As We Remember
There were 19 of them and they had a lot in common. All had flight itineraries bound for California. All were young, Muslim men between ages 20 and 33. All were dedicated and religious followers of Allah. They all died on the same day carrying out a plot that had been in the making for years. Few people know their names, but their lives left an unforgettable mark. Together they made history on September 11, 2001.
It was 8:46 am when low-flying American Airlines Flight 11 struck the North Tower. The FDNY immediately responded to put out the flames 90 stories up. 15 minutes later, the second tower was hit. America was under attack.1
Within the next few hours, two more hijacked planes crashed, exploded, and killed their passengers. One struck the Pentagon, killing more office workers. The other nose-dived into a wooded area 120 miles northwest of Washington DC, its assumed target.
The hustle-bustle of New York City turned into a frantic panic. Hopeless workers hurtled themselves from their prestigious offices to a sure death below. Wall Street pedestrians forgot their morning tasks and rushed to escape the waves of dust and debris. Panic-driven residents boarded ferries to evacuate the water-bound island of Manhattan.
Duty, however, drove thousands of brave firefighters and emergency-response teams to the danger zone. They watched helplessly as the vicious flames quickly gutted the steel-and-glass structures of the Twin Towers. Thousands of terrified tenants sought to evacuate the buildings but got caught in the congested emergency staircases. As the minutes ticked by, few realized just how little time was left.
Almost exactly an hour later, the South Tower started to crumble. As floor after floor collapsed onto another, the momentum increased. Within 10 seconds, five million square feet of New York real estate had become a pile of smoke-filled rubble with hundreds of bodies buried beneath.2 Half an hour later, the North Tower collapsed in much the same way.
As many fled for their lives, thousands of volunteers found their way to Saint Paul’s Chapel. Situated only 600 yards away from the towers, it became an oasis surrounded by fire, smoke and debris. Weary firefighters streamed through its doors for physical, emotional, and spiritual care. Some massaged their weary muscles. Others listened to them and cried with them.
The rest of America watched as the nightmare unfolded. What would happen next? Where could one turn for security? Across the nation, people began flooding into churches and religious meeting places. For many, it was a brief taste of unprecedented unity and spiritual awakening.
And life moved on. Eventually, the rubble was cleared. The firefighters returned to their normal jobs. The TV stations moved on to the next exciting story. And the brief spiritual awakening fizzled out.
Writing for USA Today, Cathy Grossman sums it up.
“…for millions of Americans, the immediate response was to drop to their knees in prayer.
Sanctuaries filled for memorial services. Cardinal Edward Egan of New York remembers crowds overflowing St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
A decade later, the soulful response seems fleeting. Statistically, the rush to the pews was a mere blip in a long-standing trend away from traditional religious practice…”3
Fifteen years later…
Sunday marked the 15th anniversary for this historic day. Many New Yorkers can tell you in vivid detail what they saw, how they felt, and where they were on September 11, 2001. It ever remains etched in their memories.
How can Cathy Grossman really be right? Has our nation already forgotten the feeling of hopelessness and terror? Have my fellow New Yorkers already forgotten what it’s like to live on the brink of hell? Time seems to dim the memory.
There is another day in history that we too often forget…another day marked by terror, pain, death, and darkness. Two thousand years ago, He stumbled up the Calvary hill. He was laid on a rough, wooden cross. Nails were driven through His wrists and ankles. And He was raised up for all to see.
Bearing my sins, your sins, the sins of the entire world, Jesus became the target of the wrath of God the Father. His complete innocence was shrouded with your shame and mine. And the Father turned His face away and withdrew His presence.
The sky became black. The earth shook. People were terrified. And Jesus cried out, “It is finished!” The curtain in the temple was torn from top to bottom. The wall of separation between man and God crumbled to the ground.
Three days later, Jesus burst from the tomb. He appeared to hundreds of people over a span of 40 days. And He finally ascended into heaven after commissioning His disciples to carry the Good News, the Gospel, to all the world.
It is easy to get caught up in the business of life. A nine-to-five job, an active youth group, a hectic social life, Sunday church, Monday night softball, Wednesday evening prayer meeting. In the midst of trying to keep up and stay on top, we so easily forget to look back and remember what happened.
Come on up to New York City and visit the 9/11 Memorial. Read the stories, see the places, feel the engraved names. Crane your neck to see the top of the Freedom Tower which represents America’s ability to pull together in the face disaster and come out on top.
But that story somehow rings hollow when compared to the story of the cross.
Why not read through one of the Gospels over the next month? Relive the greatest story that was ever told. Of a babe that grew into a Man, who gave His life as a ransom for many. A Man who conquered death by going through it. Of God in human form, redeeming the world to Himself.
His is a story that will never grow old!
|Ian Miller lives in Brooklyn, NY and volunteers full-time with a non-profit organization. He is earning his BA in English through College Plus, which he hopes to use to teach ESL, both at home and abroad. He is passionate about urban, cross-cultural church planting, and verbal, personal evangelism.|
1. “9/11 Interactive Timelines.” 9/11 Memorial Timeline. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Sept. 2016.
2. History.com Staff. “World Trade Center.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, 2009. Web. 10 Sept. 2016.
3. Grossman, Cathy Lynn. “9/11 Traced New Spiritual Lines.” USA Today. N.p., 07 Sept. 2011. Web. 10 Sept. 2016.
Header image credit: Michael Foran [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons