How Sept. 11 Changed Me

How Sept. 11 Changed Me

“Get up! Get up!” Brian was shaking my arm violently. “Someone’s bombed the World Trade Center!”

I struggled to sit up in bed, and I blinked at the clock. It was 8:47 a.m. One glimpse of the fear in my husband’s eyes jolted me fully awake.

I jumped out of bed and followed him out to our terrace on the 24th floor. Thick, black smoke was rolling out from the North Tower of the World Trade Center six blocks away.

Turning on the TV, we learned a plane had hit one of the towers.

We raced back out to the terrace, where we had a bird’s-eye view of the city.  The tower was still burning. Emergency vehicles raced toward the World Trade Center—lights flashing, sirens blaring. It’s almost 9 a.m. on a Tuesday, I thought. Thousands of people are already at work.

Suddenly, something caught my eye. Looking over my right shoulder, I saw a plane flying low— too low. With a thunderous roar, the jet swooped like a hawk between the buildings and banked to the left.

We felt, rather than saw, the impact. One moment we were standing on the terrace, and the next we were lying on our backs in the middle of the living room floor.

I shook my head and realized that Brian was speaking to me. I could hear his voice, but my ears were ringing, and his words were distant. “Let’s get out of here—hurry!”

I was still wearing my nightgown, but there was no time to waste.

Voices echoed in the staircase as we raced down 24 flights to the street. Outside, hundreds of people filled the streets, racing away from the burning buildings. Men and women rushed by wearing business attire. Paper and scraps floated through the air. We joined the crowds and crossed the highway. With the towers to the north of us, there was only one way out—Battery Park, at the tip of Manhattan.

At the edge of the park, with nowhere else to go, people stopped running or collapsed with exhaustion. I felt a sense of relief: surely the worst was over. We stood gasping for breath and turned around. For the first time since we left our apartment, we could see both towers clearly. The top halves of the towers were engulfed in a black cloud, smoke rising half a mile into the bright, blue sky. Oh Lord, those poor people. Those poor people.

Suddenly, the ground began to shake violently, and I heard a rumble like a freight train. “Brian, a tower is coming down!”

A communal scream rose from the park. I froze in terror as a mass of something hit me in the face. It felt like someone had thrown a bucket of sticky sand over me. Gunk filled my nose and mouth, covered my pajamas, and coated every pore of unprotected skin.

I opened my eyes slowly. Brian hadn’t moved, but he looked completely different—like an upright mummy.

It looks like we’re on the moon.

 “What is this? Where’d it come from?” I sputtered, spitting out gunk.

“I think it’s the tower,” Brian said.

Another shriek from the crowd. The wind had changed direction and was blowing thick clouds of smoke into Battery Park, threatening to asphyxiate us. Pandemonium ensued as people rushed to escape this new threat. We ran too and took cover by an old fort.

We hugged its stone wall, trying to catch our breath. We turned toward each other. “Brian, is this it? Are we going to die?”

He hesitated, then looked me in the eye. “I don’t know. … Maybe,” he said. He took my hands in his. 

Barefoot, covered in yellow dust, and surrounded by smoke, my husband and I said goodbye to each other.

I closed my eyes and prayed. 

God, is this the end? Is this what you have planned for me? Lord, I’m sorry I’ve spent so much of my life without you. I’ve haven’t been to church. I haven’t been thinking of others. I’ve only cared about myself. I haven’t been serious in my relationship with you. I want a second chance. Please forgive me!

As a teenager, I always dreamed of living in New York. Growing up in a small town in Florida, I longed for an adventure. After graduating from college, I packed my bags and bought a plane ticket. Eventually I made friends, got a job as a New York City tour guide, and rented a 400-square-foot apartment. It was small, but it was mine, and I loved it. 

Seven years later I met Brian, and within six months we had married. We moved into a 24th-floor apartment. It was the New York apartment I always dreamed of living in—great view, with a beautiful terrace overlooking the boats on the Hudson River and the lights beaming from the windows of the Twin Towers. The towers shined like beacons of power and made me feel powerful too.

I did it! I made it! We have everything we want.

Brian’s words slowly brought me back to the present moment, reciting the Lord’s Prayer.

Suddenly a dust-caked man appeared, yelling and waving his arms. “The second building is coming down! Run to the river!”

We left the protection of the fort and ran to the bank of the Hudson with moments to spare. The second tower collapsed with another thunderous roar. Surrounded by smoke, the burning ruins of the towers, and the Hudson River, I sank to the ground by the river walkway, feeling trapped.

Unexpectedly, people near us began yelling and waving their arms at firefighting boats that were racing up the river.

The boat came alongside the seawall, and ropes were flung over the railing. The river railing towered 10 feet above the boat floating in the water below. We would have to climb the railing and jump.

I saw two muscular men in blue short-sleeved shirts lowering people into the boat. Finally it was our turn. Brian jumped in, and the guys took my forearms and eased me down. At last we all were on board. 

As the ferry pulled into the river’s current, I watched my city burn. We had survived the attacks, but as we soon discovered, thousands had not, including a close friend who had died in one of the towers.

Unable to return to our apartment for months, we were homeless. Brian’s job prospects dried up, and in a city without tourists, I was unemployed.

We couch surfed from one home to another, not wanting to impose on anyone for too long. But the bills continued to pile up. Reluctantly, we applied for financial aid from a 9/11 church fund. We were approved, and the church gave us a check to cover our rent. Curious, we went to one of their Sunday church services and loved it. We joined a Bible study group and formed deep friendships. Brian began working for the church as their finance manager, and I led the short-term mission’s ministry. We were employed again.

Several months later, the downtown restrictions lifted, and we moved back into our apartment. With the skyline permanently altered, I wasn’t sure I wanted to see the view from the 24th floor. But I knew I had to face this new world we lived in. The city would never be the same, and neither would I. But New York would recover, and I would rebuild my life—a life with Christ at the center of my being.

Sept. 11 will mark the 20th anniversary of the attacks on America. I’m not the same person I was 20 years ago. I never forgot the promises I made to God on that fateful September day. God did give me a second chance. And I will never forget. 

We will never forget.

About the Author

Christina Ray Stanton spent the past decade as the director of missions at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York. For more information on her 9/11 book and her background, visit christinaraystanton.com.

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Your account brings me to tears. Thank you for sharing. We will never forget.

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