I sat inside my car outside of Kmart. I had much to do–so much of it mundane–but was listening to NPR on the radio. I heard the voices, the accents of my “kinsfolk” from New York sharing about 911. Listen to the words a few brave firefighters. Back on September 11. 2001, 911 leaned into me, really fell on me like the north and south towers of the World Trade Center (WTC). I grieved out of shock for my home, New York in those first few months. Ultimately, I had to turn away because it was too much for me.
This week, the second week of September 2011, I am leaning into 911, feeling my grief, experiencing my grief, looking back, and remembering. It has been more than nine years since I’ve looked at the footage of the two planes hitting the World Trade Center. God continues to heal me as I am now able to directly face the terrible events of 911.
I was living in Los Angeles, so far away from New York, my place of birth, when the city and its people were attacked. I was busy getting ready for work. My mother called me and told me to turn on the TV. Every channel was showing the WTC footage of two planes crashing into the buildings. I dropped down to the floor, my legs crossed watching the explosions over and over again.I tried calling relatives, one in particular who worked a few blocks from the WTC. All lines were busy. Was it possible to be both numb and frantic?
Stunned I moved into auto-pilot going over to Loyola Marymount University to teach a class. LAX, Los Angeles’ International Airport, stood between me and the university. The airport was ringed off, and it was impossible to get there from the highway. Somehow through side streets, I drove under the net. Some of my students actually showed up. We scrapped talking about American Cultures and we mourned together around our conversation. We hugged and departed going to our homes, knowing that tomorrow would be a new different America.
Faithful Central Bible Church, my church at the time, quickly organized an evening service in response to the tragic events. At the service, a few words came from the pulpit and we moved into prayer. A rush of voices went up; the Holy Spirit filled the sanctuary. As I stood still, a sob came from my throat. Three or four women, strangers in a mega-church, surrounded and held onto me. We swayed as one.
Less than a week passed and I had to get on a plane. I was afraid but pushed through. LAX was close to empty. Military held semi-automatic weapon. YES, I was afraid. but I pushed through.
I learned that everyone in my family was safe and a few months later went to New York City for Thanksgiving. I met one of my cousins a few blocks from Ground Zero. My parents arrived a few hours later. My father worked at a bank much of his adult life directly across the street from the south tower. I worked there too remembering running from the subway, my feet hitting the cream tiles, up the stairs, into the sunlight. In sum, I spent ten years working at various companies in midtown and downtown so standing next to the wooden fence with photos and notes at Ground Zero with my parents tore me up. My father and I looked south at the shattered damaged bank draped so familiar to both of us. In that desolate spot, a vast footprint, the spot of the once most recognizable buildings on earth, was God. We stood on holy ground.
Ten years later. 2011. It took me ten years to fully share my first experiences out of 911. And today, I thank God for it. I am in the midst of rememory, a term coined by Toni Morrison in Beloved, to describe reliving a collection of painful repressed memories towards healing.