Saturday, September 11, 2010

9/11: This is a Special Place


In the summer of 2006 Jeannette was 5 ½ months pregnant with our first.  We hadn’t taken a real vacation in a few years, so we decided to have a nice last fling before the two of us became the three of us. There was no need for negotiations on where we would go, we were in complete agreement within seconds: New York City.

This was the best vacation of my life!  Most of our time was spent in Manhattan; we didn’t venture into the other boroughs much except a little into Brooklyn. From our hotel in Greenwich Village, every day my pregnant wife & I ventured out to take in the second greatest city in the world (Sorry New Yorkers, Chicago rules). Though we regularly pick fun at tourists in Chi-town, always looking up while they walk slow and spin around to see things, we totally played the same part while we were in NY.

Our first two days were spent mainly in Midtown. Doing our own head-up slow spin through Times Square, we tried to imagine what it would be like watching the ball drop on New Year’s Eve.  Around 5th Ave we walked into some beautiful churches and incredibly overpriced stores.  Being an Apprentice fan at the time, I wanted to walk through the lobby where the fired would exit, and while we were there the Donald walked through, complete with comb over and smug sourpuss look on his face.  From Central Park we could see the Dakota, where Lennon was shot, and from a ferry ride to Staten Island we were in awe of the torch holding beauty.

For the third day we connected with our friend James, a veteran New Yorker, so he could take us on what he called, “a narrative walk.”  The narrative began in Greenwich Village and progressed to Lower Manhattan so he could take us through what he experienced on 9/11.

James started our journey with, “My old apartment is right over there.  I’d come to this corner and start heading to the subway to get to work, but I could always see the towers from this spot.” 

James worked in a building adjacent to the towers.  With emotion and vividness, he recalled sitting at his desk and feeling the first plane hit.  Speechless and in shock, he and his coworkers were watching the live CNN feed when the second plane hit, seeing on the screen what in the same second caused their floor to tremble.  Everyone in the building was moved to the basement, to a workout gym.  With wet towels from the gym to cover their faces, they were eventually evacuated and led to safety. 

This entire account he explained as we walked through the Financial District.  We were in front of his old building when he described the planes hitting and we walked the same evacuation route he took as he explained that the ash they walked through was like a heavy gray snow from a Midwest winter. 

We then went to Ground Zero. 

It would probably be a safe assumption that I am not the first person unable to really articulate what it is like to experience walking around an empty space that shouldn’t be.  But try to conjure up in your mind what it would be like to walk that same space while being next to someone who survived it, someone who by their own account knows they very well could not have. 

New York is a very busy city.  Ground Zero is a very quiet place.  People walked around the site in respectful silence and deep ponderings.  Even the construction noise going on seemed muted.  Around Ground Zero is a line of sign posts that stand sentry to those who walk by:



This is a special place.

This is a special place: honor it, respect it, and protect it.

Whenever I remember those signs, “This is a Special Place,” I try to think of how James might take them.  He was in a building next to the towers and walked through ash to get to safety – and it’s a special place? 

A place where your sense of security and hope is attacked and even stripped away is…special? 
A place where almost 3,000 needlessly died, many of them your co-workers & friends, is…special? 
A place where spouses vanished, a parent gone is…special? 

But let’s personalize this a little. 

Nothing I have experienced in my life can be equated with 9/11.  That’s true for almost all of us.  So I am not trying to be irreverent by saying that we all have such places in our lives where a sign stands, “This is a special place.” 

Everyone has a place, a moment, an experience where they were forever changed because of the painful reality of life, be it brought on by one’s own choices or the choices of others.  Those places where we were shattered: 

Where the bully pushed.
Where the spouse left. 
Where the parent abused. 
Where the pastor failed. 
Where the job was lost.
Where the bad decision was made. 
Where the regret happened. 
Where the promise was broken.

Most people avoid those places.  They are not considered special, they are hidden or buried or denied.  They are remembered with bitterness and walked away from with regret, never wanting to again be visited. 

Though these responses might seem less painful than returning, how can they be? These reactions are a denial of what has occurred and an avoidance of the impact.  Devastating as the locales are, they are all indeed special places, and they should be maintained as such. They should be visited.

I am not suggesting that we relive the past merely to torture ourselves with the painful memories, nor am I suggesting wallowing in self-pity.  It would be dishonorable to equate special with cheerful.  Such a place is not special because it is endearing.  This distinction must be grasped.

But that painful place is indeed a special place.

It is a special place because it causes us to look back and honor what was.
It is a special place because it forces us to gratefully consider the present.
It is a special place because it grants us opportunity to look forward with hope. 

We maintain those places as special because we are now living within the tomorrow that we thought would never come, and by God’s grace there is another tomorrow ahead.

We maintain those places as special not so we can live in them, but so that we can, from time to time, visit them: to remember, to cry, to cherish, to evaluate, to dream, and to hope.

9/11 was a horrible day. 

For better or for worse, things will never be the same. 

Every New Yorker who visits lower Manhattan today and walks to Ground Zero will see what was.  With joy and with sorrow, each of them will remember their loved ones.  There will be tears.  There will be quiet.  

Every New Yorker will also see what is and what will be.  The space is not entirely empty now.  Mayor Bloomberg of NY gave an update this week on the progress of rebuilding the World Trade Towers site.  Foundation has been laid and floors are rising.

And in their midst, around the perimeter, they will see the blue sentries declaring to outsiders, “This is a special place,” and they more than anyone know what that means. 

The places in our past that seem far from special are fertile soil, and God is ready to rebuild.  He can restore what is horrific; He can use our sweat, blood, and tears to paint a thing of beauty.

This is a special place.

Return there. 

Honor what was.  Gratefully see what is.  Have hope for what will be.

9/11 was a horrible day.

Today is new. 


“But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?   As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” Gen 50:19-20a


This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it - Psalm 118:24


3 comments:

amy said...

Good thoughts... Thanks for putting it out there...

mcbrownie220 said...

Thanks Bobby for sharing... lots to think about...

Roger, Roger said...

Every time I think of ways to express how I feel about that day and all that entangles it, I run into a brick wall. This succinctly says what's on everyone's mind and describes what's on everyone's heart. Beautiful words.