For all of us who are old enough to remember, and remember in detail, we have a 9/11 story. I have shared mine before, perhaps even on this blog, but I feel compelled to share it again in light of the fact that tomorrow is the 11th anniversary and the fact that it will fall on a Tuesday, like it did 11 years ago.
I woke up that morning at 34-52 30th Street in Long Island City, New York (near the border of Astoria) in the borough known as Queens. I did not know why yet but I woke up nauseous and called my mom to ask for her prayers. We prayed and I continued to get ready for work. The car service (as I had broken my leg on July 19th and had not yet been cleared to ride the subways) arrived around 7:40 and we probably went over the Queensborough Bridge and the East River sometime around 7:50. I do remember looking over the bridge and seeing a magnificent panorama of the Twin Towers, the Empire State Building, and the United Nations before we went down into the tunnel that led us into Manhattan.
When I got to work at the headquarters for Chosen People Ministries in Midtown, I had no idea that the world was changing with every tick of the clock. I was the first person in the offices and I had a few minutes to have a quiet time out of Hebrews 12. As I was writing a few notes on the idea of running a race in the first verses of the chapter, Victoria B. came into the office and asked if I had heard about a plane hitting the World Trade Center. She didn’t have any details but we thought it odd that someone would not be able to avoid hitting a building that big.
She went to her office and I returned to my Bible reading. As I was finishing the last of the chapter with the words that “we serve a kingdom which cannot be shaken” “for our God is a consuming fire,” my mom called and told me to get help if they evacuated the building. I literally had no idea what she was talking about at that moment. She told me that a second plane had hit the WTC and it was no accident. She saw it on TV at her school in Lancaster, TX, and I was about 4 miles away and had no idea!
We talked a few more minutes about getting in touch with my sister, had my brother-in-law been called, and what they were going to tell my six-year-old niece, Katie. I told her that I loved her with all my heart and we hung up not knowing what might happen next.
The next few minutes were surreal because I have always had the tendency to compartmentalize my grief/fear/emotions until a later time. Others arrived at work in a panic because one woman’s husband worked in the North Tower. We were told by police not to leave the building and so we went back to work because there was nothing else to do. Eventually, every worker went into a prayer meeting and I was left to answer the phone because it was so difficult for me to get up and down the stairs, due to the broken leg and the pulled achilles tendon.
As I was typing something (I don’t remember what now), the phone rang and the anonymous called simply told me that the Pentagon had been hit before hanging up. I managed to get down the stairs to tell the others and we went into the waiting area to watch TV of the chaotic world just outside our office windows. I sat by my friend Scott A. as the buildings collapsed and I went into my compartmental world and decide to process it all at a later time.
The phones were not working as the TV and phone towers were on top of the WTC buildings. However, the internet and our 800-number somehow worked and so I crawled back up the stairs to send an email to my friends who lived in every part of the country. Moments after the email was sent out, I received an email from Tammy W. telling me that the Baptist Missionary Association (the group for whom my dad pastored before his death in 2000) had me listed as missing and presumed dead. Sure enough, I went to the website and in essence read what might have become my obituary. I corrected the rumors of my death and found a way to get in touch with my mom and brother-in-law. Again, we all shared our love as we were still not certain that it was over, but I still was not able to find my sister.
The next few hours passed in a hazy blur but my sister finally reached me and she told me that she and Tony were going to pick up Katie from school and explain to her what happened. After a day that is forever engrained in my memory, we were released to try to make it home. Carlos M. and I waited for an hour at the corner of 51st and Lexington for a cab who would be willing to cross the river to take us home. After the time passed, and my still healing leg became a swollen mess, a cab finally agreed to help us get back to Queens.
I arrived home at about 7:00 p.m. and called my upstairs neighbor Laura. She rushed down the stairs with food and questions for you see Laura had a Jewish father and a Catholic mother and she was confused. We went outside and took a short walk around the block (with my leg still in immense pain!) and talked. She asked me as a Christian to answer why today happened. I shared with her that the only difference between the terrorists and myself is that I had God in my heart. We continued to talk about the spiritual nature of the day and it was from that moment to a breakfast the next summer that Laura finally began to allow me to share Jesus with her. She had not yet come to faith when she moved out of our building but she did hear the Gospel and a seed was planted.
The day ended with my niece begging me to come home and my mother still repeating how much she loved me over and over again. Even as the horrible day turned in the horrible week, I still did not deal with my emotions. I probably did not really begin to mourn until I saw my skyline in Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center and then I mourned throughout the entire movie, and pretty loudly!
This is my 9/11 story. I do not have a story of a near death moment or running for my life to avoid the collapsing buildings. I am simply a New Yorker living in Texas who always takes a few moments on every 9/11 to cry a little for my city and the people who are still trying to recover.
I also cry for Laura and the thousands of other Jewish people living in NYC who are longing for eternal and spiritual answers. Who will share with them today what has been true for nearly 2,000 years — Jesus is the Jewish Messiah!