New Yorkers share lessons learned on 9/11: ‘People just wanted to help’
1 Corinthians 16:13, “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.”
9-11-01. I think of the many New York City friends I have made since my daughter’s move there 14 years ago. I asked her to contact some of them who lived in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001. Their thoughts and words of resilience and faith are what follow.
Evan: It started as a day that didn’t seem real or possible. I awoke late, turned on the TV and saw what I thought was a preview of a movie on “Regis and Kathy Lee.” I glanced at the TV and thought, “What stupid movie is this?” Then I started hearing . . . “The towers have been attacked.”
At the same time, both my phones were ringing off the hook, and I had messages on my answering machine: “Where are you?” Above 59th Street, we had phone service. I then started to worry, calling friends and family. As it started to sink in, and I was hearing, “We are under attack,” I started to gather a few things–passport, cash and a quick change of clothes in case I had to flee.
Many that I knew who worked in the Mall in the Towers all got out safely, but it was days before we had that information. As the day progressed, there was a unity and strength that came over the city. People ran to blood banks to donate. But the blood banks didn’t need the blood. These weren’t those types of casualties.
There was an announcement that they needed clothing for the workers–socks, underwear, sweatshirts. They were working around the clock to dig what they could, and it got chilly at night. So clothing supplies it was. You weren’t allowed to go below 14th Street, so they arranged for pickups around the city. People just wanted to help.
There was a calmness on the second day. The disaster wasn’t over; bodies were still missing, but New York City was going to pull through this. People were genuinely nicer to each other. We didn’t know if this was an isolated attack, or if there would be more to come. The constant sound of helicopters was unnerving, but we New Yorkers helped each other. It was a very sad time and a very enlightening time as we saw that when in need, we really are there for each other. It is a “never forget” day . . . NEVER!
Brian: When the towers fell, I was sitting at my desk high above the city street in midtown’s Worldwide Plaza. The world was in chaos all around me as I sat oblivious to the devastation while on a conference call. Family members, in a panic, were unable to reach me.
Shortly after, I was asked to evacuate the building and somehow made my way home in Brooklyn, still in shock. The towers I was once able to see from my living room window, (were) now nothing but a cloud of smoke.
Oddly enough, I wasn’t afraid. One thing I do know is that getting through it is hard to do alone. But despite these lessons, I almost feel unworthy of claiming them. The degree to which I suffered loss is minuscule compared to that of those who ran through the ashes to find safety that day, and even worse, those who lost their loved ones. Those who survived those moments and found a way to persist and hopefully thrive–they are the ones with true resilience.
Kevin: I remember the city that never sleeps coming to a screeching halt. It was like a world of make-believe. We were sucker punched in the stomach and had all the air knocked out of us.
Our first responders were amazing. Still woozy, the city quickly pulled itself together. We did what we had to do. With tears in our eyes, the strong helped the weak. Every year on 9/11, while the names of the deceased are read on television, I cry. This city is amazing. The Memorial is amazing–several beautiful buildings and two square fountains with water cascading down. It’s beautiful. 9/11. A date I will never forget!
Tara: What 9/11 taught me about faith and resilience is that as long as you’re here, anything is possible. Anything can be overcome. Anything can be endured and help us grow. Any dream can come true. Anything can be built back. The privilege of seeing another day is something we forget all too easily. Every moment is an absolute gift, and we should use it to the fullest.
Cheryl Glassman is the Minister of Music at St. Nicholas of Myra Catholic Church in Hays.
Holy Ground: Where there is sin, we can sow holiness
By Rev. Shay Craig
Videos of the terrorist attacks on 9/11 no longer fill me with the rage and terror that I felt in those moments or in the immediate years that followed. Like many Americans, I sought justice, recompense and revenge in those early days.
But my mind has changed in the intervening years. My heart is at rest now because of an experience that reframed the legacy of that moment for me, forever.
In the spring of 2018, I went to the 9/11 Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into the countryside. Flight 93 was one of the four flights hijacked by terrorists on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. It was the only flight that did not reach its intended target. When passengers and crew on the plane learned about the attack on the World Trade Center, they mounted an assault on the hijackers, which resulted in the plane’s crash landing in rural Pennsylvania and taking the lives of everyone on board.
When you go to the memorial, there is a large tower, the “Tower of Voices,” which contains 40 wind chimes–one for each passenger and crew member who died. Inside the memorial we can hear the recorded last words from the victims to their families. They are messages left as voice mails, and they are heart breaking.
We can listen to the contents of the “black box” that recorded what transpired in the last moments before the plane crashed. And there are also memorabilia, things that belonged to the victims, remains of the plane, etc. The final panel is a display of photos of the victims–not their passport photos, but photos of them in their lives, with their kids, water skiing, being human beings.
There are no words to describe how this memorial alters the souls of its visitors. I encourage you to go there and see it.
On the occasion of my visit, I was wearing my clergy collar because I had been to a funeral. The only other people in the building were a large family–grandparents, parents and six children who were all too young to remember the day.
