This Week in History

Posted on September 11, 2010, the 9th Anniversary of the attacks. This is the text of an email I sent to all my contacts the week of the attacks.

September 14, 2001

Some of you've I've already corresponded with, or spoken with, this week. Most of you I have not.

I was not in New York City at the time of the attacks. Monday, September 10, John and I went on the road for a week-long vacation we've been planning for months. As I write this on Friday, we're still on the road, visiting John's mother for two nights. On Sunday, John has two preaching gigs in the area before we return to the City.

Monday we drove to Mohonk Mountain House, a grand and rustic retreat in the Shawangunk Mountains outside of New Paltz. None of the rooms have televisions. Our room had a wood-burning fireplace. Our balcony looked over Mohonk Lake to the surrounding cliffs and mountains. Mostly I said "Wow" a lot.

Across the lake from the lodge a peak, called Sky Top, rises several hundred feet above the lake. On Sky Top is a stone observation tower which looks over the lake, the lodge, and the surrounding cliffs and mountains. Tuesday morning John and I hiked to the peak and climbed to the top of the tower. On the way to the trailhead I overheard one woman saying to another something about a plane being hijacked. I didn't think anything about it at the time. John and I were joyful to be together in such a beautiful setting. We were at peace with each other, and surrounded by nature.

As we climbed down the stairs inside the tower I was singing, "I love to go a-wandering ..." As we turned the third flight of stairs down, we met an old man climbing up. I joked to him "Don't mind me." He looked up at us. His eyes were welled with tears. He said to us "Did you hear what happened?" That's how John and I first learned that both towers of the World Trade Center had been struck by hijacked planes.

By the time we got back to the lodge, the staff had setup several televisions in public rooms. None of these went unattended before we left on Wednesday. Most of the afternoon and evening activities at Mohonk were cancelled. The evening's scheduled film, "Deep Impact," in which the world is struck by an asteroid, destroying the eastern seaboard cities of the United States, was replaced by "City Slickers." By sundown, the flag flying over Mohonk Mountain House's highest tower was at half-mast.

Sometime Tuesday morning the initial denial had broken and I was able to watch one of the large-screen videos setup in one of the rooms. As I watched for the first of many times the South Tower explode and crumble. I was able to send off two e-mails Tuesday afternoon before I was no longer able to get an outside line. I sent one to my family to let them know I was okay. I sent another to my colleagues at work to let them know I was thinking of them. It was surreal to be among all that natural beauty and have the images of destruction flashing through my mind, trying to wrap my mind around two seemingly discordant realities at once.

The week has continued to unfold in slow motion. Driving along the local roads of upstate New York, the reminders are constant. U.S. flags are everywhere, on buildings, along the road, on car antennas, and at half-mast on flagpoles. In Wappingers Falls, yellow ribbons have joined the flags. The commercial street-side signs of replaceable letters have been converted to expressions of national pride and pleas for prayer. In front of firehouses, fire-fighting gear have been set out to commemorate the firefighters lost in the towers' collapse. Churches stand with their doors wide, with signs explaining they are open for prayer.

My first waking thought each morning has been of the images of the fireballs and the progressive collapse of the towers. The buildings where I work are just two and three blocks from ground zero. Until a few hours ago, when I was able to get my e-mail and make some phone calls, I didn't know if the people I work with were okay or not. I don't yet know if I will be going to work on Monday morning, and if so, how I will get there. I'm concerned about the impact of the asbestos-laden fallout blowing across Brooklyn and Queens, and possibly my neighborhood, my home, my garden.

Like an earthquake, the initial shocks have affected each of us differently, and to different degrees. The aftershocks will continue for months. The effects will ripple out for decades. If I believed there was anyone to listen, let alone, answer, I would pray that each of us gets whatever we need to come through healthy and whole. I would pray that, individually and collectively, we respond to this violence with compassion, wisdom, courage and strength.