9/11 Reflection: Feelings of faith in the wake of tragedy

Story posted September 8, 2011 in News by Brittany Stoner

Looking back, it’s almost painful how blithely naïve I was the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. At 10 years old, I was consumed with excitement about that day’s Girl Scout picnic that I’d been waiting weeks for, and at first I didn’t understand why a plane crash in New York -- tragic though it was -- would be reason enough to cancel an innocent day of fun in Pennsylvania. And then, while my mom explained what exactly was going on, and as a second plane tore through the second Tower, I started to realize the true scope of what was happening.

The other day, as I discussed the 10th anniversary with a friend, I realized 9/11 marked a halfway point in my life in terms of chronological age. In more far-reaching terms, I think it marked when I started to lose the innocence of childhood.

It was the first time I can recall hearing my mom swear. I overheard her on the phone with my aunt, telling her to get out the h--- out of Alexandria, Va., to somewhere safer, as fighter jets soared over her house with orders to shoot down anything that entered the air space around Washington, D.C. Mom says she doesn’t remember this. I’ll never forget it.

My uncle worked for the Army and had an office in the Pentagon. As we waited, frantic to hear from him, it was the first time I started to truly understand that my family was just as vulnerable as everyone else that day, just as liable to lose a loved one.

In the end, my uncle was incredibly lucky. He was safe in California on business, but it was unnerving just how close it had been. His office in the Pentagon had been moved because of construction -- construction on the wing that was hit. And as if that wasn’t close enough, we learned he had flown out to California on Sept. 10 on one of the same flights that would be hijacked and crashed the next day.

To this day, my uncle swears he is an atheist. I find that slightly ironic.

Before I left for college, I spent a day cleaning out shelves of old school supplies and stumbled across a folder of 9/11-related e-mails that had been forwarded around in the weeks following the event. I kept that folder, and though I couldn’t tell you where I put it, I still know what’s inside.

There’s a picture of an eagle crying, the smoking Twin Towers reflected in a single teardrop. Because America did cry that day.

There’s an e-mail trying to put into words where God was on 9/11 for those who, like me, were reeling in confusion and questioning everything. For a young child who had just found her faith, I teetered on the edge of losing it during that long month.

A few weeks ago, my family visited the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, Pa., and what struck me the most was just how silent the site was. Far across the field, construction vehicles moved back and forth, preparing for the next phase of construction, but along the fence line, there was only quiet reverence, and the feeling of something larger than anything I could possibly begin to understand.

On our way back to the car, Mom asked me what I was thinking. I’d been mulling it over since we approached the fence line, and the realization came spilling out of my mouth.

"This place really is hallowed ground,” I murmured. “You can feel God here."

My visit to Shanksville answered a question that I wasn’t aware I’d been asking for 10 long years -- why?

And while I may never truly understand why the tragic events of that day occurred, that quiet Pennsylvania field is just one reminder that God was with everyone that day, from the Twin Towers to the planes, from the adults to the children my age who were on the planes or lost a parent.

Though it was through tragedy, 9/11 bound us closer as a society, as Americans. That sense of patriotism we felt afterward isn’t something I will forget, even 10 years later. And maybe it’s that knowledge that finally can bring a sense of closure.