It has been more than 15 years since the 9/11 attacks in New York, and Washington D.C. Of course in the years since then there have been documentaries, coffee table books, countless photo sites and blog posts - perhaps even to the extent that we've grown used to seeing the photos of mounds of rubble, of first the search and then the recovery at the World Trade Center, and those terrible, terrifying video clips of the plane that hits the second tower, and the first tower itself collapsing. I think for those of us who were alive on 9/11 those Twin Tower images have become like an annual pilgrimage, brought out once a year to be reflected on.
9/11 Twin Towers: Well Documented
For my part, those video clips are burned in memory, and I will never, as long as I live, forget what it felt like to see that. You don't have to, of course, but here is a vid you can watch to remember.
My little sister was serving an LDS mission in New York City on 9/11, and I clearly remember the wait through all that day before we were able to find out that she had been in White Plains and was safe. So relieved. Surely nobody from our little town of 1200 in Southeast Idaho would have been anywhere near there. In one respect I was right - as far as I know, nobody I knew was directly involved in New York City on 9/11. But in another, I was very wrong, because New York wasn't the only place attacked that day.
I clearly remember getting a phone call from my mom that my friend Brady Howell had been killed at the Pentagon that Tuesday.
At the time, and since then, I think that perhaps the Pentagon attack has been a bit of a footnote. Partly, of course, that's because so many more people lost their lives, and so much more was utterly laid waste in New York City that day. And I think partly it's because many of the photos and footage were held out from release by the government. It is the headquarters of the defense department, after all.
The Pentagon memorial has long since been built. Brady's name is remembered on a plaque and inscribed on one of the benches in the Pentagon memorial.
But I think that very lack of photo and video media is partially to blame for the nearly forgotten Pentagon attack - why it is so often only a footnote in our annual 9/11 pilgrimage. And maybe that's why this CNN article, that the FBI finally released 9/11 Pentagon photographs hit me so hard.
I've had long years and my own annual pilgrimages through photos and videos from New York City to process. But these new Pentagon photos bring back the rawness of learning that my own friend was lost. This photo in particular, makes my heart squeeze, and the tears fall on my hands as I write:
The two men holding flags in the foreground are obviously soldiers, simply by the way they are standing. They represent the earliest honor guard, the truest military measure of respect for fallen soldiers, as lost colleagues and friends - my friend - are found and pulled free in the rubble behind them.
In the intervening years since these terrible, terrifying, heartbreaking photos were taken - since my friend Brady died - trapped somewhere in that very rubble in the photo above - I've had two gorgeous children, lived a life of such richness and meaning that, if I had been killed in 2001, I never would have known.
I've had 16 extra years on Earth, to explore and learn and savor, to read stories with and snuggle my little sleepy ones. To hold hands with my sweetheart. To stand in awe of so many blessings. And yes, to weep and grieve and pray for peace and relief when none seemed to come. But to live.
Today I'll look at the photos (most of which are in the CNN article above) and grieve some, yes. And I shared them here so that maybe a few others who need to grieve can, too. But I'll also simply be grateful to God for my 16 extra years, and for the time right now to be up and doing. Earth is a blessing. Life is a blessing. And the measure of our gratitude for it is how we spend that time.