A week ago today, as I was writing about September 11th and New York City and thanking our firemen, I had absolutely no idea that my husband was planning a surprise.
For months, he and a dear friend had been keeping a secret from their wives. And last Thursday, the four of us headed out for a date night – and went to the airport. They’d arranged childcare, packed our bags, bought tickets …
I know. AMAZING!
Now I’m going to be honest – flying to NYC on September 11th was a tiny bit nervewracking. But I am so grateful that we went exactly when we did. We arrived late that night, but we got up the next morning and headed to the World Trade Center memorial. And y’all … it’s just beautiful. I wish you could have been there with me to see it. But I’m going to do my best to paint a picture for you.
As I visited ground zero, many different emotions rushed over me. Grief. Pride. Shock. Horror. Helplessness. Again and again, helplessness. Even now, thirteen years later, I remember the way so many of us felt that day – desperate to do something. And as I looked at faces and heard final phone calls and read stories, I realized that there is something I can do.
I can remember.
Will you remember with me?
On that tragic day, some lives were lost instantly. Some were lost within seconds or minutes or hours. And some people had a decision to make.
For those trapped in the towers, particularly those above where the plane crashed, death was eminent. The heat and the stifling smoke were quickly overtaking them. Desperate for air, they broke windows – and the oxygen fueled the flames. Instantly the inferno grew even more unbearable. Very quickly they realized that their choice was not just to live or die. They were dying. They just had the choice in how to die.
Given that choice, many decided to do the unthinkable. They chose to fall through the dark clouds of smoke.
That day, there was fire. There was horror and death and hell.
Today, there is water.
It’s quiet. It’s calm. It’s a place where people step carefully and speak quietly. It’s a place for quiet reflection and meditation. It’s a place for remembering.
To those who stepped off of the edge that day …. We remember you.
Inside the memorial museum were countless exhibits. In the nearly four hours I spent there, I didn’t see everything. But there were a few memories of that visit that I’d like to share with you.
Inside of one room, there was a photograph of every person who perished in the 9/11 attack. (I say “every”, but there were actually a few exceptions. There were a few people of whom, even 13 years later, no photo has ever been found. People that, perhaps, had no one left to remember them.)
To those whose photos I saw, and perhaps especially to those who had no one to share a photo of them … We remember you.
There were interactive displays that featured these pictures. You could scroll through, click on a picture, and read a story. And oh, did I read. Story after story after story.
The story of a three-year-old boy who, like my own three-year-old boy, loved Legos.
The story of the man who loved, more than anything, serving those who were in the greatest need.
The story of a volunteer firefighter who, as a teenager, once held up traffic because a mother goose had been run over by a car and he had to get her babies to safety. Even as a young man, he had the instinct to rescue and to save. On 9/11, after the first tower was struck, he was one of the firemen called to help rescue. When traffic was so congested that his truck couldn’t get any closer, he headed on foot to the first tower.
We remember you.
As I stood, fighting tears, I became aware of a couple next to me that was viewing the same profile again and again. I hesitated, but seeing that they didn’t seem to be having a private conversation, I asked, “Excuse me, but I noticed that you’ve been looking at this man’s profile. May I ask if you knew him?”
“Yes. He was my wife’s brother.”
Looking into that woman’s eyes, there were just no words. I hugged her, and together we looked at the picture of her brother. She thanked me and moved on while I stayed behind to read his story. I wrote his name down so I could come home and learn about him. Because that was the moment the enormity of the loss hit me. Each face on the wall was a person who had hopes and dreams and struggles and fears and plans. They were just like me, and they were just like you.
We remember you, Charles Karczewski.
I listened to answering machine recordings of that day, mostly of desperate friends and family members who were hoping and praying that a loved one would pick up the phone. And one message in particular haunted me.
“A plane crashed into World Trade Center 1. We’re fine. We’re in World Trade Center 2.”
Hearing his voice, his last message to his mother … Bradley James Fetchet, we remember you.
The museum was full of remembrances. There was a massive quilt, paying tribute to each and every victim of that day.
There were exhibits made by children, expressing in their own way the shock, horror, and desire to do something that we all felt.
There was this stunning exhibit, forged in iron from some of the remnants of the towers.
There were huge crowds of people speaking in whispers, wiping away tears.
And again, I felt helpless. But as I looked at the people around me, as we remembered together, as we thought of the victims and as we honored the heroes, I felt peace and comfort come into my heart. Because with all of my heart, I love my country. I honor those who gave their lives that day, and as long as I live, I will teach my children the stories of ordinary people who became extraordinary heroes on September 11th, 2001.
As long as I live, I will remember.
Let’s remember the hope.
Let’s remember the heroes.