A 9/11 Memory

When an event as cataclysmic as 9/11 occurs, you never forget where you were and what you were doing when you heard the news.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was having my devotions in a sunlit spot in the Redondo Beach condo where I was renting a room. Unfortunately I cannot recall which passage I was reading, but I can still see the beige-covered NIV Study Bible lying open on my lap, and feel the sunshine streaming upon my shoulders through the window behind me. And I can still hear the silence in the moments before I found out that the world had changed forever.

As I remember those moments now, the historical event that comes to mind is the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria on June 28, 1914. What was meant to be a ceremonial ride through the streets of Sarajevo ended up triggering World War I, the war that changed the world. In my imagination at least, the moments before the shot was fired are like the silence that surrounded me as I sat reading my Bible on the morning of 9/11.

At the time, the silence was very normal. Every weekday morning was like that. My roommate worked at a law firm across town and left home early. The church where I worked, Hope Chapel Hermosa, was only a mile away, so I had the luxury of lingering over my morning devotions—which, incidentally, I have always referred to as my Quiet Time.

The silence was shattered by the sound of the phone, and the ringtone meant the call was for me. My roommate and I used the same landline but had different numbers with different ringtones, so we wouldn’t pick up each other’s calls. Remember this was 2001. The iPhone was still a distant twinkle in Steve Jobs’s eye.

I was not pleased that my Quiet Time was being interrupted, and I was tempted to ignore the call. Had I done so, I would have had a different 9/11 memory to share. But as it happens, something prompted me to pick up the phone.

It was my roommate, and I will never forget the panic in her voice when she spoke.

“We’re being attacked! We’re being attacked!” she cried. “They’re attacking us!”

At first I thought she was joking, but when she said “They’re attacking us,” I knew something real and horrible had made her call me when she should have been reading legal briefs. She calmed down enough to tell me that a couple planes had hit the World Trade Center. A scene from the 1995 action thriller The Net immediately flashed through my mind, and I ran downstairs and turned on the TV.

With horror I watched the replay of the second plane hitting the South Tower as thick clouds of smoke spewed from the North Tower in the foreground. The sharp, decisive turn the hijacker of United 175 made as he headed for his target would haunt me for months.

Photo: Seth McAllister, AFP/Getty Images

On the tenth anniversary of that terrible Tuesday, I was in England, finishing up my MA in Creative Writing at Keele University. I spent most of the day watching 9/11 videos in my dorm room, something I haven’t done on any other anniversary.

Today I watched a few videos featuring family members of the victims. One was of an eloquent speech given at Wheaton College by the widow of Todd Beamer, the United 93 passenger who acquired posthumous fame for his heroism in the face of death as much as for his last recorded words: “Let’s roll!

When that video ended, YouTube was kind enough to recommend one in which the daughter of Titus Davidson remembers her dad. Davidson perished while assisting firefighters on the 43rd floor of Tower 2. In this video, Tanya Dale reads an excerpt from a moving poem she wrote for her father, and what she says in the last couplet stemmed my tears.

But at the end of our lives on that glorious day

God will bring us together again – for this I pray.

Every year on 9/11 I shed tears for the innocent lives lost in the terrorist attacks. In 2010 I also wept for my father, Irwin Edwards, who had died the previous December. And today I weep for my mother, Lalita Edwards, who left us this past May.

I would call or text Mummy every year on 9/11, but this year I’ve had to grieve alone. So God in His tender mercy led me to Tanya Dale’s video and comforted me through the triumphant couplet that concludes her poem. It will be a glorious day indeed when I see my parents again in the presence of our beautiful Savior, who loved us and gave Himself for us.

(c) 2021 Sharon Arpana Edwards. All rights reserved.

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