This morning I visited the former site of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. I've been wanting to do that for some time but things never worked out. Either I was with family or my trips to New York were always sandwiched between other commitments. So when I brought my daughter back to her apartment in Brooklyn, I decided to spend the night and head off in the morning to visit the site of the most viscous attack on the United States in our history.
As I arrived at the site I noticed that even after eight years the area was pretty much barren. You could see that construction was taking place, but the devastation remained evident. Later on I looked at pictures of the area before the attack and I got a sense of the total loss. The towers of the World Trade Center were easily the largest buildings in the area, rising almost twice as high as any other building there. They stood like mountains in a field of gray. Now there is a hole in the ground where they once stood.
As I walked around the construction I began to think about that day in September in 2001. I remembered what I was doing. I heard the first reports on WFAN as I was driving down to the church. The reporter talked about a stray plane flying into the tower. As he was talking he gasped as a second plane flew into the second tower. Pandemonium broke out.
It wasn't until several hours later that the full effect hit me. I was visiting one of our members and she was transfixed by the images on television and I watched the scene being replayed over and over again. Even days later I was still haunted by the images I saw.
As I walked around the site I began to empathize with those who were on the streets of New york City that day. I tried to capture the fear they were feeling. I thought about the horror they went through. It was as close as I could come to living that experience but I admit it was nothing like being there.
Afterwards I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. I remembered seeing hundreds of people walking across the bridge on that day. They were fleeing the scene. They were sobbing and crying. They were hurrying to get home to family and loved ones.
As I walked across the bridge and looked back at Manhattan, I tried to picture what they were seeing. I can only imagine their horror.
Looking up and down from the bridge you can see the famous landmarks that tell you this is America's greatest city. The Empire State building, the Stature of Liberty, Ellis Island. On that day the people must have felt all alone even though they were surrounded by thousands.
I'll never forget hearing one survivor of that day tell his story. We had him as our guest at a Prayer breakfast in Norwich. He lived to tell of his harrowing escape from one of the towers and he told us that he never felt like he was alone. He told story after story of how people came together to help one another. As afraid as they all were, there was a spirit there that day that was all around them. Selfless fire fighters and policemen gave their lives leading people to safety. Women and men became guardians over the children.
He told us that several times there were angels, people who appeared out of nowhere to help them down the stairs or who told them where to go. Then he told us that he never felt closer to God in his life.
It was a reminder that god is with us even in the darkest hours of our lives. Too often we don't look for him or realize that He is standing beside us. But when the lights go out, when our fear is the greatest, God stands up and turns the light on. He reveals himself in the kindness of others in the helping hand we receive. He reveals himself in the smile of a stranger of the direction of a friend.
I left New York yesterday feeling a little closer to God and was reminded that God is always with us. The message of Christmas "Emmanuel" wasn't a one time thing a long, long time ago. God is with us today and He still loves us every bit as much.