by Elizabeth de Barros
When the call came, first thing she said was, “Don’t turn on the TV.”
Then she asked if I knew what had happened. Knew what?
That two airplanes had flown into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.
I soon learned, along with the rest of the world, about two more attack crashes, one into the west wing of the Pentagon and the other into an open field near Shanksville, Pa.
From there, the morning took on a surreal overlay, a kind of slow motion that crept into the afternoon. Landlines and cell towers were jammed. If silence could scream, it was deafening. Little did I know my husband was watching flames licking at the Pentagon from his office window.
At home only twenty miles away with two young children, I felt somehow exposed.
The house felt cold.
A few hours passed before we could reach one another by phone. I don’t remember who called whom. We were both alive.
Horror. Fire. Twisted metal. Rubble. Dust. Billows of smoke. People covered in ash, running for their lives. Thousands dead, yet still unaccounted for. A few hundred jumped to save themselves from a worse demise. Certain aftermath never dissipates.
9/11. When Death reached in through America’s thermal pane windows and took us all, let alone the world, by surprise.
A day when the calendar froze, bipartisan politics ceased, racial divides blurred, social prejudices disappeared. Only thing that mattered were souls — dead or alive. A time when coping was secondary to surviving the shock, which was a fine line that showed up at mealtime. Can’t remember if I fed the children. I must’ve.
Normalcy was being redefined right under our noses.
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Later that afternoon, my neighbor, well in her third trimester, looked up at the cloudless blue sky. Together, our faith arose in silent accord, absorbing the dichotomy. Poignancy has a way of making sense of things when little else does.
Zeal and a broken heart fueled another neighbor to post on every door in our cluster of 150 houses an invitation to keep vigil that night on the corner of Cranberry Lane and Oldfield Drive. When she knocked at ours, she asked if my husband would bring his guitar. Without question.
Not only were we grieving for our nation, we were mourning for our 43-year-old neighbor, Lenny Taylor. Less than eight hours prior, he was an engineer for a government contractor, now an unsung hero who happened to be sitting in the crosshairs that morning on Flight 77 bound for Los Angeles, along with 59 other victims ranging in age from 3 to 71.
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Dusk settled upon us as people continued to gather at the corner. Many seemed skittish. Most of us strangers among a small sea of faces. Some brought blankets and lawn chairs. Who was in charge? What would happen? There was no plan. No public figure to offer solace. All that lay against the street sign among the mementos was a photo, candle, Redskins pennant, racing bike and hockey stick; reminders that this was the corner where he turned to come home to his wife and two daughters every night.
But as the fingers began to pluck at the strings, nobody was too shy to sing. People found comfort in the sound of the chords. All the songs were hymns, songs of praise.
That night, there was only one keynote speaker, Jesus Christ, exalted in the midst of a crowd, drawing men unto Himself.
“The attacks were meant to bring us to our knees, and they did — but not in the way the terrorists intended. Americans united in prayer … came to the aid of neighbors in need … and resolved that our enemies would not have the last word.”