On September 11 And The “Why” Behind Tragedy
Today is September 11.
If you don’t live in America, today might not be that big a deal to you. It’s just another Thursday.
But, for us, today marks the 13th anniversary of one of the saddest moments in our country’s history. That being the terrorist attacks on the twin towers in New York City.
Everybody here has their “where were you when it happened?” story. Mine was simply this:
I was living in Birmingham, Alabama. That morning, I was shelving books at Barnes & Noble, where I worked at the time.
One of the managers mentioned something about a plane hitting one of the towers. It sounded like a crazy accident. But a little later, I went on break and some people in the back were listening to the news on the radio, which described another plane hitting the second tower. That’s when the reality set in for me, like it had started to for everyone else. We were under attack.
I worked part-time, so I got off at 11 that day and went back to my apartment. I then proceeded to watch the news ALL DAY. Literally all day. I skipped class, ate very little, and slept with the lights on that night.
But I was just one of millions who had the same type of day. Most of us weren’t alive for Pearl Harbor, and that was the closest thing to this type of attack on American soil. This was an all-new experience for us, though it’s sadly commonplace in other parts of the world.
As sad as it was to watch, I was more crippled by the thought of the thousands of people who went to work that day—just an ordinary Tuesday like any other. They dropped their kids off at school or sent them away on the bus, picked up a cup of coffee, then made their commute into Manhattan. Just the normal ho-hum routine.
One hour, you’re routinely kissing your wife and kids goodbye for the day. Then, two hours later, you’re jumping out of an 80th floor window because any type of quick death must be better than slowly dying in flames. You live a beautiful wonderful life on this earth for 40 to 50 years, and then you’re suddenly gone within a matter of two hours. That’s so difficult to process.
When I see photos of those people, I still think about that. It was just another day for all of them. But then, in a horrid twist of fate, they were all trapped in the same place at the literal ground zero of one of the worst moments in American history. What does one do to draw that awful lottery number?
If you’ve read 101 Books for a few years, you might remember this post I made about the Aurora tragedy. A quick refresh: a psychotic murderer shot and killed 12 people and injured 70 others in a Aurora, Colorado theater in 2012, during the opening night premiere of The Dark Knight Rises.
Around that time, I had just finished reading The Bridge of San Luis Rey, which, to me, is one of the most moving novels I’ve read to date. The story is based around the collapse of a bridge. But the focus is on the people who died on that bridge.
Thornton Wilder tells the backstory of each victim and the life circumstances that all brought them together to be on that bridge at that one fatal moment. Why them?
That’s the central question of the novel, and it’s the same question that bothered me after both the September 11 and Aurora theater tragedies.
It’s one of those questions in life that we wrestle with more than really answer. We can’t answer it, but somehow that question always pesters us, doesn’t it?
During the September 11 memorial service not long after the tragedies, the British Prime Minister Tony Blair read a passage from The Bridge of San Luis Rey:
“Soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left the earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”
I love that passage. To some, it might sound a little flowery and hokey. But if I put myself in the shoes of someone who lost a loved one during these (or any other) tragic event, Wilder’s prose feels perfect. He touches on a sense of hope, love and loss all at the same time.
So, all that to say, take a few moments today to remember the people who lost their lives on September 11. You can read all their names here.
Don’t just remember the tragedy itself, how it changed you, or how it changed your way of life in many ways (see airports). Remember the people, and imagine what it’s like for their loved ones who still grieve them—and even moreso today.
And I would also encourage you to read my tribute to the Aurora victims back in 2012. They had names and faces and wives and girlfriends and kids and future hopes and dreams. All of it dashed in a matter of minutes. But that doesn’t mean their memory can’t live on.
Finally, I’d highly recommend The Bridge of San Luis Rey, especially if you struggle with the “whys” of tragedy. The novel reminds us that everyone has a story, and everyone has a reason for being where they are at any given moment, even a tragic moment.
My thoughts and prayers go out to the families who lost loved ones on September 11 and at Aurora in 2012. I hope you’ll do the same.