We all have a 9-11 story to tell. Whether we lived through it, watched from a distance, or are too young to remember it, September 11, 2001 changed all of our lives and so much of life as we knew it would never be the same.
It was, and in many ways still is, the start of my generation’s war—the War on Terror. We’ve learned hard lessons in some of the most difficult ways possible since that day. But we can never forget. We owe it to the people who lost their lives, their families and loved ones who still mourn, and the men and women who fought to save those they could, many making the ultimate sacrifice in the process.
I have my own 9-11 story. I’ve written about it on my blog several times many years ago. Now with 18 years of perspective, it feels like replaying scenes from a movie when I recall my steps across Capitol Hill that day.
When friends who walked with me that day retell their tales, our stories sound very different yet oddly the same. Transportation shut down, people couldn’t leave the city, false reports of fires and bombs, knowing that all flights were grounded yet still hearing planes rush by overhead. An explosion so loud people literally fell to their knees. Being told to run for our lives and having nowhere to take cover. My friends and I ran, high heels in hand, until we couldn’t run any further, and limped down Independence Avenue, gleaning news along the way from others standing on their stoops, watching the sky as if it may start to fall. A long walk home to a rooftop view that included seeing smoke billow from the Pentagon a few miles away.
It was chaos and then it was silent. The day Capitol Hill stood still. The eerie silence as not a car, taxi, or metro bus passed by 12th and Independence, SE.
I lived alone in a tiny one room apartment about one mile from the Capitol building. I felt cut off and helpless. It was only dial up internet back then, and it was impossible to get a connection. All I could do was watch the news as they replayed what happened in New York over and over and over again. Short breaks in the shock of it all came by way of friends who were stranded in the city and needed a place to stay until they reopened the bridges. Many were gathering at the local watering holes but all I could think of is getting on my knees and praying that more wasn’t on the way.
My boss and his wife graciously let me crash in their basement that night. They lived a few blocks away and knew I was alone and totally freaking out. At first I wanted to pack my bags and head home to Tennessee.
September 11, 2000, exactly one year earlier, was my first day of work on Capitol Hill. Just 23 years old and idealistic as can be, I had big dreams and weak faith. When the attacks occurred a year later I wanted to cut and run. But my step-dad, a retired armed service member, rightly admonished me and exhorted me to stay. I had moved to Washington, DC to serve my country. The attack shouldn’t change that calling, it should underscore it. Thousands of Hill staffers returned to work the very next day because it was our duty and the best way we could serve our country during a time of unprecedented attack.
The Congressman I served led the House subcommittee on terrorism and homeland security. This thrust him further into the national spotlight and led to more leadership opportunities for him and for all of us in the years to come. The majority of us who served with him on 9-11 stayed with him through a Senate election and some continued with him until he retired. No matter what was going on, he was always looking out for us. Some days he would call from an “undisclosed location” and tell us to close early and go home. He had intel we did not.
He always said “it’s not if but when” we would face another attack. I think about that often. I wonder if the world will ever win the war on terror. To be honest, I’m not sure it’s possible. As long as there is unchecked evil in the world, there will be power drunk terrorists on a death mission to rule it.
I carry what I experienced that day and I always will. Not only because of the impact it had on me, experiencing what I did, but because I had a front row view to the tremendous sacrifice and countless losses our country experienced that day. I will never forget because I can’t forget.
I will remain faithful to tell the stories of those who fought back, those who rescued and who were rescued, and those who lost everything, because there is a deep and abiding evil at work in the world and the best way to fight the darkness is with the light.
So I will shine my light and love others as Christ loves me, hoping expectantly for the day when the perfect light of love will right every wrong and rule over a city where death is no more and love always wins.
Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.