We all remember that day and that horrifying scene. The images have been repeated hundreds, perhaps thousands of times on our televisions over the past ten years. Jumbo jets slamming into the side of New York City’s tallest buildings. Desperate innocents leaping to their death in a panicked delusion that death by jumping would be better than being burned inside the towers. And finally, the two massive skyscrapers collapsing in a colossal cloud of toxic dust. Many of us went through the same range of emotions – confusion, disbelief, horror, rage and anguish. Then we turned to God.
We turned to Him with prayers of mercy for the poor souls lost on that day. We turned to Him in thanksgiving for the friends and family we had in those cities who were spared. We turned to Him with prayers of comfort for the friends and families of the victims of the attacks. We asked Him to strengthen and guide our leaders during the crisis. We asked him to strengthen and guide our firefighters and police officers who endured great loss themselves. And we desperately asked one question. “Where were you, Lord?”
Many of us asked, and many of us still don’t know where God was on September 11, 2001. To so many, He was clearly nowhere to be found on the island of Manhattan. But over the ensuing days, just as the dust cloud lifted and the skies cleared again, hindsight provided me with some amazing answers.
Consider the following:
The total number of victims in the World Trade Center buildings was 2606 (not counting the victims on the planes). On a typical Tuesday in September approximately 50,000 people worked in those towers.
The terrorists chose an election day. September 11, 2001 was a primary election day in New York City. The fact that the terrorists chose that specific day to carry out their attack saved the lives of those who had stayed away in order to vote early.
The terrorists struck the buildings high. This act alone ironically saved the lives of thousands. The high site of impact meant that most of the building beneath the gaping hole was spared significant damage allowing nearly every person below the attack site to evacuate to safety.
The buildings stood for a relatively long time after being hit by fully fueled jumbo jets at speeds of over 450 mph. The South Tower stood for 56 minutes after it was hit. The North Tower stood for an incredible hour and 45 minutes before it gave out. Once again, the fact that the towers stood for such lengths of time after suffering mortal wounds allowed thousands to survive the day.
The towers collapsed straight down. The towers were awesome structures. They dwarfed every other building surrounding them. Had they tipped to any side as they fell, many lives in surrounding buildings would have been lost. Due to the architecture of the buildings, and once again, because of the site of impact, the buildings “pancaked” as they fell – one floor falling flat on the floor beneath it, which fell on the floor beneath it and so on – until the weight became overwhelming and the entire building imploded upon itself.
At the Pentagon, the hijacked plane hit a newly renovated and largely unoccupied section of the building. Unfortunately, 125 people were killed in the massive Pentagon, but by the grace of God, the terrorists hit the wrong side of the building. A strike to another side would have cost more lives.
The plane that hit the Pentagon struck five lampposts and actually hit the ground before hitting the building. Hitting the ground just before impact undoubtedly saved many lives inside the Pentagon as the power of a direct hit would have been far more devastating.
And we are all aware of the heroism shown by the passengers of Flight 93. Those brave men and women overtook their captors, causing the plane to crash in an empty field rather than into the US Capitol Building or the White House, the likely intended targets. Who knows exactly how many lives were saved by that action? Certainly tens, if not hundreds.
Finally, and most obviously, God was visible in the American people. Churches filled later in the day as people gathered for mass or prayer. God was invoked by preachers and presidents around the world. “God Bless America,” more a hymn than a patriotic anthem, rang out from coast to coast for months afterward. The phrase itself appeared on car bumpers everywhere almost overnight. And let us never forget the saintly man designated “Victim 0001” by the city of New York. Father Mychal Judge died in the collapse of the North Tower while administering the Last Rites and praying for the fallen around him.
God was with us on that horrible day ten years ago. He is always with us. We recognize Him so often when we celebrate the good times. We must learn to see Him when times are tough as well.