September 11 still overwhelms me.
And I will never not talk about it. Because we all need to. Because people let it dull over time. Kids are born who weren’t there. And we cannot ever afford to forget.
It never arrives on the calendar that I don’t feel it. That I don’t cry at least once. That I don’t remember that day in some of the most vivid detail of any memories I have. I was nowhere near New York City or Washington or Pennsylvania that day. I was in my classroom in North Carolina on a perfect September Tuesday morning. When we were called in the hall shortly after nine and told, it was the kind of silence that defies description. And when I looked through the window on my classroom door and saw my precious 9th grade civics class looking back at me, each of them lasered in and knowing something was wrong… I’ve never felt so helpless in my whole life. Because I had to walk back in there and tell them I had no idea what would happen next. And I didn’t want to. I wanted to let them be innocent and let them live in that bubble for a few more minutes. I wanted to pretend that nothing was wrong and we could just keep being us, but we couldn’t. I didn’t know how to tell them, so I just stood in front of them with my hands against my mouth, the words refusing to come because they didn’t want to be said. Those words, “We’ve been attacked” were so unbelievable.
But that was all we knew. We didn’t know if this was the start of something bigger. Being in a military town, we didn’t know if spouses and parents would come home that night… or ever. If we’d even be able to go home that night. It sounds silly now, but in the midst of? In the midst of, anything could happen, and we actually wondered if that would mean bunking at school. We were clueless, feeding on second-hand information. Even our building faced the building next to it, and there was no way to see the outside world. Rumors were flying that there were car bombs and chaos and a run on the banks. There was no internet in the school, no TV. The kids busted the lock on my cabinet to get to my radio while I was in the hall. And that was okay, because we all wanted to know.
I found my junior class in a big circle on the floor around that radio. When we were allowed to walk next door to see it on TV, I found one of my sophomores standing in the middle of the parking lot, completely lost. And when I asked if she was okay, she said, “My brother was visiting the Pentagon today” and she started to cry. And all I could do was hold her.
Driving home that afternoon, my town looked so normal, but I knew that just a few hours away there was chaos and death and disaster on a level none of us had dreamed could come here. And it didn’t mix in my head, that everything could be different yet exactly the same. The sky was so beautiful… and so surreal. No jet contrails. No military planes loaded with soldiers preparing to jump. Nothing. Just quiet, empty blue, like even it was a little bit lost.
It was two weeks before I cried. Two weeks before I went into my closet, shut the door, and screamed in utter, white hot rage. I was angry. So angry. So angry that the devil did this. So hurt for so many. So full of why.
Today, all I can think about is the people who lost so much. To me, it’s a national tragedy. But to so many, it’s a personal loss. It’s a day of grief and sorrow and remembering in a much different way than it will ever be for me. And that’s why, when this picture showed up on the news last night, I had to step back from it or be overwhelmed again.
God is not a coincidental or accidental God. This was on purpose. And all I can think is Psalm 34:18, “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted And saves those who are crushed in spirit.” He is near. He. Is. Near. He cares. He loves. To me, that rainbow is a word to the ones who grieve this day that God has not forgotten their pain. That in spite of our messed up selves, He remembers our hurts and He is still so very close. And today I am overwhelmed in a whole new way.