E-mails from Sept. 11
J. Hunter Brown to a friend, Sept. 11, 2001, 11:12 p.m.:
I spent all day in the Wall Street area and just got home. Couldn't get out. It was like a volcano eruption. Ash covered most of lower Manhattan, as deep as two inches far from the blast. Empty shoes and baby carriages in the streets. People wearing face masks to ward off the smoke. An eerie scene of cars trapped in a large parking lot on the FDR. Camaraderie: a pack of cigarettes passed to and returned from a neighboring car. Cops covered in gray dust of ash. Cop cadets directing traffic to anywhere but here. According to a cop I spoke with Afghani students at Pace University, immediately adjacent to City Hall, were celebrating the news of the destruction.
The fireman responded to the scene in 3 minutes and tried to evacuate the buildings only to be buried by the collapse. Massive inflows of earth moving and construction equipment coming down the West Side Highway. F-15's circling NYC airspace, now a no fly zone. Choppers running to and from the naval ships in the harbor. the police and fireman have been exemplary and heroic in all respects.
So far I know of none of my friends missing, but its too early to tell. As of 10:50 pm the medical personnel are waiting for the injured to show up in size, but my guess is that there will be few survivors beyond those that are already out. There is just nothing left.
From Katherine Bergman to friends, Sept. 12, 2001, 9:30 a.m.:
I was typing a short paper for class when the phone rang. I wasn't going to answer it, but it was Elizabeth, my boss. I was to wake the other proctors for an evacuation: the World Trade Center was collapsing and the Pentagon had been hit. I called Erin's room: her uncle works at the Pentagon. I called Joseph, who can sleep through much, and he didn't answer. I went to beat on his door, but could hardly speak when he opened it. Already, there were so many people dead in New York and D.C., but crying doesn't help when 31 16-year-olds need you to be the one with composure.
There was a plane flying over the Capitol, where our kids work as Senate pages. Staff there told them to run, just run, and if they dropped anything not to stop. The Pentagon was in flames right across the Potomac and the Capitol would be a high profile second hit for terrorists. They ran home to us. We'd sent a few hurried e-mails, thrown apples and Pop Tarts into garbage bags for the trip, and packed our vans with adolescents. After committing not a few traffic violations, driving on the sidewalk and getting into a minor fender bender in a government van, we headed east on Pennsylvania Avenue toward Maryland. Neither Erin, nor Joe nor I had slept, but we had no trouble staying awake. The radio kept us updated on rescue efforts in New York. We drove to the water, a beach, and some of the pages lamented their attire: navy blue suits didn't seem quite appropriate for our location. But there was something strangely fitting about them. It would have been all wrong if we'd had time to gather swimsuits and towels and pack a picnic lunch. Navy blue matched the somber reports from the radio. Navy blue, dark enough to be mourning.
A gull perched on the dock. The girls had stopped crying. A duck tucked his head under his wing and slept in the sun. Parents had been called, a mayor, a governor, a president offered assurances to the American people. And the blessing of food and transportation out of the city finally dawned on me. Praise God.
It's early morning and my coworkers--that is my friends with whom I work--and I have just returned with 31 tired teenagers. Traffic is horrendous, and Joseph and I had to battle our way back to the Senate garage to return the vans we absconded with yesterday. Thirty-one teenagers amble off to prepare themselves for another day on the Senate floor. Thirty-one sets of parents will be able to rest tonight--the children they entrusted us with have been safely returned.
People are still finding out if their loved ones were killed. Many thousands of sets of parents, of families, of children will have no rest of consulation tonight. We all are still wondering why. Why death? Why suffering? There is something about our deepest parts that ache at these things because we know, somehow we just know, that this is not how it's supposed to be. And yet, we have a God who died, we have a God who suffered--not because death and suffering are good, but to pass through them. As so, we will pass through this. Praise God who is Emmanuel, God with Us. He was with us on the beach in Maryland, with us in the dust and ash as we searched for our loved ones, with us as we said our last prayers as our planes were crashing, with us in the Midwest waiting for a phone call, with us in the Middle East where terrorism doesn't make big news. With us always and everywhere to the ends of the Earth.
Pray hard, my dear ones. Do exactly what it is you do, right where you are, for the glory of God. And pray, and never forget that is your source. The well of your soul alone could never be deep enough, and it doesn't have to be. And if there was ever anything left unsaid, let it not be "I love you."
I love you.