I was born in Queens and grew up on Long Island, eighteen miles from the New York City line. I remember the time before the World Trade Center was built and the controversy over how those boxy towers were going to ruin the distinctive New York skyline.
Years later I remember walking on the outside observation deck, my young son laughing at my fear at being suspended in the sky as the wind whipped our hair and clothes.
I remember the first trip home in 2001, Christmas I think it was, and staring at the hole where the towers used to be from the span of the Throgs Neck Bridge.
I was working in Boston in 2001. I remember that bright Tuesday morning in September, the air so clear and the sky so blue it would break your heart. We had our usual weekly meeting with the CIO, a meeting all us techies put up with but couldn’t wait to leave. Released at last, we hurried down the hall to our computers so we could do what we loved best.
A few minutes later, my boss came out of his office looking stunned. “My daughter called and said a plane hit the World Trade Center,” he said. We, too, were stunned. I quickly brought up the CNN web site but there wasn’t much more than what he’d already told us. A few minutes later he came back into our room and told us the TV was on in the lunchroom if we wanted to go watch it.
I stayed at my desk initially, but I couldn’t concentrate. I went downstairs and sat in the lunchroom, glued to the news reports, watching the smoke billow out of the North Tower. From nowhere, the second plane came into the screen and I flinched as it hit the South Tower. I knew then this was a terrorist attack. I didn’t need a reporter or politician to tell me that.
I cried for months afterwards. It didn’t take much for me to start. The sight of flags flying in front of houses, offices, and from car windows would do it. And there were a lot of flags flying in Boston. The grim resolve of people whose lives were shattered, but were determined to carry on, to not let the terrorists defeat our spirit. The pictures of the smoldering ruins, the raising of an American flag among them, the shower of ashes and paper through the New York City streets.
I cried for the people who had gone to work that morning, perhaps dreading a meeting of their own, never thinking they would die that day. I cried for the police and firemen who rushed into the burning buildings, knowing how dangerous it was, but risking—and giving—their lives in an attempt to save others. I cried for the heroes of Flight 93 who wrested control from the hijackers and crashed the plane into a Pennsylvania field rather than let it be a weapon against another building. I cried for the loss of our innocence, our invincibility that was shattered, and the knowledge that our world would never be the same.
And I returned to God.
I didn’t go to church, except for the occasional Christmas or Easter, in the decades before September 11th. God and I had had a falling out. I figured that some day, a day far in the future when I was closer to death, I’d take some time and figure out this whole religion thing. But there wasn’t any urgency about it. I was young yet. Well, young enough.
But the enormity of what happened that day made me realize that I needed something bigger than myself to understand it, to accept it, and to move forward. I needed to be able to make sense of something that was, at its core, senseless.
I spent the next several months going to various churches, staying longer at some than others, but never finding quite the right fit. Finally I decided to try a Lutheran church that wasn’t too far away. I’d put the Lutheran church at the bottom of my list because, well, because I’d been raised a Missouri Synod Lutheran and hadn’t particularly cared for it.
I went to House of Prayer in Hingham, Massachusetts without much hope one Sunday morning. And found a warm and welcoming ELCA congregation. The minister remembered my name after the first Sunday, some older women kind of adopted me and encouraged me to join their weekly Bible study group, and I started doing some of that exploration of faith that I’d put off so long.
I used to ask myself on occasion whether God had caused the events of September 11th to bring me back to Him. That seemed like a lot of hubris and I’m not sure I could accept the fact that God had been the cause of something so awful.
I still have a lot of doubts and questions about God and Christianity. There are times I feel like a fraud. And I know that I’m not living what faith I have in as positive a fashion as I should. But I also know that I can’t imagine facing another September 11th without God. And, horrifying as it is to contemplate, there’s a good chance that there will be another September 11th in my lifetime. Evil never gives up.