Seventeen years ago today, I was, like many people around the world, glued to a TV watching with horror as the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City were spewing fire, ash, paper, and even bodies before collapsing. I sat in shock as I watched footage of the second plane smashing into the south tower. People running away as rescue vehicles rushed toward the panic. And as the towers fell, the smoke rose, filled with the last breaths of those trapped inside, along with the collective breaths of their families, friends, and the world. A silent gray gasp– a frozen moment of silence in the midst of sirens and screams. Time stopped at least twice that day. Motions and emotions were suspended in those columns of smoke– love and memory, hopes and dreams– all drifted silently away from the open wound that was lower Manhattan.
Reports came of further hijackings and an attack at the Pentagon. We were stunned; we were horrified; we were helpless.
And then, amazing things started to happen. Stories of heroism and miraculous rescues. The initial estimates of people killed ranged in the tens of thousands–all morning, they climbed higher– by Wednesday, they began to fall as more people were located. Others were rescued from the debris as thousands of workers poured in to help. Caravans and convoys of supplies– food, water, medical supplies, rescue workers and excavators– rolled, sailed, walked, or were ferried in. In the first years, more stories emerged. As horrific and tragic as the events of 9/11 were, they could have been even worse. The initial panic morphed into resolve. People who wouldn’t have spoken to their neighbors now worked side by side in shelters and clean-up efforts. People who shouldn’t have lived through it did, while others who shouldn’t have cared willingly shared their time, their resources, their skills, their homes, and even their lives to help others.
Ironically, the buildings were designed to withstand a hurricane. Today, the east coast of the U.S., including potentially New York City, is preparing for the arrival of a hurricane. The buildings of the World Trade Center were built with the hope that they would be strong enough to survive high winds and floods; able to provide emergency shelter and protection to thousands in the event of a natural disaster. They were leveled by an unnatural force of evil and hatred meant to destroy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
There are no man-made towers that can protect against the force of evil in our world– mighty winds of change, forces of nature, powerful attacks, acts of war, and collapse can occur without warning. There is only one strong tower that can withstand the deadly forces of sin and hate and despair. God stands firm and unshakable, offering to save all who come within His embrace. He may not bring us through without wounds; He may even allow us to go through the valley of the shadow of death. He doesn’t promise perfect weather or days without struggles. He won’t remove us from the storm, but He invites us to take our shelter in Him. He won’t make you take shelter; he won’t make you evacuate your house built on the sand. He may calm the storm or stop the winds and waves. He may ask us to weather them in their full force. We may even lose this mortal life, but He will keep the soul that is stayed on Him. And He won’t leave us to face the storm alone.
Today, I pray for those who are remembering that horrible day in 2001, and those who are facing an uncertain 9/11 today. May each one feel God’s strength, shelter, and comfort in the midst of this life’s storms.