Eighteen years ago, on Sept. 11, 2001, 19 terrorists hijacked and crashed four U.S. passenger planes, killing all on board and nearly 3,000 on the ground.
Two flights hit the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York. The third hit the Pentagon. The fourth crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pa., after passengers and crew tried to stop the hijackers.
Most of us who are old enough to remember that day have a personal story to tell about it. This is mine.
Early that morning, my husband’s father awoke at his home in Stockton, Calif., turned on CNN, and immediately phoned us. While my husband stared in horror at the TV, I tried to call my son in New York.
Josh was living in Manhattan, appearing in a TV series called “Ed.” I had visited him often enough to know his apartment was near the World Trade Center. He drove by those towers every day on his way to the set. I needed to hear his voice and know he was OK.
Phone lines were swamped. I couldn’t get through. There was nothing to do but wait and pray.
At noon, when he finally was able to get a call through to me, he was standing on the balcony of his apartment watching smoke billow up from the World Trade Center. He told me he had watched a fire truck pull out of a station that morning.
“It was loaded with big guys like me,” he said, “hanging on the side of that truck, going to risk their lives to save others.”
He later learned that all 15 of the firemen who were on that truck lost their lives that day.
After we said goodbye, I broke down and cried. I was thankful my son was safe. But my heart was broken for the thousands of lives that had been stolen, and for countless others who were grieving for them.
The news became even more personal that evening as I tried to comfort a neighbor who had just received confirmation that her daughter had died in the plane crash at the Pentagon.
Eighteen years is a long time to remember so much grief and pain. But there are things about that day I hope never to forget.
First, I want to remember the victims and those who mourn for them. They are my neighbors and loved ones and friends.
I want to remember, not the terrorists, but the heroes, those who ran toward danger, not from it; the firefighters and police officers and others who risked and lost their lives so that others might live; and the soldiers who have served and continue to serve to ensure that it will never happen again.
I want to remember how it felt to hear my son’s voice and know that he was safe. I want to feel that kind of gratitude every day.
I want to remember, not the horror of that day, but the grace that came with it — all the good that rose up in the face of such evil. We may never have been stronger as a nation, or better as people, than we were in the wake of 9/11. I want to believe we hold the power to be that strong and that good always.
I want to remember to pray for our country and our world — and for our enemies, because my faith commands it. I don’t know if prayer changes those we pray for, but I’ve seen it change those who pray, including me.
I want to remember that life is short and fragile and precious.
I want to remember the vow I made seeing people on TV jump from a burning building to their death: “I will live every day,” I said, “as if it were my last.”
I don’t always keep that vow, but to honor the victims of 9/11, I want to remember to try. Most of all I want to remember to be alive. To make decisions based on love, not fear. To live life freely to its fullest. I want to remember that the opposite of terror is freedom.