On September 11th, 2001, The Christophers’ headquarters was in midtown Manhattan, so I took the subway to the Rockefeller Center stop and walked through the building’s lower level. Outside a newsstand stood a large crowd, staring at a TV screen on which the Today Show aired video of the first plane hitting one of the Twin Towers. There was confusion as to whether the crash was an accident, but to me it looked like a deliberate hit.
When I got to The Christophers’ office a few blocks away, the second plane had hit, and everyone knew this was no accident. Our staff was told we should make our way home. Subways shut down because no one knew if more attacks were coming, so walking was the only option. Being that I lived in Queens, I headed toward the 59th Street Bridge with several co-workers. We quickly discovered the streets were jammed with thousands of other New Yorkers trekking to their homes as well. Though everyone undoubtedly felt shaken, the crowd’s mood was peaceful, friendly, and supportive. There was a unique feeling of mass solidarity.
None of us were fully aware of the hell that was unfolding downtown because these were still the days of flip phones, not streaming smartphones. Your best source of news on the go was a transistor radio. As everyone walked over the bridge, I heard a plane flying overhead and grew nervous that it was another terrorist, who would fly into the bridge. Thankfully, it was a military jet protecting the city. Arriving home safely that day was a massive relief, a relief that many others wouldn’t feel because their lives had been extinguished in an act of hate.
On this 20th anniversary of 9/11, I can’t help but think of the dead, but also of the ways in which we choose to live. Specifically, the prayer of Father Mychal Judge, the FDNY chaplain killed on the ground while ministering to survivors, comes to mind: “Lord, take me where You want me to go, let me meet who You want me to meet, tell me what You want me to say, and keep me out of Your way.”
And to his prayer, I add one I wrote myself to commemorate the day: “Giver of Life, on this day, we remember and pray for all the souls who died due to the shocking acts of violence committed on September 11th, 2001: the innocents on the planes and at work in the Twin Towers and Pentagon, the heroic passengers onboard Flight 93, and the selfless first responders who, while trying to save lives, lost their own, either on that day or in the ensuing years from 9/11-related illnesses.
“Lord, we pray also for the families and friends the victims of 9/11 left behind. Though their grief might have eased over time, the hole in their lives remains. Help them find joy in the memories of their loved ones, not just sadness at their absence.
“Finally, Prince of Peace, guide us to live as people of peace, grounded in Your command to love God and our neighbors above all else. It is easy to succumb to the temptations of anger and hatred when wrongs are committed against us. But these all-consuming emotions lead to a dead end. Help us instead to find the beauty and goodness You placed in this world and to follow the words of Scripture: ‘Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). Amen.”