This is a revised repost of my 2004 post about my reflections on 9/11. Read and reflect.
Like It Was Yesterday
With today being 9.11, I thought it would be an appropriate time to chronicle my experience on that dreadful day. I’ve talked about it before, but I’ve never written it down with words. And, honestly, I don’t want to forget.
The earliest memory I have of that day is fighting with my now-wife-but-at-that-time girlfriend (Theresa). We both don’t remember what we fought about, but we both remember her going to work in Brooklyn in a sour mood. I was set to leave the house in the morning to go meet Carol Chun to go engagement ring shopping. As I was leaving the house (I already had my shoes on), I woke my computer from sleep to see if I had any AIM messages waiting for me. Usually at that time, I don’t. And usually, I don’t check. However, that day, I did have a message. It was from Jonathan McCurley.
“Is it true? What’s happening?”
Of course, I had no idea what he was talking about. After I asked him, he told me that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. I turned the TV on and saw the burning buildings. It was after 9:00am.
I had a few friends that worked on “Wall Street.” I tried to get in touch with them, but couldn’t because “all circuits are busy”. I couldn’t get in touch with Theresa either. With her commute going through Manhattan to Brooklyn, I was concerned about her. Through my AIM, I was able to talk to Jeannie An, whose calls to Theresa were going through. We communicated through Jeannie for most of the day. Eventually, I called Gene at Columbia. This was probably around 2pm. He told me that all Bethany Wall Streeters were accounted for except for Andy. (9/11 is also Gene’s Birthday)
At this point, I did not consider death an option for Andy. Partly because of naïve faith and partly because I knew that the damage was central to the WTC. Then, the call from Michele came.
It was during that conversation that she told me that Andy didn’t work around the WTC, he worked in the WTC. I knew he had recently taken a new job, but I hadn’t realized yet that his office was in the North Tower.* Naivete and ignorance were quickly replaced with panic and dread.
*Andy didn’t need to get into work until 9am. The first plane that hit the North Tower hit at 8:46am. I always thought how ‘fortunate’ it was that the plane didn’t hit after 9am, because the amount of people in the building would have been significantly more. But, why, you wonder, was Andy in the building at 8:46? Because the week prior, he decided to start going into work early in order to work out.
At the time, I wouldn’t say Andy was my best friend, but he was my closest. I spoke with Andy over IM or on the phone almost every day. He was there on my blind date with Theresa. He gave me computer advice, worship advice, relationship advice. And now he was missing.
Later that evening, around 7:00pm, I had an A-team (Administrative Team) meeting at my apartment to plan for the Intown Open House that Saturday. We spent the next 3-4 hours planning our Open House for the college students. I was fully engaged in our conversations and honestly, quite impressed at my poise and composure when one of my best friends was still missing.
However, at around 10pm, we were discussing trivia questions for the Open House. I was sitting at the computer and looking at the TV with the scenes of the plane running into the tower over and over. [You remember how many times that happened that day? Some said that it was the most photographed event in history.] From where I was sitting, in order to focus on the events on the TV, I had to gaze past the table where we were discussing our Open House. Poetically, I realized that summed up what I was feeling in my heart. I could no longer focus on the things down here. I had to focus on what was going on up there. I could not stay in Atlanta. I had to be up to NJ.
The meeting ended and I was finally able to reach Theresa by phone. I didn’t trust my decision making myself anymore, because I knew I wasn’t thinking straight. She said that if I need to come up, then I need to come.
The next morning, Wednesday, I packed up my car to head up to NJ. It was about 11am when I turned the key to my ignition. My battery was dead. I knew I had about at least a 12 hour drive to NJ (Google Maps has it at 15hours). I was starting to feel anxiety if my drive got pushed back too late. I called my friend, Fuhlim drive me to the shop, where I got a new battery. As I was about to leave, Fuhlim offered to drive me up to NJ in his car. Perhaps he didn’t trust the way I looked or didn’t trust me driving in my car. Either way, we left around 2pm and didn’t arrive until probably after 5am Thursday morning (we got rerouted through West Virginia around the DC area).
I spent the next two days traveling to NY and NJ hospitals exploring any feasible option that Andy made it out of there alive, there simply weren’t many unidentified bodies. Sadly, there weren’t many remains that were found.
That Saturday, I ended up leading a practice of a praise team that Andy was leading. It wasn’t until that morning that I turned the corner and came to grips that I wasn’t going to see Andy alive ever again. I’ve always said that the hardest thing about his death was that it wasn’t a sudden realization, but it was a slowly diminishing hope. Basically, I had to make my own personal decision that Andy was dead. Some decided before me and some decided after me. But when I decided, I decided alone.
The next day, Sunday, I was asked to lead praise in Andy’s stead for Bethany EWM. It was the hardest worship service I’ve ever experienced in my life. Earlier that morning, in front of 250 youth group students (for whom Andy was a teacher), I tried to explain the unexplainable, to comfort the uncomfortable and encourage the faith of the unencourageable.
This is the gist of what I said:
During this past week, I prayed and prayed that the numerous rescue workers spending countless hours sifting through the rubble would find Andy. I prayed that Andy would be saved and rescued and found alive. And that’s when I realized that Andy was found. He was found underneath a heap of rubble that crushed him to the point of death. But, this rubble was far more widespread than the WTC. You see, Andy was crushed underneath the weight of the heap of his sin. But, God, the tireless rescue worker did not sleep, nor tire in his pursuit of Andy. And God saved him and rescued him and made him alive. We are under a heap of sin as well. Do you believe that God can rescue you from the weight of your sin?
In times like this we are tempted to find the tallest building still standing and climb to the top and shake our fist at God and curse God. After all, I can’t comprehend how a good God would allow this to happen. How can a just God allow such injustice? In fact, these questions cause many to doubt God’s goodness and justice. What we are essentially saying is that because it doesn’t make sense to me, I can’t believe it. In other words, God must make sense to me. However, the biggest injustice in the history of the world is Christ dying a sinner’s death–my death–when he was himself sinless. If we can readily accept the grace that is so incomprehensible to us, we cannot in the same breath reject the seeming injustice that we don’t understand.
These are lessons that still teach me today and every year on this day, I am reminded of them.
Do you know what the real tragedy is?
Not Andy. Not Andy at all.
When I was driving to hospitals near Bayonne, I remember seeing the great billow of smoke rising from Downtown NY. Crossing over that bridge, I said that I hope that the rescue workers save all the non-Christians first. Pull them out first even if the Christians have to die, even if Andy has to die. Why? Because the Christians have a hope of glory. The real tragedy is all the people that rejected Christ that died in that building that day that never got another chance.