As we rounded the back of the exhibit, we stood in silence looking at those photos, and the mother of the family asked if we could pray. I explained that it was a National Monument, and that while I would pray with them, if we were asked to stop, we would have to do so.
We held hands and sang a bit of “Amazing Grace.” I offered a prayer and asked each person to read a name off the list of the victims of the crash, going around the circle until we had read them all.
“Even the hijackers?” one of the children asked.
“Yes,” I said, “God asks us to pray even for people who hurt us.”
“I don’t want to,” he responded.
“Then just stay silent, and the next person will read that name,”
When the time came to read the names, the person whose job it was to read the hijacker’s name read it as faithfully as any other name on the list.
We closed with the Lord’s Prayer.
Afterward, we walked out to the crash site. At the time of my visit, the memorial was almost, but not quite, finished. It had rained the night before, and water had pooled in the gouge in the land where the plane had augured in. The pool of rainwater formed a slanted and uneven cross on the ground.
The child who had not wanted to read the hijacker’s name asked if this was holy ground. I said I thought it was. When he asked why, his mother responded (and I remember her words, I believe, verbatim):
“Jesus gave His life to save the whole world. He only got one life, and he gave it up willingly for us. The people who fought back against the hijackers here gave their lives so the hijackers could not hurt anyone else. Anywhere that a holy act like that happens is holy ground.”
And, to my astonishment, every one of those children and their parents took off their shoes. Just as in Exodus 3:5, “God said, “Do not approach any closer! Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”
The earth that had been gouged by anger and fear and tragedy on Sept. 11 had become Holy Ground. Where there was fear in the hearts of the passengers, there is a peace so present that it inspires prayer. Where there was hatred in the hearts of the people on the plane, there is admiration and love for the heroes of that flight.
Violence is in the world, and we can’t seem to get rid of it. But we can respond to it with love. Sin is present, but in its wake we can sow holiness. On that day, some people sought to leave a scar on the United States. But in fact, with God’s help, we have just made a little more Holy Ground instead.
The Rev. Shay Craig is the Vicar of St. Michael’s and St Andrew’s Episcopal Churches in Hays.
Memories of 9/11/01; I know where I was
By Becky Rogowski
Twenty years. A milestone anniversary of a tragic day in American history.
Even if it weren’t a milestone, I would still be able to tell you exactly how long it’s been. I was pregnant with my second daughter at the time. For the most part, “the Class of 2020”– you know, the ones who lost their senior year and their graduation to the COVID-19 pandemic – are also the babies who arrived just after the tragedy.
I will never forget the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. I was living in Manhattan, Kansas. My then-husband was a soldier stationed at Fort Riley. My oldest daughter was in the second grade. Our plans included dropping Samantha off at school and then going to my doctor’s appointment for our first ultrasound of the new baby.
We had the radio playing in the background, as we typically did, but my husband and I were also discussing something. Samantha suddenly and shockingly said to us, “A plane just flew into a building?”
I told her she must have misheard something because planes don’t fly into buildings. This gave enough break in the conversation to realize it was a breaking news report. We assured her that something must have gone terribly wrong and to say a prayer for those involved. A kiss goodbye, and she was off for a typical fun day of second grade.
By the time we were a few blocks from the school, listening intently to the radio, we heard that a second plane had hit the other half of the World Trade Center. I remember pulling the car over, and my husband saying that something was horribly wrong and that our lives were about to change. Little did I know. I had married into the military life just months before – the world was at peace, deployments were rare (and short–and safe).
We sat and listened to the events unfold in the hour leading up to my appointment. I remember I couldn’t stop shaking. I was so scared because of how uncertain and unknown things were. I didn’t know what was going on, but I knew it was bad.
Manhattan is an incredibly diverse town, and when we got to the doctor’s office I remember the looks of fear and uncertainty on all the faces we saw. I remember a Muslim family who was sitting near us, and she caught my eye and mouthed, “I’m sorry.”
The only thing I could come up with at that point was, “Me too.” I wanted to hug this stranger even though I’m not a “hugger.” I wanted to engage in conversation with all of the people in the room, even though I’m not a typically outgoing person. I wanted someone to reassure me that things were still normal and that everything was going to be OK. Deep down, I knew it wasn’t. Here I was, about to bring another child into the world, and what was happening to this world? I was sure I didn’t know.
The hours leading up to lunchtime found us watching it all unfold on TV. We were fixed to it. I was hoping that my second grader was oblivious to the events and enjoying her day at school. Just after lunch, my husband received a call (on his day off) to “report immediately to base” and to “expect delays at the security check.” Security check usually just meant showing them your government ID and passing through the gate. My husband indicated he “knew” what was about to happen. But, to some degree, he was uncertain. He went to work, and I left for my job as a home-based infant/toddler teacher in rural Riley County. I was hopeful that spending the day with the sweet families I served would bring some normalcy back to my day.
I was wrong.
I vividly remember that families just wanted to talk and continue watching coverage. Many of the families also had military ties, and all military personnel had been called to base. ALL. Completely unheard of.
