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Twenty years later, the memories of Sept. 11 remain vivid

Twenty years later, the memories of Sept. 11 remain vivid

Commentary


Anyone old enough to remember the horror of Sept. 11, 2001, certainly remembers where they were when the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center fell.

For me, though, watching the destruction live on television didn't come close to the horror I felt about six weeks later when I saw the disaster site in person.

I was in New York to cover the World Series as a sportswriter for the Tampa Tribune. On the afternoon before the game, I took a subway to Ground Zero. I wasn't prepared for the enormity of what I saw.

Several vertical strut beams that once supported the towers stood twisted and ashen, caked with soot and dust. That same dust permeated the air as if seeing the catastrophe wasn't enough – we had to breathe it, take it into our bodies.

Workers carried out their grim tasks of carefully digging through the rubble. The hope of finding survivors was long gone, but they took care with the bodies – some intact, many not – they did find. Those parts were tagged and sent to a central warehouse.

I mentioned the World Series. Some said that would help the city "heal" from the disaster, but that, of course, was wrong. Healing would take more than a ballgame. Yet, the game was a statement that the city would recapture a piece of normal, if only for a few hours.

I skipped the opening game of the Series, where President George W. Bush threw out the first ball, to much acclaim.

But I figured that part of the story would be well-covered by others. So, I went back to Ground Zero that night, just to see what it felt like.

It was incredibly eerie, deathly silent. As for the notion that a ballgame would make an impact on the enormity of this gut-punch to the city and nation, well, I remember seeing a pair of New York City police officers standing by a table with a small black-and-white television tuned to the game.

They had their backs to the TV, lost in a quiet conversation about their shared experience of unspeakable horror.

Why, we ask, can something like this happen?

As the 20th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, we're still seeking an answer to that question.

We understand that sometimes things happen in this world out of pure hate. But as people of God, United Methodists also know that love is the best way to respond when disaster overtakes us. That has been shown repeatedly in the denomination's response to natural disasters, and it happened after 9/11, too.

United Methodist Communications reported how church members reacted on that awful day and in the weeks that followed.

UM churches near Ground Zero became sanctuaries that day as dazed citizens instinctively came together for prayer and to comfort each other.

The Rev. Stephen Bauman of Christ Church United Methodist noted, "It was standing room only here."
Jennifer Rodia recalled what she and other members did to help.

"What I remember most is probably just mashing pounds and pounds of potatoes and the faces of the firefighters coming off of Ground Zero, still covered in that white ash but now sharing a meal with their colleagues and just taking a moment," she said.

"And you could see in those moments the importance of the kindness of strangers, that it makes a difference when we give of ourselves."

A year later, I returned to Ground Zero – not as a sportswriter, but to cover the days leading to the attack's first anniversary.

I interviewed scores of people – emergency room workers, cops on the beat, and first responders. But one interview perfectly captured the soul of what happened.

Marty Boryczewski was a former minor-league baseball player with the Lakeland Tigers here in Florida. He was the prototype all-American young man, bright, loved, and always willing to help others.

The family used the story I wrote about him for his online obituary. I don't think I've ever had a higher honor.

He became a trader at Cantor Fitzgerald and was in his office on the 104th floor of the World Trade Center's North Tower when, at 8:45 a.m., a hijacked American Airlines Boeing 767 loaded with 20,000 gallons of jet fuel crashed into the building.

His family told me of their desperate attempt to reach him that day. His sister dialed the phone for nine hours straight, looking for information. When someone finally answered, all they got was another phone number.

Reality slowly overcame hope. A few days later, as his mom and two sisters gathered at his condo, one of them noticed some beard stubble in the bathroom from Marty's last shave.

A sister carefully gathered the stubble in tissue, recalling, "It's all I have of him."

There were 2,977 other stories just like that as people remembered those who died. Twenty years later, it still doesn't make sense.

This anniversary marks a generation since the attacks, time enough in many cases for memories to fade and wounds to heal. But not this time.

Once again, we'll all remember where we were, what we saw, and what we felt.

And maybe again, as on that day and the ones that followed, we'll remember Jesus' great commandment anew to love our neighbor as ourselves. Love is the only antidote to hate.

Joe Henderson is News Content Editor for flumc.org

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