I wanted to stand across the street from the Freedom Tower at 8:46 this morning, but I didn’t make it.
I was stuck in traffic on the BQE somewhere near 26th Street when I looked at my phone and saw that it was the same time when the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center 14 years ago.
My plan was to start praying the Rosary at that time and place in memory of all the people we lost in the 9/11 attacks.
But traffic was abysmal, which is not surprising given all the activity in lower Manhattan, and I should’ve used my head and taken the damn train instead of the express bus.
And then in an attempt to console myself, I decided I would take my place on Cortland Street next year.
Next year? If there is any lesson to be learned from the waking nightmare of 9/11 it’s that nothing is guaranteed, not next year, not even the next minute. All those people who were killed on that day in 2001 had plans for the future, too.
When I finally got to Manhattan I made my way to Liberty Plaza and stood at the spot where I saw the second plane hit the South Tower.
I thought of how we all ran when the flames shot out across the street, how people screamed and called out to Jesus.
I thought about the towers coming down, the vile dust filling the air, the terrifying walk over the Manhattan Bridge with fighter planes flying over our heads.
I remembered this Japanese man whom I had helped that day. He wasn’t physically injured, but he was in shock and I had to lead him around by the arm like a child.
He could barely speak English, but eventually we got to a large apartment building and the staff let us use their phone. I wonder whatever became of him.
And I thought of my father who turned 80 years old on that day and who’s been gone now for eight years. It had all seemed so distant when I got up this morning, but now the memories were coming back as I stood on that familiar spot.
After work this evening I stumbled upon a memorial ceremony that the City of Hoboken was conducting at Pier A Park. By that time the sun had come out and the weather was almost as beautiful as it had been on 9/11.
Rabbi Robert Scheinberg of The United Synagogue of Hoboken, gave a particularly moving speech where he quoted Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav.
“The whole world is a very narrow bridge,” he said. “The important thing is not to be afraid.”
Rabbi Scheinberg acknowledged the two seemingly opposing concepts here, where the first line describes a very scary place, but then the second line says don’t give in to the fear.
I’ve been walking on a pretty now bridge lately and I’m feeling quite fearful about the future.
But I reminded myself that no matter had bad things may get, it’ll be nothing compared with the pain and suffering that the 9/11 victims’ families endure every single day.
Rabbi Scheinberg ended his address by quoting Psalm 30:5: “Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”
Let us be thankful and be sure to rejoice every morning.