I remember the difficulty in traveling the rural Riley County roads that day. The base had shut down access to everything but just the main gate, and the traffic jams were insane. Everyone was so uncertain. Things were beyond “not normal,” but the thing that struck me was everyone’s kindness and how united everyone suddenly became.
We suddenly all had one thing in common–we were Americans, and we were certainly proud of it. We were united under God, as well, and nobody was afraid to admit it. People were flying their flags. Patriotic music was being played like it was the 4th of July.
I wasn’t able to get to my daughter’s school by dismissal time because of the traffic. I was not 10-15 minutes late. This was along the lines of being two hours late. I remember calling the school and how badly I felt about the situation. I just wanted to reunite with her after such a horrible day.
The secretary informed me the school was on lockdown and that most all of the parents were struggling to arrive. The teachers were all planning to stay until all the students were reunited safely with their families. The children were playing games and had little idea what things were going on outside their school walls. The secretary told me I would have to park two blocks from the school and be checked by police before being allowed to walk the rest of the way to the school building. I was shaken to the core that they feared for these schools being so close to a major military base. I wanted to get my daughter and to return home to our “normal.” It was a happy reunion. Her innocent focus was on how close it was to dinnertime, where was “daddy” and “did you see the baby today?”
We flew our flags. We sang patriotic songs. And that night we sat in the church pews with our church family in the midst of great uncertainty. Prayers were shared for the soldiers and their families. The sense of impending doom was so real. It didn’t take long before we experienced our first deployment. Our church family was so supportive and wrapped their arms of love around us. Manhattan and Fort Riley were also incredibly supportive.
Everything about life as we had known it changed in the blink of an eye. We had taken our rights and freedoms for granted. We were not as safe as we had been led to believe. I had to accept that the world I grew up in was not the world I would continue to bring my girls up in.
This was a tough reality to accept, but it was ours. I will never forget that September day “when the world stopped turning.” I don’t want to forget. It’s too important to forget as just a tragic memory.
Becky Rogowski is the Generations in Faith Coordinator at First Presbyterian Church in Hays.
We have responded so differently to 9/11 and COVID
By Brandon Nimz
In some ways, the happenings on Sept. 11, 2001, affected many in the United States in the same fashion that COVID did during its first few months here. Something large that left us uncertain and with many questions it caused us to stop the daily rhythm and refocus. Some people quickly reached out to those they loved. Others empathized with those suffering and sought to help. Still others analyzed and tried desperately to understand all of the information surrounding the event, while others reacted in anger.
One of the most striking differences in the U.S. immediately after Sept. 11 was that many people commented on feeling united with one another. The presence of an obvious “other” left us focusing on ourselves as an “us.” Political parties, culture wars and other things that could divide paled and dropped out of focus as things that unified us came into focus. Some of these unifying factors included important Christian virtues—compassion and care for those suffering, a desire for answers (knowledge and truth) and a desire to protect others and prevent such ills from happening again.
Other things that drew us together may have been more worldly or nationalistic in nature. Nonetheless, regardless of the cause, an underlying focus on unity and collective action was definitely present immediately following Sept. 11 (quite unlike what occurred after the first bouts of COVID). This idea of unity on an even broader scale –with all other humans, both friends and enemies—is something that we as believers are still called to live under today. In fact, in this era in the United States when polarization and tribalism are celebrated, the call of Romans 12 to “be not conformed to the patterns of this world” is increasingly important and challenging to execute.
When it comes to a Biblical call to look at all people as an “us” — regardless of political beliefs, moral perspectives, and general worldview — we first see the idea that we are to love all others immediately in the New Testament. Jesus said the greatest commands were to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
When asked about who our neighbor was, Jesus told a story of someone from an ostracized group who reached out across cultural, racial and social boundaries to help a stranger. Not only this, but Jesus directly tells us to love even our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
Beyond telling us to act this way, Jesus also frequently demonstrated reaching across boundaries to love and care for the person in front of him. He touched untouchable lepers, he taught and spoke with women and men alike, he interacted with races and ethnicities that the Jews of the day considered inferior and he was accused of hanging out with drunks and sinners because he did interact with them regularly despite that being socially unacceptable.
The Bible is clear that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and that this “all” includes “us.” It is also clear that Jesus came and died to save “us.” The whole New Testament abounds with this idea of “us” and of love crossing over sin and other boundaries that separate. Yet how well do we as followers of Christ model this love and unity?
When the United States was attacked on Sept. 11, a largely secular and worldly nation managed to cross political and social divides to come together and do things in a relatively united fashion, and this occurrence was noted by the world.
Are we as Christians, who are commanded to love across divides, currently crossing social and political boundaries to care for those whom we actively disagree with? Is our love to all notable and visible enough that it stands out and causes others to see our unity in Christ?
Keeping in mind that Jesus crossed so many barriers to love even those who crucified him and who would never believe in him or agree with him, I pray that in my life and in the lives of believers that Christ helps us to “give up our lives to gain true life.” I pray that the Holy Spirit continues to refine us as we “become more and more like Christ, who is the Head of His body, the Church.”
Brandon Nimz is the Director of Unite Ministry in Hays.