It’s the story I tell every year on this date. And still the tears come as their faces etch in my mind.
Eight years ago today, I was sitting in my office at the Diocese of Scranton tribunal. I wasn’t suppose to be there. Sonya and I were getting ready to move to Florida that weekend. The Diocese of Venice in Florida had offered me a full-time position with the tribunal, and Scranton tribunal staff had taken me out to lunch the day before, to say our goodbyes.
I arrived home that evening. My in-laws had come down from Canada to help us pack, and everything was boxed and ready to go except for a few necessities. This would be our last week in Northeastern Pennsylvania, and with New York City a mere two-and-a-half hour drive, we had planned on taking the day off to visit the Statue of Liberty and the World Trade Center.
But it didn’t happen. We received a phone call late that night from a hospital back in Canada. Sonya’s grandfather had suffered a stroke. Plans were changed, and by the time we woke up the next morning my in-laws had rushed back to the ICU in Hamilton.
So here I was sitting in my office at the Scranton Tribunal, grumbling over a contentious divorce when I should have been taking in the New York Harbor skyline with my wife and daughter.
“A plane hit the World Trade Center,” Linda shouted.
Everyone came running out of their offices and into the conference room. Someone – I think it was Joe – turned on the television. We watched as the building burned, wondering what had happened. Then the second plane hit. Both towers were burning.
We no longer wondered what was happening. Our thoughts turned to the many tradesmen, firefighters and police officers who lived in the easternmost part of the diocese, along the Pennsylvania/New York border, who commuted to the Big Apple each day. Catholics to whom we ministered to in the diocese.
The the Pentagon was hit. Some of the tribunal staff had family working there. Our thoughts shifted to them. Were they safe? We didn’t know. The phone system was down.
Sonya and I were suppose to make our first stop in Washington, DC that weekend, to visit with David Alexander. David worked across the street from the Pentagon. Was he okay? There was no dial tone to his cell.
And of course our state was hit when United 93 went down. It could have been a lot worse, as we saw next door in New York and about five hours south in D.C. But the passengers rose up, fought back, and sacrificed their own lives to stop the terrorists and protect their fellow Americans. It was a strange moment for me. It still is. My feelings clashed between the horror of what happened, and the pride I felt for those passengers. As Kathy Shaidle and I wrote when dedicating Tyranny of Nice to their memory: “Fated to become victims, they chose to die heroes.”
And so as I do every September 11 since, I dedicate three songs. The first is to the memory of United 93 heroes. Here is Jewel’s performance of Hands on Letterman, which touched many of us and brought us together as we tried to make sense of what happened:
This second video is dedicated to American soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines (especially my blogmate Eric) who have fought and continue to fight for our freedom since then:
Finally, I dedicate this video to the Canadian soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan over the past year. In particular, Warrant Officer Gaetan Roberge and Master Corporal Scott Francis Vernelli, both of whom I knew personally. Please keep them in prayer.
Fior go bas, my friends, you lived up to your motto of faithful until death. You can stand easy, your battle is over.
They shall not grow old as we who are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.