My 911 Story

Do you recall where you were on September 11, 2001? If you were alive in America, you do. I was in the headquarters of one of the largest federal agencies, outside of Washington. From upstate New York, I was on a six month assignment to develop internet policies for the agency.

I remember Greg, the deputy director of the agency’s litigation staff and another upstate New Yorker, telling me that a plane had hit the World Trade Center tower. It had just happened and at that time we assumed it to be a tragic accident. In the 1930’s, a plane hit the Empire State building. We thought history was repeating itself.

I immediately called my wife who was at work in her office in New York. She was astounded to hear of the crash and quickly told her coworkers about it. I returned to the meeting room where the TV was on and rejoined Greg to watch the news. A few minutes later the second plane hit.

We were mesmerized. It felt like an out of body experience as we stood there dumbfounded by what was unfolding. Later, friends who worked in the New York headquarters of my agency told stories of having to walk the length of Manhattan to the George Washington Bridge and walk over the Hudson River to New Jersey because the subways were closed. Driving was impossible with everyone trying to get off the island. The planes flew low over the city as they wended their deadly course toward the towers. One friend from the Manhattan office was so disturbed by the catastrophe that he was convinced that one of the planes flew by his window and he could see the panicked faces of the passengers as they were hurtling toward their deaths.

As Greg and I watched the horror unfold, word came out that the Pentagon was hit. Was this a concerted effort to bring down the government? If it was, I was in the office complex of a prime target. I tried to call my wife to tell her I was safe for the moment but the phone lines were down.

Back home, I had two children in high school. Not knowing how extensive the threat was, the school sheltered the students in place. There was no going from class to class. Everyone stayed in their home room while the school administrators decided what to do.

After about two hours, I was finally able to get through to my wife to tell her that I was safe. Knowing that my children would be worried about me because I was in a government office in the DC area, she called the school and asked them to tell my girls that I was okay. My daughter later told me that the principal came into her classroom. We heard from your mother and your father is safe, he said. Then he turned to one of her classmates. Come with me, he said.

Captain Frank Callahan left a wife and four children. He was 51 years old. For years his dog tags were draped around the votive candles in our local church.

At mid-day the president finally ordered the closing of all federal offices in the Washington area. I drove back to my apartment and sat down, looking out the window. The sky was silent now. The planes had been grounded. There was no traffic coming or going into BWI that I could normally see out my window.

I felt empty and lost. I picked up my Bible and turned to God. I am going to randomly open the Bible; please God, I said, give me something to help me. I reverently opened the book. My eyes came to light on the second half of the 17th Psalm that was continued over from the previous page. It read:

Guard me as the pupil of an eye, shelter me in the shadow of your wings

9 from the presence of the wicked who would maltreat me; deadly enemies are closing in on me.

10 Engrossed in themselves they are mouthing arrogant words.

11 They are advancing against me, now they are closing in, watching for the chance to hurl me to the ground,

12 like a lion preparing to pounce, like a young lion crouching in ambush.

 “Watching for the chance to hurl me to the ground.” isn’t that exactly what these bastards just did to us? Then I read the rest of the verse.

13 Arise, Yahweh, confront him and bring him down, with your sword save my life from the wicked,

14 Yahweh, from mortals, by your hand, from mortals whose part in life is in this world. You fill their bellies from your store, their children will have all they desire, and leave their surplus to their children.

 The Psalm seemed to be saying that these murderers and their followers will be strong for years to come. What would happen to us? Then I read the final verse.

 15 But I in my uprightness will see your face, and when I awake I shall be filled with the vision of you.

 And I had peace.

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