I stopped at the Chevron, to get what I don't recall, and by the time I got back in my car, the second plane had hit the other tower. An accident was no longer a plausible explanation. By the time I got to work, the Pentagon had been hit. There was concern about a fourth plane -- United 93 -- that could not be accounted for.
For me, the first several hours of September 11, 2001 are an auditory memory -- I did not see any of the footage until late that afternoon. There were things for me to do at work, but I was by myself, nearly the entire day, for which I am grateful. I needed the time to think my own thoughts, and to wrap my mind around the enormity of the unfolding situation. Before I left work that day, all flights over United States air space had been grounded. It was something that I had never given thought to -- the number of planes in the air, at any given time of the day, and to know that there were none anywhere caused the sky to look so big. So empty. That emptiness felt appropriate that day. I now work within the path of airplanes landing at the airport, and every day, as I see them fly over -- sometimes so fast and low -- I think about the planes of September 11, 2001.
That night we sat in front of our television, watching the replay of events, and listening as the stories of heartache and loss flooded in. Before I knew it, it was dark outside and all of our windows were open, and our two young children were asleep on the floor. It was nearly 11:00 pm. I did not know what to do. It felt wrong to turn off the television and go to bed. It was not morbid fascination, it was sympathetic heartache. How can you turn away, when so many are in need of so much? Yet all we could do was to share their sorrow, and their dwindling hope...
I think about a quote from former mayor of New York, Rudy Guilianni: "We have met the worst of humanity, with the best of humanity."
It is amazing to me that the darkest day of our nation's history, was also it's finest hour. When it all falls away -- the politics, the left, the right, the 300 million different opinions, the chaos of democracy -- there is more that unites us than divides us. There were so many good stories -- of friendship and heroism and charity -- that showed the true character of our country, that in a strange way, I am grateful for having gone through the experience.
The most remarkable story, in an ocean of heart stopping stories, for me, is the story of United Flight 93. We now know that they got news of the crashes in New York and Washington D.C., and knew that they were destined for another high profile target -- likely the White House or the Capitol. The forty people aboard that hijacked plane decided to take destiny into their own hands, while they still could. Knowing that they would likely die in the attempt, they phoned loved ones, said goodbye, and rushed the cockpit. The plane went down in a field near Shanksville Pennsylvania. Killing all aboard. And no one else.
The men who hijacked the plane, no doubt considered themselves brave. They saw themselves as heroes. They were not. Murdering thousands of innocent people is not heroism, it is butchery. Terrorism is a cowardly way to make a point. The passengers aboard that plane met hatred with love -- the greatest kind of love -- the kind where you lay down your life for a friend. Those people left this life on their terms, and not that of their captors, and I believe they were greeted by their Savior with open arms. It was a Christlike sacrifice.
So how do you make a story like that even more heroic? I learned, just today, that the passengers waited until the plane was no longer over any residential areas, so that no additional lives would be lost when the plane went down. Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friend. And his nation.