I was getting some coffee. That's how it started.
I walked down into the lounge at work and saw my boss staring at the TV screen. "Plane hit one of the twin towers." he said, sipping his own coffee. I looked up at the TV screen and saw smoke coming from the building, news banners scrolling across the bottom of the screen. A commuter plane, they were calling it. Or maybe it was one of those sightseeing planes that used to fly all around Manhattan. Someone got too close to the tower, maybe got caught in the crazy winds at the end of the island. We're checking with the FAA. Go about your business.
I was still watching when something flashed across the screen, and part of the other building exploded. "What the hell was that?" I asked.
"News chopper." my boss opined. "Got too close, maybe." That was just before the world changed forever.
That was a bad day.
I live 54 miles from Ground Zero. I've worked in Manhattan. I've lived in Manhattan. Where we are, New York is "the city." September 11, 2001 was personal. We all knew people. I called my wife. She was already watching. I spent the day frantically trying to call people I knew - friends, relatives, coworkers, customers.
We gathered in the church that night. We didnt' even know why - there was no where else to go. For a while, we sat and stared at one another in shock and disbelief. Then we started praying. I don't remember how long we were there, how late into the night we prayed. The whole rest of the week was a blur. I finally started to get a hold of people. One friend who worked in a midtown hotel told me of people just walking up Lexington Avenue, that insipid white dust all over them, like the walking dead, blank stares on their faces. Another told me he was in the building across the street. They were on the roof watching the fires when the first tower went down. His pictures were incredible.
In the months and years following the attacks, the city picked itself up from the ashes. I've been to Ground Zero several times. It's amazing. I'd been up in those buildings many times. To not see them there - that took some time to get used to.
It would be ten days before New York would begin to heal. The process is still going on. Several months ago, our church held an all-night prayer service. I was scheduled to lead the 2AM hour. I had decided to do some worship before going back into prayer. I sat down and pulled up a stool in front of the altar, acoustic in hand. As I looked over the tired-looking dozen or so people, for some reason I was reminded of that night. I discarded the song I was going to start with, and started telling them the story behind "Blessed Be Your Name." As we started singing that song, I knew the healing was still going on.
I used to question how people could still be affected by Pearl Harbor so long after it happened. Now I know.