Just like many others, I clearly remember that day as if it were yesterday. I was driving to work when I heard the news on the radio that a plane had flown into one of the towers of the World Trade Center in New York. And just like many others, at first I thought the plane was a small plane, perhaps a Cessna with an inexperienced or confused pilot. That misunderstanding was quickly corrected by the time I reached my office.
At the time my office was located in Fairfax, Va. just outside the Beltway (that’s Northern Virginia-speak for “just outside of D.C.”). We remained glued to the television as we watched a horrific nightmare unfold before our very eyes. I remember feeling so much pain and sorrow bursting into tears at the sight of watching the first tower collapse.
All those people! Those poor people!
When the second tower collapsed, my co-workers and I screamed in shock at the brutal finality of it. The World Trade Center was no more. It was gone. It had been reduced to a pile of unrecognizable debris. And within that pile we knew were thousands upon thousands of people. The silence within our office was deafening.
Then, all Hell broke loose as we began to hear that the Pentagon had also “been attacked.” Watching the chaos unfold on TV in another state was bad enough, but to know that whatever was happening was also happening in our own backyard was just too much. We all understood that we had to get home to our families ASAP. The need to know our loved ones were safe and to keep them safe was overwhelming.
As I think back to that horrible day 12 years ago, it also reminds me of another terrible attack we endured just one year later. In October 2002 two deranged men launched a series of coordinated attacks by shooting and killing random people all around the Washington, DC metro area and along Interstate 95. The incident became known as the DC Sniper shootings.
It felt as if our world had gone insane. We were still licking our wounds from the 9/11 attacks when we were faced with yet another crisis. For the next several weeks, these men hunted and hurt not only other men, but also women as well as children (yes, children) throughout our area. Within just 3 weeks, 10 people had been killed and 3 had been injured.
If you want to know what true helplessness feels like, imagine quickly shoving the gas pump into your car and walking quickly back and forth around the car, or hiding in your car, or running into the gas station itself for shelter because you’re afraid of being the next victim.
If you want to know what true terror feels like, imagine running into your child’s daycare or school to make sure all of the blinds are closed and to make sure that they don’t go outside for recess because these hunters notified the authorities that our children were next.
If you want to know what true anger feels like, imagine sitting in traffic on the highway for hours, yet again, because another life had been claimed by the DC Sniper. And as you sit there, you can’t help but to wonder, is it someone I know? Is it someone I love?
If you want to know what true speechlessness feels like, imagine having your 5-year-old son or daughter ask you why these bad men are doing these things and when can we go outside and play again. Just imagine. I don’t have to because this really happened to me. I had been in the communication field for 10 years by that time and I still didn't know what to say, but I did know that at some point, it would get better. So that became my focus. Regardless of the current situation, we must always look forward, knowing it will get better.
As we reflect on 9/11 and think about all of the pain and suffering that is happening in the world around us, we must also remember that we got through it. As a nation, we got through it. I know at times it feels like it’s the end of the world and that the world is falling apart, but it is not the end. Times are hard, there’s no doubt about that. But what makes us humans so amazing is that the vast majority of us don’t take it lying down. We don’t allow the darkness to overshadow our everyday lives. That shadow may shroud our vision with a darkness momentarily, but we have to remember that it’s for the moment. It’s in our nature to dig in and to dig through. And when we keep digging, we will eventually get to the light.
I think Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said it best in his “Been to the Mountaintop” speech. This sums it up quite nicely I think. Perhaps this will bring the silver lining to you too.
“Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, ‘If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the 20th century, I will be happy.’ Now that's a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around. That's a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.”