Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 In Memoriam

On December 7, 1941, Franklin Delano Roosevelt uttered words that have become part of the fabric of American history. Pearl Harbor had just been bombed, and in his speech FDR stated that "this is a date that will live in infamy." He couldn't have imagined at that time that there would be another date to join his, a date that also lives in infamy--9/11.

On that fateful date I was teaching on the Staten Island campus of St. John's University. The campus sits atop Grymes Hill, with a clear view of the harbor and of lower Manhattan. A student came running into the classroom I was in, screaming in horror, and we poured out onto the campus in time to view the second plane crashing into the World Trade Center. None of us could fully take in what we had just seen, but on every face there was a terrified look. The first reaction was that a commercial plane had somehow gotten off course and crashed into the towers. But as news began to filter in to phones the truth came out: this was the second plane to hit the towers, and two planes was not an accident but an attack.

I remember being torn between needing/wanting to find out about my children working in Manhattan, about friends and other family in the Trade Center area, and needing to get my students safely on their way home. I watched as students from off the Island were gathered up by those from the Island, offering a haven until it could be determined just what had happened and what was happening. I made it home in record time and then began the frustrating time of trying to contact those in Manhattan. Eventually all family members would be accounted for but the tears refused to stop as the news filtered in about what had happened that day. So many lives lost that day, so many people who may have lived through the experience but who would never be the same again. So much pain and so much sorrow.

There was a flash in my memory of another day, another school, another time that the country would cry out in horror. I was in high school when the Principal's voice suddenly came over the PA system, instructing us to quickly and quietly pack our books and go home: our country had suffered a tragedy in that President Kennedy had been assassinated. Everywhere on the walk home you saw people in shock with tears streaming. And on 9/11, dozens of years later, assassins would once again come to our shores, and the tears would stream once again.

A few years after the attacks on 9/11, a survivor of the World Trade Center attack would answer, when asked what those trying to escape were doing, "There are no atheists in foxholes. We were all praying like crazy." I know he was right because that's what a whole lot of us who weren't at the site were doing as well. To Whom else but God could we possibly turn when faced with a tragedy of this magnitude?

As we go through the day today it would be appropriate to think of those whose lives were taken, who were murdered for no other reason than they were Americans. And I hope that our resolve, and the resolve of our leaders, will be hardened so that such a tragedy does not come to us again. And yes, it would be a good time for prayers to God, for asking that He guide us in our thoughts and actions so that such bloodshed should not happen again.

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