Sunday, September 11, 2016

15 Years Later

Today marks 15 years since the events of September 11, 2001. So much of the world has changed in that time. As I have thought about that day and its impact on me, I cannot help but think about how it will affect me in the future. So I'm writing about both. The images included below, and their captions, were posted on today.

Looking back

On September 11, 2001 I was working the early shift at the BYU Laundry. That morning I had chosen to listen to a CD on my drive to work rather than the radio, so I hadn't heard anything about the attack until my manager came in an hour later and told us a plane had hit one of the towers in New York. I did not grasp the scope of what had happened. I imagined a Cessna had gone off course and hit the building, killing only the passengers in the plane. They turned on the television in the back. I got there in time to see the second tower fall. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks: this is no accident.
The south tower of the World Trade Center begins to collapse following the terrorist attack on the New York landmark Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. The Millenium Hilton hotel is in foreground. (Amy Sancetta, AP Photo)
It was hard to know what to do. What can you do in the face of something so horrific? My mind reeled with questions. The biggest question was "How?" How could someone do something like that? How do we go on? How can the lives of so many mean nothing to the people behind the killing? The shock of it all was intense. My mind had a hard time processing everything.

People hang out of broken windows of the North Tower of the World Trade Center after a terrorist attack in New York on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. (Amy Sancetta, AP Photo) 
Then came the revelation that two more planes had gone down, one into the side of the Pentagon and one into a field in Pennsylvania. I wondered if that was the end of it or if there was more to come. I was relieved to hear that air traffic had been completely shut down. It made me feel a little more secure.

Emergency workers look at the crater created when United Airlines Flight 93 crashed near Shanksville, Pa., on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. (Keith Srakocic, AP Photo)
My job at the laundry was working the front counter and directly interacting with customers. The mood changed during the course of the morning. It started with everyone excitedly asking what we'd each heard and wondering who was behind it. The excitement of something so big and newsworthy faded into solemnity as more details came in and the scope of the attacks became a reality. Nobody smiled. Tears flowed freely and without shame. I cried so much that my manager asked if I needed to go home. I didn't know what else I could do, so I stayed and continued to work. It felt odd to be there or to do anything. It felt inhuman to continue going on about my day as if nothing had happened, but what else was there to do? Hiding from the world would do no good.

One memory of that day stands out to me. A Devotional is held every Tuesday morning at 11 am. The campus shuts down so that all students, staff, and faculty can attend. Traditionally, the first devotional of the school year is given by the university president and his wife. As fortune would have it, September 11, 2001 fell on the day of the first devotional of the school year. After the attacks, the devotional was changed to a prayer meeting. An hour or two before the prayer meeting, the university president came in to pick up his order of shirts. I'll never forget what I saw and felt looking at him. I was impressed that he showed up himself to get his shirts when he had a campus full of scared and grieving college students, as well as faculty and staff. I saw the deep emotions and concern on his face and I wondered, "What can he possibly say? What can he say to all of us to bring us comfort in the face of something so traumatic?" What he said changed me and brought me peace. The abridged transcript of speech delivered at the prayer meeting is here, with the full audio linked to the left of the text. I remember with perfect clarity the power I felt as he said, "You young people hold the power of peace for the world in your hands." When he spoke those words, I knew what I could do. The gospel of Jesus Christ brings peace and I knew it was my time to share it.

The hours, days, and weeks that followed were filled with grief but also with the peace that, in the end, everything will be made right.

Looking at the Now

My current and forever calling in life is being a mother to my children. They were born into a world that has been shaped by the events of 9/11. They will never remember a time before it happened. Every year they see the flags placed in yards and around town and we talk about that day. The first year that my oldest was aware of the flags we talked about what happened. She asked if superheroes came to save the people. I tearfully told her that there were no superheroes that day but that everyday people stepped up and became real heroes. She responded, "But I don't know who they are." That inspired me to learn about the people who gave their lives. These were people who had names, faces, and families. When I think about what happened I wonder if I would have run to safety or run to save others. I hope I never need to find out. As I read the stories of the real heroes, I know I need to teach my children that evil did not win that day. Goodness, kindness, and love won out.
Firefighters unfurl an American flag from the roof of the Pentagon Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2001, as President Bush visits the area of the Pentagon where an airliner, hijacked by terrorists, crashed into the building on Sept. 11. (Ron Edmonds, AP Photo)

Looking Forward

So, 15 years beyond that tragic day, what have I learned? And how do I move forward? The beauty that rose out of the ashes was a spirit of unity and love that I don't remember before and have not seen since. We were all Americans. We were all brothers and sisters united in mourning and joined in determination. Support was expressed worldwide.

Ruzhana Vecherko, 3, puts a candle outside the U.S. Embassy in Minsk, Belarus, Wednesday, Sept 12, 2001. The poster at right reads : Dear American people, we send our condolences and sympathy to you and your country. (Sergei Grits, AP Photo)
That time of unity has sadly passed. We are now in the midst of an extremely divisive presidential election. Social media was created and has expanded to the extent that sharing an opinion with a large group of people is as easy as a few clicks and keystrokes. I see us being encouraged to deepen the divide rather than bridge the gap. The attacks happened because someone was focused on our differences and chose to see them as something to destroy.

Despite the differences we all have, there is more about us that is alike than is different. We want to be happy. We want to be loved. We all have things we hold dear. Most importantly, we are all children of God and that is something that cannot be taken away from us.

Moving forward, I have learned that I need to look for the good in others. It is there. Moving forward, I know that people are individuals and all are worthy of love and patience. Moving forward, I know to look for commonalities and build upon those. Moving forward, I know that understanding another person is the first step to loving them. Moving forward, I know the world can never have too much love.
Annabelle Banievicz, and her son, Oriel Vanega, 7, attend a candlelight vigil Friday, Sept. 14, 2001, at Union Square in New York, not far from the site of Tuesday's terrorist attack against the World Trade Center. (Mark Lennihan, AP Photo)

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