Silent Skies: Returning to September 11

So much has changed in the twelve years since September 11, 2001. The security lines at airports, where we shuffle forward in stocking feet carrying our plastic bags of three-ounce liquids. Newspaper stories of bombs in shoes and in underwear. Attempts to blow up Times Square, and the actual blowing up of the Boston Marathon. Long wars and the Great Recession.

The world is a different place, and our nation is a different nation, than we were twelve years ago. We don’t even realize all the ways we have changed, how irascible and argumentative we have become as we attempt the impossible task of guaranteeing our safety.

I find it helpful to place myself back in the moment, to remember the sorrow and closeness and patriotism we felt on that day. We were one family, though each of us sought the intimacy of our own family.

And writing about the moment can be cathartic. Here is a piece I wrote a couple of years ago, putting myself back on September 11, 2001:

On the evening of September 11, I watched the news with my teenage children. We said little, because whatever we said would seem trite compared to the video of fire and smoke and debris that rained repeatedly from towers that once had soared. My throat was tight with unexpressed love and fear for my children, and my only comfort was that we were together.

I had been involved in my Midwestern employer’s crisis management efforts throughout the day, from the time the second plane hit and we realized this was a terrorist act, not an accident. My colleagues and I found ways for employees to gather together, helped managers communicate what was known and unknown about the disaster, started finding ways home for people who were stranded on business travel, and consoled friends who couldn’t find loved ones in New York and Washington. Logical actions in a world where logic had fled.

I was drained by the time I got home, only to be confronted with the same terrible images over and over.

The enormity of the tragedy didn’t sink in until I walked my dogs that evening under soundless skies. We live under the flight path of a busy commuter airport, and most nights planes approach to land every few minutes, their engines rumbling above me.

But not that night.

That night even the skies were shocked into silence. With all flights grounded, the neighborhood was still, traumatized, though we were 1500 miles away from the calamity.

Because truly, this calamity hit us all.

I gazed at the stars, twinkling softly. Without any flashing jet lights to compete, I saw a sky more primitive in its beauty than any I had seen in years, evidence of God alone in his glory. And I tried to remember that God would shepherd us through our fears and sorrow.


What has changed for you since September 11—for better or for worse?

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  1. It’s difficult to believe it’s been 12 years since that tragic day. I lived in the Washington D.C. area at the time. I knew people who worked in the Pentagon, as did my father. He worked there his entire career, but thankfully he had retired years prior. He knew people who were killed.

    Since that day, I’ve met two people who worked in the World Trade Center, both lost their co-workers. One man had a dentist appointment the morning of the attack, while the other had a meeting outside of the office. Both suffer with survivor’s guilt and left NYC to escape the painful memories. Still today, if I watch a documentary on 911, I’m transported in time to that day and the pain is still raw.

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