Six months ago, I took the photo above, from the observation deck of One World Trade Center. Two of my girls and I were visiting for what we considered a “trip of a lifetime”, but at the moment I snapped this picture, I had stepped out of myself into a very lonely world.
Five of my seven children were born after September 11, 2001, and while the girls had just been immersed for the first time in a historical event at the 9/11 Museum, I had been brought back to that day and all of the emotions I felt watching it unfold like most Americans did–helplessly, on a screen hundreds of miles away. In that museum, I was transported back in time and placed right in the middle of a reality I’d never imagined myself in. My senses were overwhelmed and I couldn’t do anything but absorb it all. It has taken me a long time to process what I felt.
The photo above was different, though, because the emotions I felt were in real time, not in solemn remembrance. At the moment the shutter clicked, my eye caught sight of a tiny blip in the distance. An airplane, just above the height of the skyline but what felt to me like eye level, on approach to one of the airports that services New York City. I froze as I realized that this would have been the very spot where someone stood, just beginning their work day on that peaceful Tuesday morning. It’s in the picture, but if you don’t know exactly where to look and you’re not squinting just right, you can’t see it.
I dropped my camera to my chest, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of the airplane. For a minute, I was no longer in a room full of people looking out windows at the busy city below, but rather I was alone–just me and that airplane. The hairs on my neck bristled as I wondered if anyone else saw it. And then came the realization that no one else was even looking. I wondered how long it would take me and the girls to get to the elevator, should anything happen. I wondered if anything could stop another hijacked airplane. I looked down at the reflecting pools below us, with all those names etched into them. They looked so small.
I’ve been to mountain ranges that made me marvel at the power it took to form the massive peaks that towered over me. I’ve visited waterfalls that thundered loud enough to drown out all but the loudest sounds. I’ve been in oceans so clear and full of vibrant color that I could never doubt the artistry of their Creator. Yet it was at the top of the tallest building in Manhattan that I truly realized what it meant to be vulnerable to the evil that man creates.
It is so very cliche, but visiting New York City changed me. It altered my perspective in a way I hadn’t thought necessary. I knew it would affect me, but I never thought I’d come down from that tower and see people differently. It truly was my own personal Ground Zero. And I will be forever grateful to God that He used this experience to wake me up.
Forever etched in my mind, as I’m sure is the case with many Americans who watched the events of 9/11 unfold on our TV screens, is the visual picture of New Yorkers wandering the streets covered in dust and ash. It’s haunting. Most weren’t sure where they were going, what they needed to do, or how they would survive. The gray-brown filth covered everything, obscuring landmarks and identifying features of both buildings and people . Apart from physical size and general features, there was little to tell one person from another. Everyone was equalized by the cloud that choked out the light and the clean air that they needed so desperately.
We may have cleaned up the streets, we may have rebuilt buildings, but the human race is still a mess. We’re still wandering all over, trying to find our way while being suffocated by the pain and suffering caused by all sorts of evil in this world. We still wound each other with selfishness and hatred. We still try and fight our way to the top, ignoring and even stepping on the ones who need our help along the way. We hoard the Light of the Gospel within our safe little churches and hide from those we have decided are too “dirty” to offer hope to. We still think our towers of greatness are going to keep us safe.
May God forgive us for our blindness! We have to do better. We have forgotten our mission. We have grown comfortable and complacent here. We have forgotten in whom our hope lies.