.
I joined them, looking in silent disbelief at the images before me, trying to fathom what exactly I was seeing. The fire. The smoke. The debris, and what we learned later were people, falling from the windows. So much to take in, yet not truly understanding what was going on.
It was then that it happened. The first tower trembled a moment, then began to sink straight down upon itself, and all the souls still inside it. A chorus of “oh my god” went up from those gathered around, and then another as the second building soon followed after. If I hadn’t already been ill, the images surely would have made me sick.
I drove home, tuned into the news on my radio, listening to the coverage from New York. I remembered that I had brought my utility bill payment with me that morning, and needed to stop and pay on my way home. I pulled into the Consumers Energy parking lot, which was uncharacteristically almost empty, and got to the door just as a security guard was about to lock it. By this time it was known that this was an attack against the US, and under those circumstances, they were about to go into lockdown. The guard allowed in for my brief transaction, but as a previous customer was on his way out the door, he looked at me with my olive skin and goatee and said, “I dunno…he kinda looks like one of them Iranians.” To this day I don’t know who he was, and if he was serious or making a very ill-timed joke in the poorest of taste. Doesn’t really matter. I was too sick to have a witty retort anyway.
I spent the rest of the day and the week that followed in bed trying to get over the flu, and watching the events continue to unfold. The third plane at the Pentagon. The fourth in a field in Pennsylvania. The search for survivors. The search for the culprits. The evacuation of the Sears Tower. The view of “ground zero” from the International Space Station. President Bush and his famous megaphone moment. Members of the US Congress standing on the steps of the capitol singing.
I remember it as though it happened yesterday.
It also reminds me of a morning 6 years before that. A morning in April of 1995 when the country awakened to the news of a devastating act of terrorism.
On that sad day, April 19th, a van was detonated outside the Alfred P Murrah Federal Building at 9:02am. 168 men, women, and children were killed. I recently went to the site of the memorial and took some pictures.
There are two enormous bronze gates called the Gates Of Time. On the outside, each bears the inscription: “We come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever. May all who leave here know the impact of violence. May this memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope and serenity.”
On the inside they bear times: 9:01 on the east gate, and 9:03 on the west. The east gate symbolizes the final moment of innocence before the blast. The west symbolizes the first moment of healing. The area between, the memorial itself, is the area of destruction.
The reflecting pool amazes me. It is located where 5th Street used to be. You can hear the flow of water, but it seems imperceivable to me. It’s truly like glass. It is a very thin layer of water on top of polished black granite, and it is said that those seeing their reflection see “someone changed forever by what happened here.”
The chairs are quite poignant. There are 168 chairs made of glass and bronze, that sit where the building once stood. These chairs represent the empty chairs at the dinner tables of the victims’ families, and are situated in 9 rows, each row representing a floor of the Murrah Building, and therefore on which floor each victim was at the time of the blast. 19 of the chairs are smaller than the rest which represent the children killed, and 5 of the chairs are not in the rows with the rest which represent the 5 individuals not in the building. (three in adjacent buildings, one outside, and one rescuer)
One of the most touching parts isn’t really a part of the memorial at all. Across Harvey Street is a sculpture titled “And Jesus Wept,” which is taken from John 11:35. Widely known as the shortest verse in the Bible, it refers to Jesus mourning the death of his friend, Lazarus. Here, Jesus is shown weeping for the victims, and walking away from the site of the devastation.
So with these two infamous days in mind, and the countless others like them, be sure to tell those you care about that you love them. Every chance you get. You never know how many more chances you’ll have to do so.