A Moving Ritual
On September 11th 2001 my two younger daughters were let out of school early. They were eight and ten and had no idea why they were being allowed to go home, but they could tell it was serious. However as the news began to leak and they learned of the attack, they began a nightly ritual.
Years later Yael and Danielle told me about this. They slept in the same room and had the same bedtime—8:30 p.m. However, unbeknownst to us, they would lie in their beds and talk for more than an hour. Each night, however, at 9:11 p.m. they would have a moment of silence to remember those lost on that tragic September day. Then, they would resume their conversation.
Just Get me Home!
They were sent home early and I was longing to get home, as I was on a ministry trip in Argentina. I can’t remember a time when I felt more unity with strangers than I did on September 15th 2001. We were stuck in Buenos Aires, waiting to get home. Flights were grounded on 9/11. In truth I was not stuck. This was my scheduled flight, but had I been able to get home earlier I would have ended my weeklong class on the Book of Revelation early and headed to the US.
It is not like I was needed in the US. I didn’t know anyone who died or was injured in the attack. Nor was I equipped to help in any significant way. I just wanted to be with my family. Everyone was scared, wondering when the next attack would be. No one dreamed at that point that eleven years would go by without a major terrorist attack on US soil. It is nothing short of a miracle that a suicide bomber has not walked into a McDonald’s or Starbucks with murder on his mind, as had happened so often here in Israel. Yes, there was Fort Hood, but tragic as it was, it cannot really be compared to 9/11.
A Reunion of Strangers
The Americans I met while waiting in line that day did not mind going through security a second time before boarding. Each one of us was so happy to finally be with other Americans. We spoke with bravado about what we would do if someone tried to take over this plane. In the midst of this awful tragedy we had a powerful moment together.
Chaos in Chicago
I don’t remember anything special about the flight from the Argentine capital to Chicago. But I do remember what it was like arriving in Chicago. Pandemonium!
Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport was already one of the top five busiest airports in the US. Now add to that fact that many people had been stranded for days in the airport or around Chicago, seeking to get home. When I arrived everyone’s flight had been canceled and each traveler had to rebook. There was very little order—just lines everywhere and you had no idea what line was for what need. The workers did an amazing job taking care of people, and travelers were far more patient than normal in the aftermath of the attack. Still, it was chaos.
I got into a line that literally looped around itself three times. I had no idea how long I would be there. Suddenly an clerk for United, after she found out I was trying to get to Richmond, directed me to another line—a relatively short line. Within an hour I was rebooked to Dulles in Washington. From there I would fly to Richmond, which could only have been a thirty-minute flight.
Once on the plane, I was finally able to read an American Newspaper—USA Today. There were dozens of stories of heroics and heartbreak. Suddenly it all hit me and I spent the next two hours reading in tears—feeling the need even more deeply to get home, where I could debrief with friends and family.
I’m Going Home!
I landed in Dulles and realized that although I was only two hours from Richmond, I would be stuck there until later that day. Forget this, I thought, I’m going home! I was too tired and anxious to walk around Dulles for six hours.
After 9/11, measures were taken to help prevent future attacks. One of those measures was if a passenger wasn’t on his or her plane, his or her bags would be removed. However this was 9/16 and decisions like that were yet to be made.
I’d rent a car and then drive to RIC, Richmond’s airport, in the morning to find my bags. I called from the car rental company to see if it was even affordable. Turned out it was. I hopped on a shuttle and within twenty minutes I was on my way home. I don’t sleep much on airplanes and I was exhausted, having been awake for most of 36 hours. Fortunately the plethora of news reports and updates kept me alert.
We had just bought a home in the Nuckles Farm area of Richmond’s West End. It was located in a cul-de-sac of Graham Meadows. I can’t tell you the feeling I had pulling into Graham Meadows Court that day and seeing my wife on the front lawn. I was home. I couldn’t wait to see my children and drive over to my parent’s house.
As all of America tried to settle back into life with this new reality—terrorism—people were scared. President Bush warned of more attacks. This new name that everyone was talking about, Osama Bin Ladin, declared that he had more plans for the “Great Satan”. Within a short time, I noticed I was afraid. In Part 3 and 4, I will share how I overcame the fear of Terrorism.